Hit “Up” on Every Shot
Despite the fact the physics require that tennis players hit up on almost every shot, the average recreational player inevitably hits down the ball, trying for power. Even pro players’ 150+ mph serves are actually hit up, not down. Topspin and gravity bring them back to earth.
In order to help your players keep more balls in play, explain to them that they must hit balls up, rather than down, in order to win more points and more matches.
Take the best server on your team and have him or her serve several hard balls into the service box. Ask your players to see if they can see that the ball is actually starting out on an upward trajectory before coming back down.
Have the player then kneel down and serve hard serves again. Your players will be amazed that even though the player is below the level of the net, he or she is still able to hit hard serves into the service box. To demonstrate even more fully, have the player sit down on the court, at the baseline, and continue to serve into the service box. The player still should be able to serve at a first serve pace and get the ball in. In fact, coach and sport researcher Vic Braden has had players serving more than 100 mph from their knees. This would take its toll on the rotator cuff after a while, but it’s still possible.
Think about the admonition, “If you’re going to double fault, double fault long.” We say this because so many players choke up and hit down on the ball when they’re nervous.
Have your players line up at the baseline. Ask them if they can see the opposite baseline by looking over the net, or if they are looking through the net. Have them do the same for the service line. Because we look at the other side of the net through the net, we often hit the ball into the net when choosing and looking at the spot on the other side of the net where we’re aiming as a reference point. We look at that spot through the net, and then naturally hit down.
Make your players understand than most recreational groundstroke errors land in the net, not long, because players try to hit to a particular spot on the other side of the net, rather than trying to make their shots cross over the net at a certain point.
Vic Braden’s video, “The Science and Myths of Tennis” demonstrates using high-speed photography that humans are not able to hit a ball from the baseline to the other side of the net using a straight forward racquet swing — people must have their racquet path moving upward at some point in the swing, or have their racquet face wide open.
Ask your players if they have ever seen Serena Williams or Roger Federer hit a volley with the racquet head ending up below their knees — or even below the level of the net? Good volleyers keep their racquet heads up for the entire stroke and hit the ball up and over the net, even for putaways. The racquet does move downward on a volley, but the head almost always stays up as the racquet moves primarily forward. Have your best volleyer demonstrate how he or she hits solid volleys without breaking the wrist downwards as so many recreational players do.
Even when you are standing at the net hitting an overhead, you must hit up and out on your shot in order to get the ball deep. Even if you can get away with hitting the ball short and high (bouncing it over the net) it’s very difficult to hit the top of the ball and hit it straight down. Have your players hit overheads trying to hit up on the ball and they will soon feel how a full stroke using the whole arm — and not just a downward wrist motion — will help them hit deeper, harder volleys.
Reviewing the concept of hitting up on every ball will help your players develop control on all shots, and give you a great coaching tool to use during matches — “Are you hitting up?”