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Getting a lift for your drop shots.

As tennis courts and balls get slower and serve-and-volleyers become almost extinct, the drop shot grows in importance. Do your players have a drop shot in their arsenal? And if so, do they use it as effectively as they can?

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Drop shots can win points either outright or as part of a two-shot combination. They can tire out and frustrate opponents. They can bring out the best in your game and the worst in their opponent's.

However, unless they drop shot at the right time and in the right conditions, the tactic can backfire badly. Here are 22 tips to make the drop shot a real weapon.

1. Drop shots work best on clay and very slow hard courts because the slow bounce makes it more difficult for opponents to reach the ball. Drop shots can also be deadly on grass; the ball "dies" on soft turf, and scrambling to reach those shots can be treacherous when the grass is slippery.

2. Drop shot when the wind is against you because the wind magnifies the backspin effect to make the ball "die" almost where it lands, or even better, makes it bounce back toward the net. Conversely, it is much riskier to drop shot when you are with the wind and when blustery winds make the shots unpredictable.

3. Drop shot when you're playing with slow balls, and when your balls get fluffy and slower.

4. Drop shot when a wet or slick court makes footing and balance difficult.

5. Drop shot on extremely hot and humid days. Then the tactic will tire and demoralize opponents more

6. Drop shot against slow and clumsy players. A lot of players move well laterally but are much less agile and quick when they are moving forward and backward.

7. Drop shot against players with poor anticipation. A corollary to that is John McEnroe's advice: "The key to hitting a good drop shot is to disguise it as long as possible."

8. Drop shot against players who lack stamina. Early in the match the hard running to reach drop shots will start tiring the opponent and late in the match drop shots will exhaust him.

9. Drop shot mostly against medium-speed shots since drop shots are more difficult to execute well against very hard and very soft shots.

10. Drop shot against shots that do not have heavy topspin or heavy underspin.

11. Drop shot if your opponent is ill, cramping or has a leg or foot injury. If you, conversely, have physical problems or are exhausted, you can shorten points by drop shotting judiciously.

12. Drop shot when your opponent is scrambling backwards to recover from being in no-man's-land.

13. Drop shots work best from just inside the service line and just behind it. Avoid hitting drop shots from near the baseline.

14. Drop shot down the line, rather than cross-court. Why? A big factor in the success or failure of the drop shot is the amount of time the ball floats in the air before landing. And cross-courts have longer "hang times," giving the opponent more time to react and reach the shot. The closer your drop shot lands to the net, the more effective it will be.

15. When hitting drop shots from the center of the court, adding sidespin to your heavy underspin will make the ball spin toward the sideline and swerve away from your opponent.

16. Drop shot opponents who make weak counters to your drop shots once they arrive at net.

17. Drop shot confirmed baseliners with defective volleys and overheads to draw them out of their "comfort zones" and elicit weak shots and errors.

18. Drop shot to finish points in two-shot combinations. For example, pull your opponent off the court with a deep, wide serve and then drop shot to the other side of the court. Another way is to follow up a powerful, deep crosscourt with a drop shot to the other side. The farther your opponent has to run to reach your drop shot, the better.

19. Drop shots work best against players standing far (more than 5 feet) behind the baseline during rallies. Hard, deep ground-strokes will force some players to retreat.

20. Advanced players with excellent touch can counter drop shots with deadly drop shots when they get to them early and with good balance. To counter that stratagem and put more pressure on, athletic volleyers occasionally go to net behind a drop shot.

21. Highly talented players can take seemingly routine approach shots on the run and turn them into disguised drop shots.

22. Do not drop shot too often. And do not drop shot on big points unless you are exceedingly skillful and confident.

Whatever your player's level of play, he can learn the tactics and tricks of drop shotting by watching the pros, particularly touch artists such as Guillermo Coria (nicknamed "The Magician"), Albert Portas (nick-named "The Drop Shot Dragon"), and Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Manuel Santana, the great Spanish champion of the 1960s, mesmerized foes with the ultimate drop shots. It was jokingly said that a bad drop shot for Santana was a winner that spun back into the net. His best ones comfortably bounced back over the net onto his own side!

Study how these masters set up and execute drop shots and then, when necessary, finish off opponents with passing shots and lobs.

Bottom line: Drops shots will keep the opponents off-balance and give your game another winning dimension. They're also deliciously wicked fun, as long as you're not on the receiving end.

HOW TO HIT THE DROP SHOT

When you hit the drop shot, keep in mind:

* The stroke is similar to a slice backhand or a chip forehand. However, the back-swing is somewhat shorter and the follow-through is much shorter.

* Swing downward at least six inches to create underspin (i.e., backspin).

* Bevel (i.e., tilt backwards) your racket face substantially to produce underspin, but try to do it at the last split-second for disguise. The greater your bevel, the more backspin you'll have.

* Swing slightly less than medium-speed and slow your swing just before contact.

* Add sidespin (optional) by dropping your racket head and by swinging across--instead of through--the ball.

* Loosen your grip to soften your shot and to improve your touch (i.e., feel). Stay relaxed.

* Drop shots are much easier to hit with Continental, Australian and Eastern grips. Western and semi-Western grip players must severely change the angle of the racket face to open it enough to generate underspin.

* Remember the main variables when gauging the power of your drop shot are the amount of power and spin on the oncoming shot, the surface speed and bounce, the wind speed and direction, the speed of the balls, and your distance from the net.

* Your goals are to generate and control as much backspin as you can and to have the ball land as near the net as possible and bounce vertically (not forward). Through conscientious practice along with trial and error in matches, you will find the right range and develop deft touch.

DRILLS TO DEVELOP DROP SHOT SKILLS AND STRATEGY:

Drill No. 1: Player A hits wide serves--slice in the deuce court and American twist in the ad court or flat serves to both corners--and Player B returns serve up the middle or cross-court. If the service return lands inside the service line or less than five feet behind it, Player B gently strokes a drop shot as short as possible, about three feet from the other sideline.

Drill No. 2: Players A and B engage in a 10-point "backcourt game." No serves are allowed, and each point starts with either player hitting a medium-speed ball up the middle and about 10 feet past the service line. Whenever a player hits a ball short--viz., within five feet of the service line--occasionally mix in drop shots, instead of hitting approach shots all the time.

Keep in mind that both drills are as valuable for the drop-shotter as the intended victim. The former should strive for highly effective drop shots--because they can boomerang if they are not--and then quickly decide whether his riposte should be a passing shot or lob. The latter should try to anticipate well by studying his opponent's swing and racket face, scramble forward, and determine how best to counter the drop shot. If done diligently, these drills will improve your strategy, anticipation, quickness, balance, agility, reflexes, stroke technique and stamina.

By Paul Fein, USPT-A Certified Teaching Pro

Paul Fein is a USPTA-certified teaching pro and coach with a Pro-1 rating. He formerly ranked in the top-10 men's open singles and top-5 men's open doubles in New England and played college tennis at Cornell University. An award-winning tennis writer, Fein wrote Tennis Confidential: Today's Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies (www.tennisconfidential.com) and You Can Quote Me on That: Greatest Tennis Quips, Insights, and Zingers (www.tennisquotes.com).
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Author:Fein, Paul
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:1491
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