Thank you, Roberta Vinci. Finally, someone has opened our eyes and made a clear statement: Tennis is not all about hitting the cover off the ball.
Somehow, we all bought into the idea that the only way to play is to stay on the baseline and slug it out. Vinci showed us that simply changing up the spin and speed of the ball and getting off the baseline keeps the opponent off balance and out of rhythm. If it works for the top players in the world, just imagine what it could do for you.
Give your opponents balls that make them uncomfortable
In order to be successful at this you need a variety of shots. If two players are equally matched, stroke-to-stroke on the baseline, then common sense says that one additional disruptive shot would be the key to winning the match more easily. It’s really that simple.
Here are a few examples of disruptive shots and shot combinations:
►Slice or topspin serve (any serve with spin, curve and margin)
►Under-spin (slice) backhand off the ground or return
►Chip and charge return
►Serve and volley
►Drop shot and lob
►High rolling topspin balls
Here is the interesting thing … the Continental Grip is used for all of the shots and shot combinations above, except the high rolling, topspin balls.
In the entire game of tennis, the only shot hit with a forehand grip is a flat or topspin forehand.
Consequently, we have an interesting problem
A majority of coaches and pros teach players to hit a bouncing ball from the backcourt first. We go heavy on the forehand for two main reasons: It is the most successful and satisfying stroke for the student, and is statistically the biggest weapon on the court. I mean, who doesn’t love the feel of hitting a big forehand?
Because players spend so much time in the backcourt, the forehand grip gets locked in very quickly. Players get accustomed to the feel of the grip and where the ball will go from the strings with this grip. So, they try all of the other strokes with that same forehand grip and that cannot work. They don’t know that this grip is used only for this one stroke. Consequently, players have a difficult time changing to the grip that is used for all other shots in the game.
You simply cannot hit every ball hard
Don’t get me wrong. Penetrating balls hit with topspin and pace are at the core of our games. This style of play is enough if these types of shots are superior to your opponent and they, too, don’t have variety. Hard, flat strokes and topspin strokes come with their benefits and limitations.
We need to spend more time developing shots that are hit with the Continental Grip.
Somehow hitting a slice backhand, an offspeed ball, a slice serve or a chip return became very uncool. These misunderstood shots got a bad rap as weak and defensive. Hit properly and at the right time, these balls can be your best friends.
Shots hit with the Continental Grip
►Serve: Flat and slice (topspin and kick is a more extreme grip away from the forehand)
►Volley: Mid-court, closing, low, high, angle
►Half-Volley: Touch, defense on low ball, attack on higher ball
►Backhands: One handed (flat/slice) and two-handed (topspin)
►Under-Spin (Slice) Drive: Change of pace, defensive/on the run, approach shot
►Under-Spin (Slice) Return: Off a hard or spin serve, take time away from the opposition
►Chip and Charge: Off the return or short ball, and follow to the net with the same grip
►Drop Shot: A lofty shot with tremendous spin
►Defensive Lob: Take the pace off a very hard hit ball
►Lob Volley: Soft angles off the ground or as a volley
Wow … that’s a lot of shots.
Shots hit with the Continental Grip have several things in common
►Most have under-spin (slice)
►Ease of varying shot spin, speed and height
►The edge is used to open the face of the racket (strings facing up)
►Under-spin acts as a control, as the ball slides on the strings and grips the ball
►They travel slower and bounce lower
►They can be hit in a broader range of contact points
►They are typically shots hit on the move
►They can be disguised easily and placed more accurately
Using under-spin (slice) as a tool at the right times makes the opponent extremely uncomfortable. The bounce is lower and slower, so it demands a timing change. It can be hit different distances and speeds from the same look. It can be used for offense (volley, approach and chip) and defense (retrieval and lobbing). Added in strategically with topspin groundstrokes and a varied serve, you will find your change of pace shot invaluable. The under-spin ball is predictable from the hitting side and less predictable on the receiver’s side. What more can you ask from a safe and reliable ball?
Pros and coaches choose what players learn, and are therefore partially responsible for creating one-dimensional bang, bang play.
Many pros fail to expose players to the entire range of shots. We must insist that you hold the correct grips that will allow your game to expand. That being said, the biggest issue can be you, the player, the one who wants to improve, but does not want to change. Missing in a learning environment is good and essential to learning and changing. Using your “new” methods in non-competitive play is essential otherwise you will always revert back to your previous methods. Losing a few sets to the guy or gal you beat every week is a good thing. That means you are branching out and being proactive in your development. Chickening out and going back to your safe shots is unsatisfying and non-productive. Eventually adding in these shots will just be a part of how you play and you’ll wonder how you ever played without them.
Roberta Vinci gave a very compelling demonstration of the benefits of a varied game. Whether you are a man or woman, hopefully Vinci’s spectacular win serves as an inspiration to you. Adding this family of tennis shots to your game will send you to another level. You too may find yourselves winning matches that you thought were unwinnable.
Lisa Dodson is the developer and owner of Servemaster, a USPTA Elite Professional and a former WTA world-ranked player. She is currently the director of tennis at Shenorock Shore Club in Rye, N.Y. She may be reached by e-mail at Lisa@TheTotalServe.com or visit TheTotalServe.com.