Smash to a Better Net Game: Drop Back Like a Quarterback for a Better Overhead
A common question asked by students working on their net game is, “What if I get lobbed?” The best response—acquire a successful overhead. The following segments will give you the steps to help you hit your overhead like the best players in the world.
Drop Back Like a Quarterback
The movement of a tennis player to set up for the overhead is very similar to a quarterback in football dropping back in the pocket to throw. The swing and the ideal contact point of the racquet hitting the ball is like that of the quarterback winding up and throwing the football.
Step 1. Turn sideways.
Step 2. Side shuffle or karaoke step back to track down the ball.
Step 3. During the shuffle/karaoke step, raise your non-racquet arm up and point your index finger to track the ball.
Step 4. Place your racquet behind your head as if your racquet is a “back-scratcher.”
Step 5. Release your arm from the “back scratch” position up towards the ball.
For the overhead to be perfect, you need to complete the arm extension with your racquet arm. If the ball drops too low, the arm is not able to extend fully, and you run the risk of pushing the ball, which often results in an error. The wrist must remain flexible; this allows the necessary pronation, or “snap,” on top of the ball.
Why This Stroke is Important
This stroke is vital, especially for the frequent, aggressive net-rusher. If an opponent lobs once or twice and tastes a mouthful of ball fuzz from your overhead, they will think twice before lobbing again. If they do continue to lob, they will try to hit the “perfect lob,” which will often result in an error.
How to Defend Against the Overhead
You are not the only one reading this article, so what if your opponent has a killer overhead too? To defend against a good overhead, there are a few tricks:
1. Go to school on your opponent’s previous overheads. Most players have a “favorite spot” to place their overheads. You can wait until they wind up to swing, then run to their “favorite spot.”
2. Re-Lob. If you are able to track their first overhead down, the smartest play is to lob again. Many players will get frustrated that they were unable to put the first overhead away for a winner and will fill pressured, leading to a missed second overhead.
3. Back up. Most players will try to flex their muscles by bludgeoning the overhead. Backing up will give you more time to react and a better ability to retrieve the overhead.
Learn From the Best
On the ATP tour, Roger Federer’s overhead is a work of art. He comes to the net more than the other players in the top 5 and is quite successful doing so. What is most impressive is his ability to use angles, in addition to power. Sometimes the smartest play is to take a little power off of your overhead and hit a short angle—these are very difficult to retrieve. If one does retrieve the short angle overhead, they are most likely very out of position for the next shot.
Serena Williams is the model for the perfect overhead on the WTA tour. Often times her powerful groundstrokes produce many opportunities to cram the overhead for a winner. Her sister, Venus, also has a terrific overhead.
Anyone at any level can use this stroke to their advantage. From the Quick Start player to the ATP/WTA player, the overhead is a valuable stroke. So think like a quarterback, drop back and smash your way to a better net game.