The physical evolution of tennis over the last 50 years has been phenomenal. What has been the single biggest technical and tactical addition that has enabled players to keep up with this advancement? The answer is topspin!
When Andy Murray spun that backhand lob over David Goffin's head he didn't stand a chance. All Goffin could do was watch it dip back into the court and explode away from him.
The topspin lob is one of the most exciting shots in tennis. Below we'll look in more detail why it's so effective. We'll also look at 7 other ways topspin has been such a crucial part of the evolution of tennis.
The 8 tactical uses of topspin
Have more recovery time - Having the option to hit extra height also equals more recovery time on tough shots. For example, if your opponent stretches you out wide off the court, if you throw in a high topspin return you will have much more time to get back to the middle to recover before your next shot.
Push your opponent back off the tennis court - The topspin kick that occurs after the bounce results in your opponent contacting the ball further back in the court than they would for an equivalent flat ball. This means their physical position can be pushed right back out of their attack zone, often into a defensive position (See the image below from top-tennis-training.com). This not only makes it harder for them to attack but opens up more court space for you to hit into. This can also force your opponent to be late for their contact point forcing an error.
Hit more consistent and aggressive lobs - We already know that you can control high balls using topspin, but you can also add more pace to the ball. The result is a far more aggressive lob than when hit flat or with slice. The resulting topspin also kicks the ball up and away from the court making it very difficult and often impossible to return. The slice and flat lob should therefore be used most often when you are in a defensive position, for example, when stretched out wide or with a ball bouncing behind you. The topspin lob should be used when in a position to attack or if you have more time on the ball. See the image below for a visual of the different lob flight paths.
Hit the ball lower at your opponent’s feet - If you have an opponent at the net one of the best tactics is to hit the ball to their feet. There are 3 main reasons for this:
- They have to volley the ball in an upward direction to get it back over the net which can send it into your attack zone.
- Hitting the ball upward also means there will be less power on their shot.
- The ball is much harder to reach and control well when lower to the ground, especially for taller players. This requires significant knee bend which can be tough for a number of people.
Create wider angles - We know applying topspin makes the ball dip. Not only does this help us with our deeper shots, we can also use it to our advantage playing shots closer to the net. We can angle that ball and have it dip shorter and wider than we can for an equivalent flat shot that would otherwise land in the alleys or even wider. We can therefore stretch our opponent further off the court and create large spaces.
Control aggressive short balls and approach shots - Adding topspin to the ball allows you to be closer to the net and still be aggressive without hitting long. Rather than chipping and charging or floating the ball back in while we move forward, topspin allows us to keep attacking with pace from all positions on the court!
Lift low balls with aggression - When balls bounce low to the ground we have to lift them back up and over the net to get them into the court. If we hit those low balls flat we have to take a significant amount of pace off the ball to not hit long. Topspin, however, allows us to lift that ball with aggression. Rather than floating a mid paced flat ball that gives your opponent plenty of time, we can play the ball back with pace and in many cases even keep attacking.
Bend the ball - Topspin also enables us to bend the ball back into the court when mixed with a little side spin. This allows certain situations to occur, like bending it round the net post or past a player at the net. See the best examples from Rafa Nadal in the video below!
Bonus: topspin is better for your body!
How often do you see a pro player with tennis elbow? Topspin is bio-mechanically efficient for your body. You are effectively rolling the ball back into the court vs hitting it. That upward topspin action takes away a large amount of the strike impact and therefore protects your body from overuse and shock injuries such as tennis elbow.
Imagine swinging your racket directly in a straight line at a wall vs glancing your racket up it. You know which one will hurt more! This is how pro players can spend hours per day hitting the ball at such speeds. Of course they get overuse injuries from time to time but this is because of the sheer amount of physical and emotional stress their bodies endure.
We have shared the most important tactical options that topspin can provide on a tennis court. And they're not just for the pros! If you're a recreational player that's mastered topspin and can read a situation this skill will take your game to the next level. With a handful of choices in your repertoire you'll be onto a winner.
Not only does topspin provide you with tantalising tactical options, your body will thank you for it in the long run. And maybe even your team.
When the match is tied and your opponent sends you out wide, remember Andy's lob. Like topspin, it was a game-changer.
Let us know about your topspin experiences and what you think of this post in the comments below.
You can find more information on “how to hit with topspin” in our full length topspin article “Why you need topspin no matter what your level of tennis!”
What is Topspin?
Topspin or the “forward rotation” of the ball is created by moving the strings in an upward direction on the back of the ball, not the top. Friction results from pressing the strings to the ball and rotates the ball in the direction the racket is moved.
Topspin has two main effects that we can use to our advantage:
The Magnus Effect - Topspin or the “forward rotation” of the ball is created by moving the strings in an upward direction on the back of the ball, not the top! The forward rotation of the ball makes the ball drop/dip significantly sooner than when it is hit flat due to its interaction with the air. This is known as the Magnus Effect.
The Topspin Kick - The forward rotation makes the ball kick off both higher and faster toward the back of the court after the bounce.
Read our full topspin article here for more info on how to hit topspin: "Why you need topspin no matter your level of tennis"
What Does Topspin Allow You to Do?
Clear the net safely - Topspin makes the ball drop faster than gravity alone. So this allows you to hit the ball significantly higher over the net and have it still land in the court.
Hit the ball deeper into the court - Because the ball drops sooner you can hit the ball deeper into the court with less chance of an error long.
Hit the ball harder - Not only can you hit higher and deeper, you can also hit harder and the ball will drop sooner.
What tactics can you use with Topspin?
Have more recovery time - Hit the ball higher to allow more time to get back to your recovery position.
Push your opponent back off the tennis court - Use topspin to hit the ball deeper and push your opponent back.
Hit more consistent and aggressive lobs - Use topspin to add more power and height to lobs.
Hit the ball at your opponent's feet - Use topspin to dip the ball down to a net player's feet.
Create wider angles - Use topspin to dip the ball closer to the net and wider.
Control aggressive short balls and approach shots - Add more topspin to dip the ball when you have less court to hit into.
Lift low balls with aggression - Use topspin to lift low balls up and over the net without hitting long.
Bend the ball - Combine topspin and side spin to swing the ball back into court.
Why is Topspin better for your body?
Topspin is bio-mechanically the most efficient way to hit a tennis ball. The upward action of the strings takes away a large amount of the strike impact and therefore protects your body from shock injuries such as tennis elbow.