Many people make the mistake of practicing on the TopspinPro and then head straight on court for a game and wonder why they struggle to apply their topspin properly. Like with any skill you have to practice under increasingly demanding conditions before you enter the toughest arena. The TopspinPro allows you to practice an isolated skill (topspin) in a static situation with no incoming ball. So basically the most comfortable scenario. To strengthen that skill we need to add some harder phases. The training progressions below will help you transition from the TopspinPro all the way through to matchplay.
Stages of practice
STAGE 1 - Building muscle memory on TopspinPro
This is the most important phase for building a foundation and it’s crucial not to move past this without having mastered the basic topspin shape. Familiarize yourself with the TopspinPro before you start taking full swings with your racket. Try rolling your hand up the back of the ball and then with your grip choked up the racket. If you can move your strings up the back of the ball slowly without touching the rest of device then you have made a good start. Keep the racket face parallel to the screens like the pictures below. If you are still struggling to strike the ball without touching any other part of the TopspinPro then go back to using your hand or a choked up grip and slow down the speed of the movement.
Your racket should travel in a windshield wiper shaped motion or like a clock (see below). Your hand stays at the center of the clock and your racket moves around it:
Head to our YouTube Channel by clicking the link below for a selection of great at home practice videos you can try:
STAGE 2 - Static hits with ball
Once you feel you have built up enough muscle memory you can move away from the TopspinPro and use a tennis ball. Start with drop feeds and then have someone toss the ball for you.
- Drop feeds - drop the ball for yourself. Ensure you drop it far enough in front of your body where you want your ideal contact point to be. If you drop too far back or to the side of your body you will struggle to apply topspin. Expect the ball to go downwards into the net to begin with, this is normal. Topspin makes the ball drop sooner than if it is hit flat. To counter this ensure your swing finishes up high and that you begin with your racket below the ball. Try alternating one on, one off the TopspinPro for extra muscle memory build up.
- Slow ball static hits - have a friend, family member or coach throw some slow balls right to you (so you can hit without moving your feet). This is harder than a drop feed and you want to build your confidence here and be able to apply topspin to that incoming ball. Once you feel comfortable with this ask your companion to feed the balls a little faster and from a little further back.
STAGE 3 - Adding in movement
Once you reach this stage you should be confident at consistently applying topspin to the ball. If you are struggling under more pressure then go back a stage or try using the TopspinPro in between sets to reinforce you technique.
- Slow ball feeds with movement - have your feeder send the ball away from you so that you have to move to make contact. Again this increases the difficulty and pressure of the shot. Aim to get a good percentage of your shots over and in the court using topspin. 75-80% would be a good target to aim for before moving onto the stage 4 rallies.
- Faster ball feeds/ball machine - As above but with a faster ball. A great way to practice this is with a ball machine. A ball machine can also give you a better consistency of feed at pace.
STAGE 4 - Rallying
This is the toughest stage of all. The variety of incoming balls now increases significantly. It requires extra footwork to adapt to the constant changes in height, depth and pace of the ball. You also have to change your own pace, placement and spin levels on each shot you hit. Here is where you want to spend the most practice time. Getting used to the larger variation of incoming balls takes time and repetition so expect to struggle at first. You might find some types of shots easier than others. Be aware of your contact point height. Many players have the tendency to stand too close to the baseline and then the ball bounces high in relation to their body. Stand back so most of the balls you hit are dropping to between hip and waist height where it is easier to apply topspin.
To increase th difficulty try rallying with targets or aim to control the ball into distinctive areas. This will improve your skills faster than just rallying down the middle. Alley rallies are a great way to build up consistency. Watch this video below from Essential tennis for some alley rally tips:
STAGE 5 - Practice points
Once you are feeling solid with your rallies it’s time to really put the topspin to test. Try using your topspin to build points and especially be aware of your depth. Keep your swing lifting so you are not dropping the ball short for your opponent to attack. Try using your topspin to create angles and move your opponent around the court both side to side and up and back. Don’t panic if you have a set back. At this point your muscle memory should be fairly ingrained, so stay relaxed and trust your technique. If you are feeling rushed, take a step back so you have more time to react to striking the ball.
STAGE 6 - Matchplay
The final and most rewarding phase - using it into a real game! By this point (so to speak!) you should be very comfortable hitting topspin. Any skill you take into a real game situation should be well practiced. As in stage 5, trust your technique and muscle memory. Now it comes down to shot choice and decision making. Use your topspin to build points and try to force an error from your opponent. Don’t attempt to hit winners unless they're easily available, and even then you should always plan for one more shot! You'll have both fulfilling and frustrating moments - it's all part of the thrill of the game. If it doesn’t work out how you planned see if can figure out why and then go back to more practice games in between your next match.
Summary - Don't rush the process
Remember not to rush through this process. One of the most common things people say to me is that they "want to play against better players". You can learn a lot from playing with more advanced players, but the downside to this is that they generally hit a faster ball and one with heavier spin. This means less time for you to react and get your shape right. When trying to develop a specific skill like topspin it's bests to build it up gradually. That way your technique stays solid and doesn't break down under pressure. Even the pros practice with drop feeds and slower hitters sometimes. Ironically you'll end up improving much faster this way and feel ready for the bigger moments!
How can I use topspin to my advantage?
See our article about how to use topspin to your advantage here:
Where can I get more videos about how to use my TopspinPro?
Head to our YouTube Channel to get some great tips on using your TopspinPro and other technical and tactical tips here: