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Three Critically Important Specialty Shots...
The Droppers and the Stopper!!!

Ron Waite Photo
Ron Waite, USPTR

Once again, this month's article is spawned from a reader's comment and suggestion.
Most of us have an enough difficulty producing groundstrokes, returns, traditional volleys and of course, serves. Trying to maintain and/or improve these essential shots presents challenges and requires time, effort and practice.
Specialty shots are those shots that we rarely produce and are not consider "essential" to regular play and competition. For example, most of us practice the overhead smash as it is a specialty shot that is probably the most frequently employed. We realize that when lobbed while near the net, the only option that we may have is to hit the smash. In every warm up, you will see each player practicing overheads.
However, there are other specialty shots which are equally important to learn, and indeed, can pay big dividends when employed in the proper circumstances. The two that I will address briefly this month are the drop shot and the stop volley. There is a third specialty shot called the drop volley, but for all intents and purposes it is a stop volley that is struck when the pace of the oncoming ball is rather slow. So for our discussion, I will address the stop and drop volley as a single entity.
Most of us have attempted to hit drop shots at one time or another in matches. In that it is easier to hit a drop shot off the backhand side for most players, the forehand drop shot is not as commonly struck. But, both of these specialty shots have their place in this wonderful game of ours.
To be clear, a drop shot is a groundstoke that is hit with little pace and lots of backspin. The intent of the shot is to barely make it over the net and to bounce very short into the opponent's court. When employed in the right circumstances and executed properly, the drop shot is a devastating offensive weapon! Quite frequently, the opponent is unable to run this shot down and make any sort of reply. If indeed the opponent is able to put her/his racquet on your drop shot, it is likely that the reply will not be easily handled. Either way, the end result should be a winner for the player who initiated the drop shot.
So, how does one properly execute both a forehand and backhand drop shot?
We will begin with the less common drop shot which is hit off the forehand side. First, the forehand drop shot is best hit with a continental grip. However, I have seen the forehand drop shot hit very effectively using the eastern forehand grip. In that the norm for most modern players is to hit groundstrokes with either a semi-western of full western grip, hitting a forehand drop shot requires a grip change. This change must occur at the very last second to prevent telegraphing to your opponent that you are intending to hit a drop shot. Disguising the drop shot is extremely important and beneficial.
Generally, the forehand drop shot is best struck with a ball that bounces relatively high. This is not to say that one cannot hit a good, forehand drop shot off a lower bouncing ball. Rather, the task becomes a bit more difficult for many players. So, choosing the time to hit a dropper off the forehand wing is critically important.
Almost without exception, the forehand drop shot must be hit on or very near the service line to be effective. There is no point in attempting to hit a forehand drop shot from near the baseline. The odds of hitting one that will result in a winner or a weak reply diminish significantly the farther back you are.
The forehand drop volley is not truly a stroke in the traditional sense. There should be the backswing that is normally employed when hitting a forehand groundstroke, but as you near the moment of impact, the forward movement of the racquet head should be slowed down dramatically. As you slow this forward movement, you should change your grip to either an eastern forehand or continental grip. To learn how to do this effectively and reliably will take some time on the practice court. However, it is not as difficult to switch the grip as you might imagine. If it does become an obstacle at the last moment, use your non-dominant hand to assist you in making the change of grip. Most of us, however, can learn to make this change by simply rolling the racquet grip in our hand without any assistance from our non-dominant hand. This latter technique is worth learning in that it really does help disguise the fact that you are intending on hitting the dropper.
When hitting the forehand drop volley, the idea is to massage the ball and move the racquet head under the ball as you make contact to provide backspin. This is NOT a power stroke. In truth, less is more when hitting any drop shot. The backspin helps achieve two things: First, the spin helps the ball clear the net despite the fact that the ball is not hit with much power. Second, the backspin brings the ball to a lower level of bounce when it makes contact with your opponent's court surface. If you impart enough backspin, the ball may actually bounce backwards toward the net! The backspin helps assure net clearance and makes for a more difficult situation for the opponent to execute an effective reply.
Although forehand drop shots can be hit from a somewhat open stance, it is best to try and execute the forehand drop volley from a closed (or sideways) stance. In addition, it is usually best to try and stop any forward movement of your body as you execute this shot. The pros can "run through" a forehand drop volley, but we mere mortals usually create more difficulty in executing this shot when we do not at least slow down our forward body movement.
The backhand volley is far easier to execute for the vast majority of players... even those who hit a two handed backhand.
Most one handed and two handed players can execute a one handed slice groundstroke that utilizes the continental, or perhaps, the eastern backhand grip. Most two handers execute the two handed groundstroke hold the racquet handle with their dominant hand in one of these two grips. The non-dominant hand may be held in any number of forms.
One handed players may strike one handed, backhand drives with a full eastern backhand grip, but usually can execute the one handed slice using the continental grip. In my estimation, the continental grip is the preferred grip for both forehand and backhand drop shots. But each reader needs to discover what works best for him/her!!!
Stance is usually not a problem on the backhand side when striking a drop shot. Most players hit with either a closed or three quarter open stance. Either is acceptable, but closed (or sideways) stances are usually best for drop shots.
Generally, there is greater attitude associated with ball height when striking the drop shot off the backhand wing. Unlike the forehand drop shot, the backhand drop shot can usually be effectively hit even off of very low bouncing balls. Although I have no proof of this following insight, I believe that the muscles involved in the forehand drop shot (those in the chest and shoulder) make the higher bouncing ball more desirable. With backhand strokes the side and back muscle groups are more in play, and I believe allow for a greater flexibility regarding ball height. But, this is purely speculative on my part!
As is the case with the forehand drop shot, the backhand drop shot should be well disguised. The backswing (whether one handed or two handed) should be the normal groundstroke take back. As the racquet approaches the moment of contact, the forward movement should be slower and the ball should be struck with little power. The racquet head should move under the ball to impart backspin.
The benefits of backspin in the backhand drop shot are exactly the same as we discussed in previous section dealing with the forehand drop shot.
Like the forehand drop shot, backhand drop shots should be hit as close to the service line as is possible. Attempting to hit backhand drop shots from near the baseline increases the risks of the shot not being an outright winner and increases the likelihood that the opponent will be able to hit an effective reply.
Every player needs to spend time on a practice court learning to hit both forehand and backhand drop shots. The best way to do this is to have a hitting partner feed you balls while you stand about two feet to three feet inside the baseline. Initially, do not worry about the placement of your drop shots. Rather, just try to get each ball to pass low to the net and bounce as close to the net in the opponent's court as is possible. Don't forget to work on generating backspin on your drop shots when practicing!
The most important thing to remember is that the drop shot is an offensive NOT a defensive shot.
Too often, I have seen the losing player or fatigued player use a drop shot in desperation. Simply put, the player is attempting to win a point quickly and cheaply without regard to whether the situation is desirable for an effective drop shot. Once I see a player hit a drop shot out of frustration, desperation or fatigue... I know that the player is likely to lose the match!!!
So, here are some simple guidelines to help you know when to hit a drop shot and how.

  1. Don't hit drop shots on critically important points. Why? Well, we usually do not truly "own" drop shots. They are risky. Indeed, they are usually too risky for critically important points.

  2. Never attempt to hit a drop shot unless you are inside the baseline. I would put forth the "rule" that one should never hit a drop shot unless she/he is at least within three feet from the service line.

  3. Attempt drop shots only when your opponent is behind his/her baseline or pulled wide out of court. You always want your opponent to have to run hard to hit a reply to your drop shot. Even if he/she makes a reply and wins the point, the running may add to his/her fatigue.

  4. Try to place your drop shots so that they pass over the lowest part of the net. Too often on the backhand side, I see players attempt drop shots that are directed down the line. The net is 6 inches higher near the posts! Drop shots are hard enough to hit, why make them even harder?

  5. Always advance forward after hitting the drop shot and follow the path of your shot to the net. Many modern players have great wheels! They can scramble and get to many drop shots. You need to be prepared to hit a volley, or perhaps an overhead smash, should the opponent make a reply off of your drop shot.

  6. Use the drop shot judiciously. Just because you were able to win a point or two off drop shots does not mean that this should become your new "norm" in competition. The drop shot is best when it is used sparingly and wisely.

There are two more specialty shots worth practicing and adding to your arsenal. These are the stop volley and the drop volley.
The stop volley is a volley that is struck off a ball hit with much pace. The effect is to take all pace off the oncoming ball and simply dump your reply over the net in a manner in which the ball lands very short in the opponent's court.
The drop volley is similar in effect but it is a volley that is struck off an opponent's ball that has little to medium pace.
Usually, the stop volley is best executed when stretching to place your racquet on a well struck passing shot. To execute this shot, you must simply "touch" the ball with the tip of your racquet head with no forward movement. As you touch the ball, simply attempt to bring you racquet head below the ball with a finish that sees your racquet face pointing toward the sky.
We have all hit stop volleys accidentally when stretching to hit a passing shot!!! We generally, however, do not realize that we can actually practice this shot and use it deliberately when competing.
To practice the stop volley, simply have your hitting partner hit passing shots that force you to stretch. These should be hit with as much pace as is possible. Simply attempt to stop the forward movement of these passing shots by "blocking" the ball. As soon as you feel the ball on your racquet, roll the racquet under the ball so that your racquet face is pointing upward. The effect should be to execute a volley that literally allows the ball to "dribble" over the net similarly to a drop shot.
I have never seen any player be able to hit a reply on a well executed stop volley. More often than not, the opponent is left at the baseline with an open mouthed expression as she/he realizes that she/he has just lost the point.
Recently when visiting some of the better known tennis academies, I saw quite a few youths being put through this exact drill. If the academies are teaching a stroke, you will soon see it utilized on the tours soon enough!!!
The stop volley is a reaction shot, first and foremost. But, it can be practiced and learned!!!
The drop volley is very similar. However, the pace of the oncoming ball is less powerful, and more often than not, the ball is coming directly at the player at the net.
The drop volley is a volley where you hit the oncoming ball directly in front of your body or at least, close to your body on one side or another. You bring your racquet face across your body with a sideways and downward motion. You keep the wrist firm, but you do not impart any forward motion to the volley.
The net effect of this volley motion is that the ball goes over the net without much pace and lands short in the opponent's court. The racquet motion imparts both side spin and backspin. The bounce associated with a drop volley is most unpredictable!!!
Here again, the drop volley is first and foremost a reaction shot. But, this shot can be practiced and learned in such a manner that it can be executed deliberately.
For those of us north of the equator, the outdoor tennis season is probably ending or has ended. Still, I believe "off season" is a great time to learn new strokes, strategies in addition to honing existing strokes and strategies.
Spend some quality court time (probably indoors) practicing the drop shot, the stop volley and the drop volley. I assure you that if you can add these weapons to your arsenal, you will soon become a tennis overdog!

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This column is copyrighted by Ron Waite, all rights reserved. Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ron by using this form.

Ron Waite is a certified USPTR tennis instructor who took up the game of tennis at the age of 39. Frustrated with conventional tennis methods of instruction and the confusing data available on how to learn the game, Ron has sought to sift fact from fiction. In his seven years of tennis, Ron has received USTA sectional ranking four years, has successfully coached several NCAA Division III men's and women's tennis teams to post season competition, and has competed in USTA National singles tournaments. Ron has trained at a number of tennis academies and with many of the game's leading instructors.

In addition to his full-time work as a professor at Albertus Magnus College, Ron photographs ATP tour events for a variety of organizations and publications. The name of his column, TurboTennis, stems from his methods to decrease the amount of time it takes to learn and master the game of tennis.


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