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Hit Out In Front! Right!
by Tony Severino
Certified Instructor 4A
Professional Tennis Registry

Tony Serverino Photo
Tony Severino

"Hit out in front!"

That’s what the man said: "Hit out in front!"

Right!

But where the heck is that? You see players flailing and slashing at tennis balls with some of the strangest antics before the ball even gets to them. Out in front to be sure, but few seem to agree on exactly where that is.

True, you can send the ball back over the net from almost any contact point. Some players have developed unusual techniques that work for them, not impressive but effective. But to propel it with maximum enthusiasm you must connect in the optimum contact area, "out in front."

We could refine that instruction further by saying "out in front of you." But that still doesn’t quite nail it down.

Let’s look a little closer. Pete Collins, PTR Master Professional and Head Tennis Professional at the Augusta (GA) Country Club, explains the volley this way. There is a point directly in front of you, straight out from your sternum. If you haven’t taken CPR training yet, then that point is straight out from where your rib cage divides, where half goes East, the other part West. The sternum is right there in the middle between the shoulders. That is your center of power and that’s where the ball should be when you hit it; out in front of you, straight out from the sternum.

Again to paraphrase Pete, this is important because it is your point of maximum power. To get that power, of course, you must rotate your shoulders, meet the ball right there straight out from the sternum, "out in front of you." You being the key word. Now that you know where that is, take a whack at it!

Oops! That ball just went 90 degrees off to the side. The racquet only controls direction. You must also turn your body and use footwork to develop power in the volley.

Also notice the contact point is not between you and the net, which so many conceive as "out in front." In fact it may well be more between you and the doubles alley. Check it out!

In Volume II of his video series, Successful Doubles, Pete also stresses that the shoulder, arm and racquet should always perform as a unit.

Aha you say! "But we’re taught to hit the forehand out in front of our forward knee."

Okay, we’ll leave Pete for the moment and develop our own arguments for these other shots.

Think about hitting a forehand with a closed stance. If you plant your foot and rotate your body into the stroke, just as you were taught, where is that contact point?–wait, wait; don’t tell me!–out in front to be sure, several inches in front of your forward knee, of course. Also notice that it is directly out front in a straight line from the sternum. Check that out!

With an open stance you also rotate your shoulders and the same thing results. If you doubt that, try playing golf with an open stance and see what happens. If you play tennis with an open stance and don’t rotate your shoulders, maybe you should take up golf.

Now you say, "But the contact point for the two-hand backhand is in a different place. It’s farther back." True for most people. Your swing and the body rotation are different, and the contact point is right at the forward knee. It is still straight out from the sternum. Out in front of you! Agree?

We could go through a number of specialty shots and almost always observe a similar result. The half-volley, for instance, needs that added power to be effective and hitting it between the shoulder blades helps.

Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director at the Lexington Clinic Sports Medicine Center, Lexington, Kentucky, points out that 54 percent of your power is generated at your feet from contact with the ground. This force is added to by each link in the body’s kinetic chain so that by the time it reaches the shoulders it is fairly potent.

Shall we look at the overhead? We shall.

Why? Because the rule doesn‘t hold for almost anything high. Watch players hitting overheads. It’s hard not to notice the contact point is a little to the side. Not much, but enough to belie the rule.

The same can be said for the serve. In the slice serve the ball is elevated to the hitting zone (I hate the term "toss." It messes up so many beginning players) somewhat off from the flat serve area. What happens? The ball is struck at a different place in space, but the body is arched to adjust to this, almost out in front.

Certainly there will be shots where you must reach out of the zone to make contact. There will be many of those, and often great effort will produce laudable results. More often they will not. Whenever you can maneuver to contact the ball out in front as described, optimum power and optimum accuracy are greatly enhanced. Observe that for yourself by watching other players rally. Notice where they contact the ball and the resultant shot. You can learn a lot from watching.

Another thing the man said: "Watch the ball!"

"Watch the ball!" That’s a fairly imprecise and vague instruction. "Watch" has the connotation of observing. "Watch the Birdie!" "Watch this!"

If you just watch the ball, you may end up wondering what the heck happened. How about if we add the word "longer"? "Watch the ball, longer!" Okay?

Better still, "See the ball longer!" The word "see" is active and has the connotation of perception. "See what I mean?"

We’re not making a distinction without a difference. It is the key to understanding the lesson. It introduces control to the discussion by bringing active concentration into play. While a drop shot doesn’t depend as much on power, the element of control is certainly critical to its success. Hitting with underspin out in front as described adds control. These kinds of shots need that finer concentration.

"See the ball longer!" That’s much better, and it fits in with the center of power concept. If you let the ball come to you and turn in preparation to stroke it you also buy more time to see the ball longer, hence control it better. We’ll leave it to the research people to figure out how much time you buy, but it is significant to this discussion.

So remember, "See the ball longer!" and "Hit out in front of you!" and, if you haven’t done so yet, take a course in CPR so you’ll remember where the sternum is, out in front of you. Right?


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