How To Hit A Tennis Ball

Jun 27

You may be wondering, why am I even bothering to write an article about hitting a tennis ball?

We hit the ball with the racquet, right?

I have to write this article for a simple reason – there are many ways to hit a tennis ball with the racquet, and most of them are not good.

By »not good«, I mean that they don’t give the player good control of the ball, or don’t transfer the energy well into the ball, or don’t enable top spin.

Tennis technique (or form) – meaning how you prepare, do a full backswing, and extend through the ball toward the target – plus a bunch of other »technical« details you see and read online and in books – have nothing to do with what happens in the three- to five-thousandths of a second when the strings of the racquet are in the contact with the ball.

The moment of contact in tennis

The moment of contact in tennis (image credit: Tennis Australia)

And in those three- to five-thousandths of a second, EVERYTHING is determined about the ball’s flight. (see image above)

So let’s focus on this moment, shall we, since it’s the most important part of a tennis stroke.

As you saw in the video above, to hit the ball »correctly«, we need to imagine and FEEL that we compress the ball against the strings and roll it.

Why Roll the Ball?

There are quite a few reasons why it’s best to have an image of »rolling« the ball in your mind instead of »brushing or spinning« the ball or, worse, »hitting« the ball.

I heard Doug King from tennisone.com use the word »stroking« a tennis ball – another good word to keep in mind when you’re imagining the contact.

I think it’s important to understand that it’s not just semantics that we’re talking about. Different words trigger different mental images, and those trigger certain motor responses in our muscles – and all that happens on a subconscious level.

So unless we make them conscious and explore different words and what types of feel the words naturally induce, correcting your strokes won’t do much good if your mental image of how to connect the racquet and the ball is completely wrong…

Let’s see first why »hitting« and »spinning« are not good mental images to have when preparing to contact the ball…

1. Why Not to Hit the Ball

The word »hit« implies a swing. A baseball player hits the ball with the bat.

Swinging the weight

Swinging the “weight” before hitting (Photo by Matt Brown)

A squash player or a badminton player hits the ball. In all these cases, the person swings the racquet or bat to generate a lot of speed that he or she wants to transfer into the ball.

While it seems like as if tennis players swing and hit the ball, that is NOT the case. (except in rare instances)

If we hit a hard tennis ball with a swinging bouncy racquet, the ball will fly the distance of two or maybe three tennis courts, especially if the ball goes with a slightly higher trajectory.

Modern tennis racquets are too »bouncy« for us to swing at the ball, and the game of tennis is based on consistency and accuracy.

Neither of this is achieved by generating high racquet head speed.

In fact, what matters much more is force, not speed.

And force is the result of acceleration x mass. (Newton’s Second Law: F = m x a)

I first heard about this equation when it comes to hitting a tennis ball from Oscar Wegner. I highly recommend his teachings to anyone who wants to learn tennis in a more natural way and abandon the traditional robotic and mechanical way of teaching strokes and movement.

Since there is no speed in the above equation, we can see that we don’t need such high racquet head speed to generate force into the ball.

We just need good acceleration.

The reason so many people believe (mostly subconsciously) that we need to swing at the ball is because it looks like the pros are swinging at the ball.

In fact, they are not (on groundstrokes in this case).

Is Roger Federer above “hitting” the ball or “rolling” it?

I’ll explain below what they ARE doing when I come to the »rolling« part and in the future articles.

2. Why Not Spin the Ball

»Brush up« and »spin the ball« are better mental images for how to approach hitting a tennis ball, but they are still not the best mental images you want to have unless you’re playing mini tennis.

Brushing up the ball suggests that we project force mostly past the ball, that the racquet barely catches the ball, and that the friction between the ball and the strings makes the ball rotate and makes the ball fly forward.

We coaches often see this in junior tennis, especially with girls. We jokingly say that they hit »past the ball« or »around the ball«.

If you have a mental image that you need to brush the ball, you’ll probably project the force to the ball at the wrong angle, which will give the ball good spin but not good speed.

Here’s an image where I compared the racquet path between a club player and a former pro (ranked around 280 on the ATP). Both were simply rallying with me…

Racquet path of a tennis forehand top spin stroke

Racquet path of a forehand top spin stroke – club player on the left, a pro on the right

As you can see, the club player’s racquet path is much steeper than the pro’s path.

The pro on the other hand knows how to hit and spin the ball. He has a different mental image when it comes to contacting the ball – he rolls the ball.

Note that simply telling the club player to have a lower racquet path achieves almost nothing because deep down he believes that he needs to spin the ball by moving the racquet upwards.

So you see the racquet path that he makes is a CONSEQUENCE of an incorrect mental image or idea of how to contact the ball.

And as you saw, we’re working on it. 😉

Conclusion

To develop a feel for compressing and rolling, it’s not enough to roll the ball on the bench for 30 seconds and then try to apply that idea with the racquet.

Feel develops slowly – like muscles grow.

To benefit from this concept of compressing and rolling, here’s what I suggest you do:

1. Roll the ball on the bench with your hand for 2 minutes before every session. (1 minute for forehand, 1 for backhand)

2. Roll the ball on the bench (or on the ground!) with the racquet and half-grip for 2 minutes. (1 minute for forehand, 1 minute for backhand)

3. Play mini tennis for a couple of minutes and attempt to compress and roll the ball while using the big muscles and pushing off the ground.

4. Replay the video of me demonstrating a few times at home so you can sense how I generate force from the ground. We learn best visually by copying so don’t ignore this part of watching and attempting to feel what I feel when hit a groundstroke.

Let me know how it goes and if you have any questions about this concept of “rolling” the ball!

Leave a Comment:

(108) comments

vache July 8, 2012

awesome article, really good stuff,
keep them coming, i have been reading your newsletters for years now they are really great and i forward them to coaches and players alike
what you said about the mental image is exactly the problem, as a young tennis player i played longer and better, unfortunately my training was on and off and was not too good, i would say actually ruined me (shitty public school coaches).
As i developed according to their teaching, my mental image, which when i was young was natural, became constrained and wrong.
Right as ai write this I am having a hard time creating a mental image of a forehand with open stance. I know how it looks like, i can watch videos over and over, but I can;t image it anymore. I am ruined 🙁

Reply
    Tomaz July 8, 2012

    Hey vache,

    Thanks for the comment!

    Don’t worry about the open stance – it is actually trickier than it looks but I have some simple “feel” exercises that will teach your body the right sequence.

    Just stay in touch and I’ll be posting more of such ideas.

    Reply
Don July 9, 2012

I love how you work the technique from ground up! When you make the stoke, do you still do a loppmcoming back, or is the rotation flatter so you may compress th.e ball better? Not sure about the “feeling” of the transition from back stroke to forward stroke?

Reply
    Tomaz July 9, 2012

    Hi Don,

    My preparation on the forehand is a loopy one but not so much because I played a lot of competitive tennis at some point and there simply isn’t enough time (against good opponents) to have a big loop.

    Also, because I create most of the force from the ground (volleyball training helps) and shoulder rotation, the loop again is not that big. Think David Ferrer or Fabio Fognini.

    Reply
      Don July 9, 2012

      Thx again, Tomaz, this is very informative, and clearly you are a insightful teacher, which is what I have been looking for. One last thing, when hitting this style forehand, is the sound off the racket more of a SSSST than a pop!

      Reply
Steve Sarvate July 9, 2012

This is an excellent video and write up. I have enjoyed every video and learned a lot from these ever since I subscribed to your videos. I watch them every few weeks just to remind me of the correct technique.

Reply
Carl July 9, 2012

Tomaz,

Thanks for the informative article and videos on hitting (I mean rolling) the ball. I’ve been struggling with teaching this concept to some of my players and what you’ve presented I think will help a lot. I’ve also been a long time follower of yours and I’m glad to see your back with new content.

Carl

Reply
monty basnyat July 9, 2012

Hi Tomaz – Excellent article. I have been saying the same thing to my students especially with the modern forehand where most advance players are playing with 100% poly strings. Keep up the great work and looking forward to more of your blogs.
PS can you make sure I am signed up. I tried on the link you provided but not sure it worked.

Cheers,

Monty Basnyat
Sacramento CA

Reply
    Tomaz July 9, 2012

    Monty, Thanks for the kind words. More stuff coming soon…

    Reply
Dejan July 9, 2012

Tomaz, you’re right, you’re too trained to make the “wrong techniques” look wrong hahaha…you couldn’t hit the tennis ball badly no matter how hard you tried..if you weren’t reaching on the first two incorrect techniques and I didn’t know better, I would have thought you were teaching different types of forehands..great video overall tho. Will try out what you taught when next I hit the court..

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Calvin Chow July 9, 2012

Tomaz — This is the BEST explanation of how to visualize and hence focus your motions on hitting the ball correctly. I’ve been trying for years now without success to obtain the right feel of hitting the ball by mimicking the mechanics that everyone else talks about, but after watching your video describing the “compress and roll” notion, I now finally understand what I’m trying to achieve, which in turn has significantly improved my forehand and backhand in less than an hour of hitting! Thank You SOOOO MUCH!!! — Cal

Reply
    Tomaz July 9, 2012

    Thank you, Cal, for this great feedback! Enjoy your game.

    Reply
Abbas Golshani July 9, 2012

Hi Tomaz,

I agree with you and other coaches who work hard and relentlessly to demonstrate the methods of teaching
and learning in simple but scientific ways. In tennis
there are no short-cuts as in computer or other electronic gadgets. Here, as you pointed out we have to consider the elements of feel and touch in the larger frame of techniues and strategy to develop better tennis players.

Thank you for the effort and sharing.

Reply
John di Stefano July 9, 2012

I am very impressed with the way you describe complicated things so easily.
I have been following you now for many years and I would like to thank you for the help you’ve given over this time.
Looking forward to all the new content vie this new site.
Thanks

Reply
    Tomaz July 10, 2012

    Thank you, John. Feedback like yours and all others in this post give me real energy and passion to keep doing what I love.

    Reply
Larry Abraham July 9, 2012

Tomaz, Thanks. Good to hear from you again. I’ll
imagine the “compress and roll” when hitting against
the wall today.

Reply
Klemen July 9, 2012

Živijo, Tomaž!

Lepo redno dobivam tvoje e-pošte in jih tudi preberem. Da ne bom predolg, te bom že na začetku pohvalil glede vsebine e-pošt in strokovnosti. Ta, zadnja, je odlična razlaga, kako pravilno udariti forhand. Namreč, tenis sem treniral precej let, potem sem začel učiti, sedaj pa le občasno vzamem kakšnega tečajnika. Največ energije pa usmerjam v učenje moje punce, ker je odlična športnica in izreden talent za tenis. Prav uživam, ko jo učim, ker hitro dojema in tudi izvede pravilno. Ta razlaga bo samo en korak naprej pri izboljšavi udarca (ravno tako pri meni). Vsemi je jasno, prosil bi te samo, kakšen prijem priporočaš. Hvala in uspešno naprej!

klemen

Reply
    Tomaz July 10, 2012

    Živjo Klemen,

    Hvala za komentar! Prijem priporočam semi-western ampak če delaš te vaje kot jih kažem v videu, potem se ta prijem kar sam vzpostavi ker je najbolj udoben.

    Reply
      Klemen July 10, 2012

      Hvala, Tomaž, za odgovor. Se strinjam! Super!
      Smo v stiku!

      Klemen

      Reply
Larry Abraham July 9, 2012

Hi Tomaz, Thank you. It is good to hear from you. I’ll practice the “compress and roll” when I hit against
the wall today.
Looking forward to more insights and the forehand
course. Larry Abraham
Mevasseret Zion, Israel

Reply
Graham July 9, 2012

An excellent video – no unnecessary chatter and good practical demonstration.
I only started playing tennis at the age of 60 and have found visual imagery to be extremely useful.While watching myself practicing strokes in my reflection in the window I suddenly became aware that the “good looking” shots were all about body turn. My arm hardly moved in relation to my shoulder – both backhand and forehand.
That point came out very well in your video although you did not specifically mention it.
Thank you
Graham
South Africa

Reply
    Tomaz July 10, 2012

    Good insight, Graham. Yes, rotating the body is the main “engine” of the forehand and twohanded backhand stroke. I’ll share more stuff about technique soon – although key points about the forehand will be in my new course.

    Reply
Victoria July 9, 2012

Thanks a lot, Tomaz.
I read your articles a year. They help me very much. I play tennis for 2 years, worked with two coaches. But I do not like my strokes and technique in general. I knew what I was doing something wrong in the racquet contact with a ball.
About a year I had one practice together with his sister. It was a difficult year. I could not continue to play such a terrible technique, knowing that with each stroke I just rolled back and came to nothing.
I hired a coach. So he said to me, you must roll a ball. but I could not imagine a way in my head. After me came the realization that I should do – that was a picture in mind “compress and roll”, which you describe in your article. That’s when I was not confident in it until the end. Now everything is all right, I’m calm, that on the right way.
Once again, thank you very much.

Reply
    Tomaz July 10, 2012

    Hi Victoria, thanks for this cool feedback. I am glad more coaches are familiar with this concept.

    Reply
John Loftus July 9, 2012

I like this idea and am looking forward to trying it out. I have always had the idea that you have to ‘brush up’ the back of the ball (in fact some pros told me that, and it does seem to work most of the time, but I think ‘compress and roll’ is a better image.

How do you practise it on the (one-handed) backhand, though? (I was never taught a topspin backhand when I was young, and have struggled to make much progress with it)

Reply
    Tomaz July 10, 2012

    Hi John,

    You practice it the same way for the one handed backhand. Just roll the ball with the back of the hand a few times. The key is the right mental image though – imagine compress & roll when you’re approaching the ball with your backhand. Do NOT think about mechanics, just what you want to do with the strings to the ball.

    Reply
Juan Miguel July 9, 2012

Hello Tomaz, Is possible to get your videos in Spanish language?

Reply
Ravi Kumar July 9, 2012

Hi Tomaz,

I got back into the game after a long span of years and have been following your articles and reviewing your videos very closely. I have been correcting my groundstokes with your able guidance.
I find your articles to be very suggestive thus offering more towards perfection.
Thank you very much and I would also like to inform you that I have just signed up on your Feel Tennis link hoping to receive more illustrations.

Ravi

Reply
Emil July 9, 2012

Tomaz,
can’t wait for the next lesson to be online. Found this video extremely helpful.Will go on the court and practice so it becomes second nature to my tennis game 🙂

Reply
Stan July 9, 2012

While your ball rolling does make some sense, I think you are really missing a good consistent finish. That’s what I see in videos of your students. I think you should study Oscar Wegner’s stuff. He really figured it all out 20 years ago.

Reply
Stan July 9, 2012

Search for “tennis in 10 minutes” on youtube to see how Wegner’s student does after 10 minutes.

Reply
Fay July 10, 2012

Amazing .. !! I noticed something else which you didn’t mention. Did you say anything to any of your students about the path of the racquet arm? I see that the arm after instruction starts closer to the body than before … the path has changed from “all over the place” to sort of an “inside to outside” movement … Is that intentionally told or does it just happen with the *change of image* ? thanks –

Reply
    Tomaz July 10, 2012

    Sharp eye, Fay! That’s exactly the “secret” of the right mental image and total focus on how to work the ball.

    The arm movement naturally adapts to this new idea without “rigid” abd mechanical commands.

    Reply
      Fay July 10, 2012

      Thanks Tomaz – as you know, I come from coaching figure skating and have an eye of sorts, but can’t necessarily figure out why I see great junior players hit the ball one way (who have played say 5 years) and watch adults who have played for 20-40 years and don’t seem to hit the ball right …. I have tried the inside to outside but can’t seem to get it to stick without thinking about it. going to try rolling the tennis ball to see if I can carry a different image with me that is more natural … what about the BH ? thanks so much for your generosity !!!

      Reply
        Tomaz July 11, 2012

        BH (one handed) is the same – just roll the ball with the back of the hand and release. When holding the racquet you can do the drill you see me do with students when I hold mny racquet as a base on which they roll the ball. First horizontal, and then I tilt it. Then it’s just the right mental image when hitting the ball.

        Reply
          Fay July 12, 2012

          Way cool! Thank so much !!!

          Reply
          Fay July 18, 2012

          Really really made a different in my hitting.

          I have tried the inside to outside and could not get that “path” to become natural. Your image works differently and works better. THANKS SO MUCH !!!!

          Reply
Nacho Ambort July 10, 2012

hey tomaz, first of all congratulations for all your work. This is REALLY good stuff. The human body have something that is called “propiocepcion” in spanish. i guess that a way of saying that in english could be selfsepction, or slef body knowledge that comes truh the 5 senses, this is a great way to develop FEEL or “propioception”.

This is great and im looking foward fot the new videos.

have a good life!

Nacho (argentina)

Reply
    Tomaz July 10, 2012

    Hello Nacho, you’re right about the idea that the body learns best by itself. Tim Gallwey called that Self2. We just need to give it clear instruction and be patient and “technique” will improve in the most “gentle” way that suits that particular body.

    Reply
Luka July 10, 2012

I think you hit the nail on the head here Tomaz. It’s all about the right mental image and your explanation makes so much sense. Keep up the good work 😉

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Giovanni July 10, 2012

Will give it a try and get back to you next week!!!! didn’t think about the stroke that way!!!!!!!!!One of a my coaches always says rollit..interesting
!!!! now i really understand what he means!!!

Reply
Giovanni July 12, 2012

Hi, Tomaz I practiced some groundstroes yesterday and i had what i saw in your vid in mind then suddenly i felt something different …i could feel the balll better it was then that i realized that i was compressing and rolling..but then i lost it again..my goal is for the next one month id to make that feel more and more of my stroke..thanks

Reply
    Tomaz July 12, 2012

    Excellent! As I said, feel develops through time so keep working on it. You’ll become more and more sensitive to all the small details that can be felt at contact.

    Reply
Peder Jakobsen July 18, 2012

Hi Thomaz,

After you explain the technique, and then ask your first student to choke up on the racquet at “compress with his legs and roll”, he actually bends his legs long before he hits the ball, and just before or upon contact he straightens them. This makes your analogy a bit confusing. Is it just that I’m taking you too literally. Or do you mean? Compress before you hit the ball, uncompress on the ball? Confused.

Reply
    Tomaz July 18, 2012

    I asked the student to imagine compressing the ball with the racquet. The legs are not mentioned but it is true that he extends them too early.

    It’s actually something he realized himself during these drills. So compress & roll is a mental image of what the racquet does to the ball – but you need to allow the legs and the whole body to respond to this mental image how they like.

    In most cases the player will use more legs as “compressing” in his mind means exert more force with the whole body.

    Reply
Fay July 18, 2012

P.S.

My tendency was to have more of a round-a-bout swing with internal torque rather than a more finessed technique. I could see from comparing my videos to those of Rafa, Roger, Pete, etc., that it just wasn’t right somehow, and the movement of the ELBOW through space was a part of it rather than the racquet head – so this made it not so efficient and hard to find the “right” path each time. In between practices I’ve been rolling the ball on the ground as well and now my hubby is doing it.
Thanks again for your labor of love and sharing so much with us !

Reply
    Fay July 19, 2012

    I showed my hubby the methodology of rolling the ball on the bench and today for the first time in 2 years he beat me, LOL

    thanks for this tips !!!

    Reply
      Tomaz July 19, 2012

      Ouch, well, it will definitely raise your game to the next level. 😉

      Reply
        Fay July 19, 2012

        That’s the way I see it too. The better my hubby plays, the more it will pull me up. He can really get some heat on the ball now with the improved stroke! Thanks again !!!

        Reply
    Tomaz July 19, 2012

    Very nice! I wish I had a graphic/video designer who did that…

    Reply
Don July 19, 2012

Tomaz, trying to incorporate the compress and roll principal in a match, but I am having trouble on deep high bouncing rallies and heavy balls to the base line. I am misshitting and dumping in the net. Any thoughts?

Reply
    Tomaz July 20, 2012

    Hi Don, I suggest you don’t focus much on how to hit the ball during the match as it will confuse you and you’ll forget how to play tactically smart.

    Secondly, not every ball can be hit with compress & roll approach. A high ball can be hit simply by feel deep into the opponent’s court.

    One thing about high balls: don’t try to play them “well”. Meaning, when you have a typical ball coming to your strike zone below your shoulders, you will naturally try to hit it well – so that it will have pace.

    But on high balls you need to adjust your goal since high ball is difficult to hit with pace. So don’t attempt to hit it with pace – just hit it deep and wait for the next ball to come to the strike zone.

    In other words, don’t try to do anything with a high ball except play it deep.

    Reply
      Don July 21, 2012

      Excellent advice Tomaz. I get that now. Thx and keep the videos coming. Excellent help

      Reply
maurizio mango July 22, 2012

dear tomasz thank you for your intention to teach us the natural way the play tennis ; in the article about serving you say that what we need is to think fast and not hard while in this article you say that we need a good acceleration before hitting the ball : there are some differences ?
when you will give us the next suggestion ?
thnak a lot for your articles …
MAURIZIO

Reply
    Tomaz July 22, 2012

    Maurizio,

    On the serve I was explaining how to increase the speed of the first serve. It is slightly different than groundstrokes.

    Thinking of hitting a “hard” shot will tense your muscles and that’s not what you want since then they cannot work fast.

    Thinking “loose” is a better idea as it relaxes you.

    Acceleration is similar to both the serve and groundstrokes – it eventually leads to speed – meaning “fast”.

    Think of acceleration as a “throwing” motion – even with groundstrokes. If you do, you’ll realize that when you throw you release – and not hit “harder”.

    Reply
JEAN July 22, 2012

Tomaz.
Once again, you use a smart tool,a tectical approach instead of a vague technical one.
After 6 weeks of non playing, I went on the court and hit balls. I started as usual, with mini-tennis hitting high spins, but slowly moving back and thinking of crushing the ball and letting go (thats all,nothing else,no spins, no brush up).
The result= I started to forget about my swing (moderate)and hitting deep shots, just focusing on press down on the ball and let go. A natural follow-trough simply happens. My coach hitting friend asked me what I had been doing these past non playing weeks,he was pleased with my hits.I said :”Ill tell you later”.

Another thing with this tactic, is that I came back to a one handed back hand. Otherwise with 2 hands,I lost it all. Is this normal?
In resumé: pivot, and just think of crush and let go- roll,dont think swinging, and yes it works. This is my way from now on,thanks to you again, Tomaz.
Jean Landry, Québec.

Reply
    Tomaz July 22, 2012

    Hi Jean,

    Good to hear that the “crush” works well for you.

    As for two hands, they might need more time to incorporate this feeling since they are coordinating the pressure at the same time.

    But eventually play whatever feels better…

    Reply
Fay July 25, 2012

Does this compress and roll work on the serve, for example if I lie on the court and press and roll the ball “overhead” will that create a better motion?

Reply
    Tomaz July 25, 2012

    Perhaps at some stage of learning a top spin serve, the compress & roll does work.

    I have personally done that phase but now I serve a top spin serve with a different mental image – I make my whole arm very loose and just “throw the racquet” into the ball at an angle so that the ball spins.

    It feels very effortless now. I’ll make sure to explain this serving tip in the near future…

    Reply
      Fay July 28, 2012

      THANKS !

      Reply
Andrew July 29, 2012

Hi Tomaz,

This is a great article, and the new website looks promising. However, your discussion of Newton’s second law is misleading. Instead of discussing Force, it’s more relevant to discuss Momentum (which is called “P”) because it’s the momentum of the racquet that changes the flight of the incoming ball. Momentum equals Mass times Velocity, not Mass times Acceleration. So the formula is P=M*. Velocity is often called “speed” in everyday speech, although strictly speaking “speed” means velocity along a vector, meaning velocity in a given direction. (In contrast, acceleration is a change in velocity.) So it’s not really correct to say there is “no speed” in the equation for the collision between racquet (strings) and ball. Racquet head speed – more accurately, velocity – is very much a part of the equation for the momentum with which the racquet contacts the ball.

Looking forward to more articles coming up.

Andrew

Reply
    Tomaz July 29, 2012

    Thanks for clarification, Andrew. The point I am trying to make is that one needs to focus more on the acceleration of the racquet than the speed of the racquet.

    While it is makes sense to a regular person that you need high velocity of the racquet in order to hit a fast ball, that is not really the case in real life.

    Yes, some velocity is needed but the acceleration of the racquet actually creates lots of force on the ball.

    If tennis players believe that they need a lot of velocity, they will make big backswings in order to have long enough path along which they will develop high speed of the racquet.

    That kind of reasoning (while logical) will cause problems in their game.

    They need to think of a shorter path of the racquet before the contact and focus on accelerating the racquet quickly before the contact – and the ball will fly of the racquet with surprising speed.

    Reply
      Andrew July 29, 2012

      That makes a lot of sense. Also, the more firm and stable the racquet stringbed is, the less energy will be lost at contact and more energy transferred right back into the ball.

      Thanks again Tomaz for all your posts. There are so many tennis websites out there but I find that yours is one of the most thoughtful and practical.

      Reply
Donald Schwass August 13, 2012

Tomaz, going back over this video again, on a scale of 1 to 10, what is the grip pressure to compress and roll the ball??

Reply
    Tomaz August 14, 2012

    The grip tension is low when preparing and starting to go towards the ball – I’d say 2-3. When contacting the ball the grip becomes firmer 5-6 I’d say – but that happens just for a split second. Because after you hit the ball you can release again.

    Reply
D'Amico Walter August 21, 2012

Thx Tomaz for your efforts to explain your insights to us as mortals 😉

Reply
Paul Mullins August 23, 2012

Thank you so much for your instruction! I am 61 years old and love tennis but knew I was not hitting correctly due to poor/incorrect teaching. One intructor told me to hit the bottom of the ball and then brush up. Well that put the ball over the fence. I also was perplexed as how a western grip produced top spin or even worked.
When I learned tennis it was with a wood racquet and my phys ed teacher instructed me to hold a stiff wrist and swing level. Finally I may start to hit the ball as it should be hit thanks to you.

Reply
Arturo Hernandez August 27, 2012

I have been working with my daughter who struggles with consistency. She was hitting the ball really flat and so she simply had no control. So I started to have her roll the ball on the court to me. I would catch it with my foot and then roll it back to her and she rolled it back with her racket. We played this rolling game for a while. Then I had her hit groundstrokes with the same feeling. At first she kept hitting the ball below the net. So I told her to lift it more but feel that she was rolling the ball. Then she could simply hit a basic ball into the court. No problems.

It’s funny because there was no technical instruction. She even told me she knew how it felt so it was easier for her to do it.

Thanks!

Reply
James Baguio August 31, 2012

Thanks Tomas! Your articles and demonstrations are really helpful. It helps me get better in tennis because you help me “understand” what’s going on while playing the tennis ball.

Keep up the great work!

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moufis September 27, 2012

Hi,

I have been playing for three weeks, following only the mental image of PRESS and ROLL and I believe it works for me the best.

I am looking forward on something more for this subject for example is it right that I use this image during a match and not only in practice sessions?

I really have excellent results though I focus only on this image during the points and select the direction and height of the ball rather subconsciously.

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    Tomaz September 27, 2012

    Hi Moufis,

    The mental image of press & roll will eventually become so unconscious that you’ll finally be able to play tennis. 😉 If you use it in the match, it can distract you from playing smart tactical game.

    But if you’re looking for a consistent rally ball, then it should work fine.

    Reply
      moufis September 28, 2012

      thanks a lot for your response

      Reply
velayudhan October 16, 2012

Really awsome to go through the tips, Thanks a lot.

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roberto November 25, 2012

Ciao Tomaz di professione faccio il maestro di tennis da 30 anni. Ricevo le mail e seguo sul tuo sito i tuoi aggiornamenti.
Devo complimentarmi con te per il grande e duro lavoro di studio che hai fatto.
Una cosa veramente molto impegnativa e utile a tutti noi che amiamo questo sport.
Grazie Roberto Professional PTR

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    Tomaz November 25, 2012

    Ciao Roberto,

    Grazie per le tue parole gentili!

    Reply
Floridijan February 15, 2013

Tomaz, I like your teaching method, with a comment,

F = m * a
v = a * t => a=v/t => F = m * v/t

Tako da ne bi smeli reci da sila nema veze sa brzinom, jer je akceleracija upravo promena te brzine u jedinici vremena.

Pozdrav sa Floride!

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    Tomaz February 15, 2013

    Hvala, Floridijan!

    Reply
Mark March 21, 2013

great content..very well explained and demonstrated…would be interested in serving tips

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Dennis April 15, 2013

Wow! I just got back from the first day out trying to compress and roll with my groundstrokes. WHAT A DIFFERENCE! I have never felt so solid, reliably getting topspin, playing with controlled aggression, and really using the power of exploding into the shot with the legs. One question: when hitting a two-handed BH, is it better to practice the compress and roll with just the non-dominant hand, both hands, or alternating both?

Thanks, Tomaz – your approach is fantastic!

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    Tomaz April 15, 2013

    Hey Dennis, thanks for the kind feedback!

    The main hand hitting the ball with your two-handed backhand will be the non-dominant one so you need to practice the compress & roll with that one.

    You can try doing that also with the back of the dominant hand just a little bit for the feel – which is also what I suggest for one-handed backhand – but in your case it won’t be the key.

    So just get the feel with the non-dominant hand and let me know how it goes!

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Kevin June 24, 2013

Hi Tomaz,

Your approach of the technique is so enlightning. It is particulary useful when you started tennis in your adult life like I did. Mental images help a lot. I am always amazed with the amount of technical instructions we tend to put ourselves through. T Gallwey first convinced me to change my angle. But your videos (especially this one which I really like) and articles give us a modern and easy approach of tennis. In other words, you are the T Gallwey of our time! Thanks a million

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Robert August 3, 2013

First a digression — your exchange with Andrew has helped me comprehend a distinction between ‘racket speed’ and ‘acceleration’ that I had never really considered before.
Now the comment I wanted to make. After picking the game up again and learning new form for pretty much everything, I was very involved with the technical analysis situation. My forehand was unpredictably inconsistent as I fixed this and fixed that and found something else going wrong. So I went to the court with your ‘compress and roll’ in my head and focused only on that for the day. After playing maybe four or five balls, I suddenly FELT the element in my stroke mechanics that was causing the inconsistency. It took a few more reps to get a better feeling instead, but that was that. Certainly an ironic result, but one that has made all the difference for me. Thanks so much for what you do!

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    Tomaz August 3, 2013

    Great to hear, Robert! Stay in touch, cheers, Tomaz

    Reply
Petko March 27, 2014

Tomaz,
Your explanation about accelaration changed my game. My shots became with more power and control.
Thank you very much!

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Bogdan March 29, 2014

Hey Tomaz,

Your words “compress and roll” have been like BANG for me. I can’t wait to put them in practice.

Thanks!

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    Harald Auer April 21, 2014

    hi,
    congratulations! your advice to think about tennis grounstrokes and spin in a new way and your lot of helpful hints are very great!
    thanks.
    i believe, sportsmen need the best describing words, paintings and videos and ideas for training, self-examination and the never-ending-process of try, error and sucess. i am sure, your idea of compressing the tennis-ball – in every shot! – is absolutly true – there are lots of high-speed photos. but i need more arguments for the idea of rolling the tennisball – BY STRINGS – for spin.
    there is the following question and problem: im am studying what may happen during the 3-5 ms at contact by topspin in the two main- directions: forewards and upwards. high-speed cameras tell us, that ball and strings become after contact a fixed unit in the forward and upward move. i have data for a raquet-move at 80 km/h. the ball/raquet-unit will travel in this time 64 mm forwards. i have no data for the upward travelling. the ball is compressed: 64 mm to 41 mm f.e. the ball stacks in the bed of f.e. 7 x 6 strings, until the process stops and starts back in the opposite direction. it seems to me, that there is only one movement during the 3-5 ms-intervall – because there is a fixed unit, compressed in two opposite directions by the same force – ball and strings – unable to move in separated directions.
    the raquet-head ist moving during contact-time from low to high and forwards. my meaning is, the ball must do the same. the tip of the raquet-head and the strings rotate in case of drall-moves. the location of the ball – sitting in the strings, follows the path of the raquet-head, because he is the “BOSS”, because he is much heavier then the ball. the only room/time for a special topspin-movement of the ball is the time and the room of the contact-intervall. the raquet-head and the strings must – for topspin – rotate upwards – to transfer this rotation to the ball. that means: NO ROLLING OF THE BALL BY A SEPARATED STRING- MOVEMENT –
    BUT ROTATING OF THE HEAD AND STRINGS and ball as a unit.
    i suppose, the rolling moving of the head is a “must” because of the speed of the raquet and the neccassary path of arm and raquet around
    the shoulder after contact.
    drall ist result of raquet-head-speed foreward and raquet-head rotation. it is the job of the head, to give rotation both to strings and ball.
    do you have data or links of upwards traveling raquets during topspin and backswing. whats your meanning of producing spin?
    for players it is a good hint, to think about “LIKE ROLLING”
    WFR
    HARALD

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Jason June 2, 2014

Hi Tomaz,

I really like your emphasis on ‘compress and roll’ . However, is it easier to say that you must hit at the SWEETSPOT and the ‘compress and roll’ action will automatically take place. So just aim at the sweetspot and you will hit the ball in the right way.

Is this correct ?

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    Tomaz June 2, 2014

    Not necessarily, Jason. When you have the idea / mental image that you want to compress and roll, you will engage you body more into the shot.

    Then you will be able to control the ball better. You’ll also be better balanced and it will just happen unconsciously because you want to “compress” the ball.

    If you don’t have the right balance, don’t engage your body then hitting in the sweet spot doesn’t help much controlling the ball.

    Reply
david44 April 6, 2015

Hi, Tomaz

Enjoyed your article on the right ways to hit tennis ball, you highlight “compress and roll”. I have a few questions:

1. what are the main advantages of your method: adding more power to the ball in terms of speed or better control of ball direction, or something else?

2. is the method mainly for topspin and backspin, or it can be used for flat groundstroke as well?

3. can I say that with your method to hit tennis ball, back swing and follow through can be reduced in certain
extent ?

wish to have your comments and thanks again

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    Tomaz April 7, 2015

    Thanks, David.

    Ok, to your questions:

    1. By imagining that you need to compress the ball, players automatically engage more of their body into the shot. The #1 problem in tennis stroke technique is using just the arm.

    So this mental image helps them unconsciously engage the body and as a result they can get more power and control of shots.

    2. Can be used to flat strokes too. Try this mental image and see if you “lean” more into the ball.

    3. Yes, once you engage the body more, you feel that you don’t need to exert so much force with your arm hence the backswing just naturally shortens and the follow-through may also become simpler.

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julianne July 17, 2015

This is great! I felt like I had a small breakthrough in my game today by trying to apply this concept. I’ve only recently discovered your intstruction through YouTube but I enjoy it immensely and have learned a lot! I’m basically a novice. I played a few years in high school but not much since then. It’s wonderful to be playing again and I’m excited to really improve my game. Thank you for sharing your wonderful insight and instruction!

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JonC July 20, 2015

Hey Tomaz – I was watching this video again and something stood out. You say “don’t swing too much”. I think that’s what I’m doing wrong when I mess up – I’ve never even thought about that before. Doesn’t that mean that you can be too loose with the arm and body? Federer looks like he’s super loose but is he really?

Second point – closely related:

I recently started firming up the grip a little more at contact and this seems to have made my stroke much less “long and loose”. Maybe I’ve also firmed up the whole stroke by doing that and I’m connecting legs and body with the arm now. I’m still pretty loose but not to the point where the racquet seems to just fly on it’s own course (like I was doing).

I’m having a long debate with people telling me I’m wrong on this, you may agree with them.

On the “long and loose” compared with the correct way: you are holding your racquet tighter right? At least at contact anyway? I’m arguing that you can’t be as loose as possible withe the grip. I get a much better feel if I squeeze a little at contact – when I’m rallying from baseline. What do you think?

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David March 4, 2016

Hi Tomaz,

Thanks for your great video!! When you said “you can’t just think of correct movement with the hand will put your ball in”, I got the “Ahhaa” moment! I think that’s what I have always been over-focusing on about the posture of the whole forehand swingpath, height, drop etc (although it is still important I guess).

Definitely gonna try focus more on the moment of contact with the compress and roll concept, it is a great tip!! Thanks!!

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    Tomaz March 4, 2016

    Glad that you liked the idea, David. Make sure you don’t forget the intention because that’s what controls all the body parts with some purpose.

    Reply
Roger May 16, 2016

Hi, Tomaz. I recorded my friendly game and realized that I am doing partially “compress and roll”, however the forehand is low rotation and striking the ball with open stance. If I perform the backswing with the help of the left hand, will automatically improve the rotation of the body and legs semi-open stance? Or correct the first or concomitant feet as you see demonstrated in a double common mistakes feet? Thanks again for your great work. You are the best! Hugs from Brazil.

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TS July 17, 2016

Thomaz,

Do you think this same compress and roll concept is applicable to the serve as well?

T

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    Tomaz July 19, 2016

    Yes, sure, to a topspin serve.

    Reply
Benjamin September 20, 2016

Hi Tomaz, I’m finding this instruction to be tremendously helpful and I feel like I’m finally able to generate power from my legs on my forehand.

But I am running into an issue: When I really concentrate on compressing and rolling the ball, I find that I tend to tense up my arm and grip the racquet very tightly. Do you have any tips for maintaining a relaxed grip and arm while working on this?

Thanks so much.

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    Tomaz September 20, 2016

    Hi Benjamin,

    Keep in mind that the compress & roll is an idea that has to be exaggerated and slowed down so that one can understand it.

    The actual contact with the ball lasts 0.005 seconds so we can’t comprehend what’s going on in that short time.

    So I’ve expanded that short time to a much longer time so that you can imagine and visualize what’s going on.

    Now that you do understand, you must not keep doing this literally as I explained it. You must now shorten that time again and simply more IMAGINE what you want to do with the ball rather than actually physically do it.

    You are tense because you are still literally trying to compress the ball. Try to see that that’s just an idea, not reality.

    Now you need to swing freely and let go and roll the ball just in that split second.

    Rolling the ball in the ground drill might help you:

    http://www.feeltennis.net/how-to-hit-topspin-in-tennis/

    Reply
      Benjamin September 20, 2016

      Thank you so much for the quick reply. This is so helpful.

      Reply
Jonas January 20, 2017

Good article.
About 2 Newton’s law and racket speed.It is not so simple. Bounced ball speed depends on the speed of the racket, or more precisely from the pulse P = mv. P1 + P2 = P1′ + P2′. (P1, P2 pulses before impact; P1′ and P2′ pulses after impact)

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Osman February 14, 2017

Hey man,
I’m from Turkey and this stuff you post, really, really helps out a lot. It was just that I have been trying to copy eastern forehand shots (especially Federer’s) for a while now by watching his slow motions. Everything I did seemed correct yet I couldn’t emulate the same trajectory as him. And then I said to myself, there must be something about the contact feel and then bamm! I found your article when I googled “Federer forehand maybe hitting over the ball rather than under the ball?”
I was tryin to brush up always and this gave me all the confirmation I needed not to do that. Thank you coach.
Osman

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    Tomaz February 15, 2017

    Great to hear, Osman, thanks for the feedback!

    Enjoy the game and keep in touch.

    Reply
John March 3, 2017

Hello,
I’ve been trying to master a good forehand for sometime. I have found if I concentrate on the follow through something weird happens. I feel like the racquet slowly meets the ball and, just before contact, an abrupt acceleration happens.

I feel like the racquet catches the ball and compresses it and then the follow through flings it or pushes the ball out with very good speed and control.

However when I see Rafa it looks like he spends a great deal of effort getting racquet speed up before contact?

Are the pros catching, compressing, and accelerating the ball after contact or just going as fast as possible?

Thank you for your efforts. Your videos are fantastic (better than a thousand points of advice you find at the club level from “pros”).

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    Tomaz March 3, 2017

    What you feel and imagine is correct, John.

    What Rafa and other pros do is just speed up this process into less time, but their approach is the same on most shots.

    It has just been mastered to an extremely high level through years of practice.

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Rich Clampitt July 23, 2017

Hi Tomaz,

I just recently found your site – trying to restore my game after decades of neglect – really great insights and helpful for my classic, but unpracticed style. I saw this helpful “hitting” article (and the rolling the ball piece) yesterday and was startled to see this morning’s Sunday NYT Sports Page article on the scientific study of Usain Bolt’s sprinting technique, where the force of his steps is noted vs the speed of his legs. “Peak impact force is delivered within three-hundredths of a second … It is one of the most critical moments of sprinting. Less force put into the ground means less pop back into the air.” Keep up the great work.

Rich

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