If you want to add topspin to your tennis groundstrokes—forehand and backhand—then the most effective and realistic way of doing it is to “roll the ball”.
You’ve surely heard many times that you produce topspin by getting under the ball and then brushing up, but in reality, top spin happens much faster and in a much more dynamic way.
Rolling the ball is one exercise that will almost instantly trigger the “aha” moment once you try it.
The usual way of teaching topspin forehand or backhand is to drop the racquet under the ball and then brush or lift up, thus, making the ball spin.
But if you attempt to really hit the ball like that, you will face quite a few disadvantages, not to mention the fact that you’re not really learning the proper way of controlling the ball:
1. You miss on the acceleration – Dropping your racquet and brushing up on the ball means that you start below the ball with zero speed, and from there, you have a very short distance to accelerate it to the ball.
Therefore, you will probably jerk the racquet too much and thus lose control of the stroke, or you’ll simply lack enough speed to hit the ball fast and with spin.
2. You time the ball incorrectly – By having the racquet below the ball, you are likely to pull too much upwards and lose clean contact with the ball, and again lose control of the shot.
3. You create a lot of tension – Because you have to accelerate so suddenly from zero racquet head speed, you use a lot of force and make your strokes, and tennis overall, very inefficient.
Therefore, I see “getting below the ball and brushing up” as a disadvantage of trying to analyze every bit of a tennis stroke and break it down into separate movements.
The way good tennis players hit the ball with topspin is way faster and more complex than the traditional teaching method suggests.
Note how the wrists flex when Djokovic starts the drop of the racquet and how they spring back into the contact point. Even in slow motion this movement is quick.
This movement of the wrists and the consequent racquet lag CANNOT be broken down into separate movements in order to simplify learning.
You need to learn it by relaxing your hands while rotating with the body towards the ball and do that many times in order to develop the right timing and the right amount of firmness and feel in your hands.
Rolling the ball and hitting it in the ground helps you develop the correct way of hitting a topspin forehand or backhand due to the following factors:
1. Your arms and hands move in the correct way, as a real tennis topspin stroke requires them to—a fast, dynamic, and effortless acceleration.
2. Since you’re not aiming at anything, you can let go of control, and that, again, helps you feel how fast and smooth you can accelerate the racquet.
3. The key to this fast acceleration is that the racquet LAGS behind the arm. If you follow my advice and really let go of control and let the wrist(s) move more freely, that lag will happen automatically.
With the “below-the-ball-and-brush-up” technique, there will be no racquet lag as the arm and the racquet will move towards the ball at the same speed.
As with every exercise, it is possible to misinterpret what I am suggesting and do it wrong.
The most common mistakes are the following:
To summarize, rolling the ball on the ground simulates the correct way of hitting a topspin forehand or backhand because the movement is dynamic and not broken down into segments that prevent racquet lag and, therefore, good acceleration.
While magic can happen with this drill after a little practice, I suggest that you use it repeatedly for a while until you feel a very clean hit of the ball and the ability to create topspin tennis strokes effortlessly.