How To Hit Topspin In Tennis by Rolling the Ball

Mar 29

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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.

 

Why Is Rolling More Effective than Brushing Up?

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.

topspin tennis groundstroke

The racquet path when rolling the ball is very similar to the actual racquet path when hitting top spin. Relaxed and comfortable rolling of the ball in the ground helps you develop the racquet lag and the feel for topspin.

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:

  • Hitting the ball hard on the ground instead of just focusing on a smooth and fast brush over the top of the ball
  • Having very firm wrist(s) and not allowing the racquet to lag before contact with the ball
  • Sticking to the regular follow-through around the shoulder, where, in this case, the follow-through will be much lower. There is no need to think about it; it will just happen. All focus is on “rolling the ball”.

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.

Take a look at how to hit a tennis ball article too and use the drill above as another way of getting the right technique and feel for hitting topspin tennis forehands and backhands.

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35 comments

  1. charlotte /

    Great idea, really new, no coach ever told me the roll-technique. This will give more depth on my shots, and I think a more fluent motion, because now I feel like muscling the heavy topspin balls.

    I will try on the backhand. More videos about this roll technique would be appreciated : on the forehand and seeing more hitting of your student.

    A question : is the racket still square , I mean vertical at the point of contact with the ball?

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Charlotte,

      When we roll the ball in the ground the racquet is obviously quite closed.

      When we hit over the net, the racquet’s angle DEPENDS on the angle of the incoming ball bouncing off the ground, whether we’re hitting on the rise or when the ball is falling down, etc.

      So while theoretically the angle of the racquet face may be close at contact on an IDEAL ball, it’s maybe 1 or 2 degrees off and there’s not way you can consciously align your racquet by that little angle-

      So don’t think at all about how much the racquet face is closed but think how high above the net you want to play and simply adjust after every shot played.

  2. Giuseppe /

    Tomaz, great teaching session.

    I have applied the same concept to my forehand and it is beginning to work!

    However, I noticed that often the ball lands closer to the net (in the opposite half of the court) than when I hit flatter, sometimes allowing the opponent to do a winner shot. Maybe I don’t accelerate enough with the racquet?

    I also struggle more to get spin on my single handed backhand… Any advice on this?

    Thank you for posting your lessons, they are so useful!!

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Giuseppe,

      Try and play deeper shots by hitting higher rather than faster.

      As for topspin on the backhand shot, try the rolling exercise at every session you play for a few minutes and alternate between rolling and hitting over the net.

  3. Claudio /

    Excellent tip! It has much logic. I’ll try it! Thank you!

  4. SunLee /

    That’s what i want to learn!

  5. Andrew /

    Brilliant,Tomaž. Your insight into the importance of getting the feel of dynamic movements that cannot be broken into isolated elements really resonates with me. Can’t wait to use this to help my son with his 2HBH – not to mention my own groundstrokes.

    A question: would this exercise also be effective to get the feel of more spin on the serve?

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Andrew,

      A similar exercise for top spin serve is the one I showed long time ago, in the era of silent movies. ;)

  6. Fernando /

    Thank you Tomaz!
    I will try this drill with my son the next time I play tennis with him. I believe this drill will help him a lot because, when he hits fast, many times the ball goes on the back fence. He obviously is not rolling the ball… :-)
    Best regards,
    Fernando
    Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil

  7. Jon C /

    Tomaz,
    I can see that working great for the 2-hand backhand and the forehand and I’m definietely going to try it but does it work for the 1-hand backhand? Is there the same racquet lag on the 1-hand and the work of the wrist? I do think there is the racquet lag. I think the 1h bh is so hard because the wrist is used differently – is the roll of the wrist more a roll of the arm maybe? I’ve progressed a lot on my forehand using your videos but I think there is some missing secret to the 1h bh that I just haven’t figured out. I’m a 4.5 player and I’ve been playing all my life, all my shots are “good enough” except the 1h bh topspin. I’m beginning to think it’s just a less efficient way to hit the backhand. It’s so easy to hit an easy topsin rally shot on the forehand but the one-hander has to have perfect form every time. The slice feels so natural and I don’t think about form much……anyway, I’m frustrated after loosing another match due to my topspin backhand – maybe I’ll go the Stefi Graff all slice method. If there is a definite roll that the wrist plays, I’d really love to know what it is.

    • hey jon c,

      there’s a pronounced racquet lag on one hander: as your hitting arm is falling down on the backswing make it light & relaxed, then rotate the body into the shot & feel as though you’re leaving the hitting arm behind – do not try to move it consciously. this should initiate the lag. when you stop rotating, this movement – this stop – will catapult the arm & racquet into the ball.
      at the lowest part of the backswing your arm is internally rotated (some call it pronated). as it travels to contact the arm rotates externally (supinates). the wrist is relaxed and moves in the opposite direction compared to forehand. this unwinding of arm & wrist puts tons of topspin on the ball.
      when you finish the shot your hitting palm and the whole inside part of your hitting hand – even the armpit – are pointing upward & behind you. chest forward & up. it’s a great stretch, a greater feeling.
      just watch gasquet.
      after a few tries you won’t ever hit slice again.
      hope it helps.

      • Jon C /

        That’s really good information and I can see how those movements work in the same way that the laid back wrist/racket lag and loose arm work on the forehand side – which is what I am trying to figure out. Thanks, I’ll see what I can do with it.

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Jon,

      Sure, there is a racquet lag on the one-handed backhand too but I suggest you simply roll the ball without too much technical thinking.

      I’ve shared the video below long time ago which shows you a game you play in service boxes by rolling the ball down and practicing what I suggest here.

      You’ll also see me hit one-handed backhands where I am rolling / spinning the ball in the ground.

      • Jon C /

        Thanks Tomaz, I definitely don’t want to be thinking about form and technical stuff. I remember that video – haven’t tried the bounce thing yet but will.

  8. This drill is great. Thank you. It really helps to smooth out your strokes and swing freely. It also trains you to focus on the ball at contact. I still struggle to maintain the roll-effect when balls are low or slow and high. On low balls I tend to hit the net, and on high balls I tend to want to open up the racquet face. Any tips on how to correct this?

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Max,

      On both low and high balls it’s critical that you know the HEIGHT over the net at which you’re aiming at. Closing or opening the face is too conscious and doesn’t do much for your consistency.

      Forget about the racquet face angle and try to hit your desired height above the net repeatedly. The article on handling high balls should help too.

  9. Ronnie Stern /

    GREAT Drill… makes a big difference!

  10. Paul /

    Hi Tomaz, congrats for your lessons! I have understood practices and improved on every video you have posted … since this one….
    Is it only me not understanding how to do this drill vs the “correct racket path” and “simple tennis FH tips for More Power and Topspin“?
    The wrist stays locked at contact and for the “forward and up” feel as well. How this drill changes that? You can probably see by my comment how confused I am by this video ;)
    By the way, since I started following your website (2 months ago) I have not lost a game….

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Paul,

      It’s not really about a change of basic principles of hitting the ball, it’s about making them more dynamic and faster.

      It’s more about connecting the drop of the racquet with the acceleration upward and finding a more effortless way of accelerating the racquet head.

      You can view this drill as an upgrade of the previous drills that build the foundation of the stroke.

      Let me know if that helps…

      • Paul /

        Hey Coach,
        Thanks for getting back to me.
        This drill is still not clear; I sometimes hit the ball with the bottom frame of the racquet, or I lose control of direction and ball flight.
        My question is: does the wrist Actively moves in a specific way or it is just as a consequence of the “forward and up” path?
        Anyway I will ignore this exercise for the time being and will wait for an eventual follow up video.
        Thanks again
        ;)

        • Tomaz /

          Hi Paul,

          The wrist doesn’t move actively, it more just “lays” on the ball.

          You let it lag and roll on the ball.

          Do it slower, not forcefully and practice. ;)

          • Lucky /

            First of all, a big thank you to coach Tomaz for sharing his wealth of knowledge with us.

            I used to always struggle with my timing before watching your video instruction on the same and have since never felt rushed to hit a shot.

            Coming to the point being discussed here, I too have the same problem Paul is facing.

            In your video on correct racquet path, you mentioned that the racquet angle does not change at the point of contact.

            However, when doing this drill, the racquet angle does change, because the racquet face, which initially is parallel to the net near the point of contact, starts facing downward as the wrist is released from its flexed position while hitting the ball. The racket face angle changes from parallel the net to a little closed during the contact.

            This happens if we try to hit the ball “into the ground” and roll “over” the ball.

            Or should the racquet face always be a little closed and never parallel to the net throughout this motion?

            I’d be grateful if you could elucidate a bit on this :D

            And thanks for reading such a long comment :)

          • Tomaz /

            Hi Lucky,

            Good question!

            The question of the racquet angle relates to your WRIST. In the examples above the racquet angle does NOT change related to the wrist.

            Meaning we are not moving the wrist to change the racquet’s angle.

            But of course the racquet is moving through space and changing angles simply because our body and arm are moving.

            You do say that the wrist is released but in reality it isn’t.

            The wrist may only rotate internally – meaning like you’re wiping the window with a cloth, but that still keeps the racquet’s angle the same to the ball – it’s just that the racquet is now moving upwards and across the ball.

            We cannot move the racquet through space in a perfectly linear way as that’s not possible with our many joints.

            The racquet face may FEEL closed in your hand perhaps all the time but as you move your arm forward the face will open up more and be parallel to the net at some point. It doesn’t mean you opened the racquet face with your hand, it simply happened because movement of your arm changes the angle of the racquet.

  11. William Wagner /

    Love tennis.

  12. Gene /

    Tomaz, I didn’t get to thank you for this break through lesson. THANK YOU!!! Not only has this made my stroke better but it’s done wonders for the kids. I’ve always had them trying to be loose and using the legs and hip rotation for more acceleration but this technique put everything together. One piece that I discovered was the holding of the hip by keeping the back foot back on a closed ground stroke. As you rise from the bend and hold the foot back, on it’s toe usually, it keeps that hip from over rotating but i feel it also creates the proper stopping that we need for the racket to whip forward with full acceleration. Thank you so much for making this game so much easier for us tennis fans.

  13. The Dude /

    Tomasz, let me tell you that I am a big fan of your approach to tennis. I am someone who does not have time and money for a regular coaching class, AND someone who likes to figure out how things really work, on my own. Your tips are a valuable insight into my tennis whenever I am guilty of analyzing things too mechanically or ‘thinking’ too much rather than go with the flow.

    Looking forward to more such ‘aha’ tips! My shot continuity has already improved a lot thanks to this tip.

    • Tomaz /

      You’re very welcome, Dude, thanks for the feedback!

  14. Drew /

    Great idea! That solved a puzzle for me on how to hit topspin. Another drill about topspin helped me greatly. You are a tennis coaching genius.

  15. Patrick /

    Hi Tomaz, First I want to say I am really impressed by you re site so many good tips!!
    Now i want to ask you for a little help on my Forehand Top spin shot..

    I can hit with lots of spin but im doing this to much or just with my wrist and so my forehand is very inconsistent.. I have this picture from good players in my head this Windshild wiper motion and it looks for me that they do this with the wrist but i think thats not true.
    Also i have to hit withe lots of intensity maybe 8/10 when I hit with less the ball fly to the fence…

    anyway do you have any suggestions changing a wristy forehand to a “normal” consistent topspin FH?

    Backhand is no problem it feels lot more natural for me!

    Hope you understand my problem
    Patrick

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Patrick,

      Yes, the windshield forehand is often misinterpreted so you spin the ball too much too early.

      I suggest you catch the racquet in front of you with your off hand where both arms are almost extended. Just drive straight through the ball.

  16. Tomaz – struggled for years with exactly the problem you described, mechanically brushing ball and never really understanding properly how to swing fast yet retain control of the ball. Applying the concepts in your video really worked for me and I can swing away at both my forehands and 1h backhands now with tons of control, spin and pace. Can’t thank you enough for this – really happy with my game now!

    • Thanks for the feedback, Rich. Hope to add one more piece of the puzzle to hitting the ball very soon…

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