Unfortunately, tennis coaches’ and online instructions on how to use your legs correctly to help you generate more power and spin for your forehands and backhands often boil down to “bend your knees.”
However, bending your knees is just half the answer, and, in my experience, it’s much better to focus on what you’re doing on the way up from the bent-knees position, as it’s this move that helps you add more power and spin to your groundstrokes.
This article presents mental images that you can visualize as you’re executing your strokes. They have proven to be very effective for my students.
One of the most common mistakes tennis players make when they’re about to hit the ball is completely extending their legs too early.
This results in a split-second pause between the legs extending (which adds power and lift to your stroke) and the actual moment of hitting the ball.
The pause between the work of the legs and the work of the arm means that the energy provided by the legs is wasted as it does not get transferred well to the upper body and into the arm.
The lifting of the legs that helps you to lift the ball over the net and add topspin is also wasted.
Ideally, your legs should still be extending as you make contact, as that’s when they will actually help with power, lift and spin.
The first mental image you can use to correct this mistake is the 75/25 percent image.
Imagine using 75 percent of your leg drive from your lowest position (knee bend) up to the contact point and leaving 25 percent of your leg drive for after contact.
In other words, have something left in your legs after you make contact with the ball.
Don’t waste all the leg drive before contact!
The percentages 75/25 are just for a mental image and, of course, are not exact ratios, as these will depend on the type of incoming ball, how high it is, how much time you had to set up for the shot and so on.
However, try visualizing this combination of ratios and implementing it, and you will feel the benefit of your legs contributing to the power of your shots (this works for forehands and one- and two-handed backhands and backhand slices). You will also feel that your body is more connected as you’re hitting the ball and not as disjointed, as you may have felt before.
The idea of the spin-with-your-legs image is very similar to the above, but you can do a little drill to help you to better visualize what you want to do when hitting a ground stroke.
This mental image will help you to add a bit more topspin to your shots, but mainly, it will help you to better coordinate the lower and upper parts of your body and, therefore, make your strokes more effortless.
Most players tend to imagine adding topspin to the ball with their wrist or forearm only, and when they are so focused on one part of the body, the other parts tend to disengage and not to contribute to the movement.
When this happens, the body, again, does not coordinate well, and you will be very inefficient in your movements and, therefore, play inconsistently.
The spin-with-your-legs image keeps you focused on the correct sequence of the necessary movements to hit a stroke and thus coordinates your body correctly.
Here’s a little drill that you can do to help you visualize what you need to do: Put your racquet at the contact point, drop feed the ball to yourself and then try to topspin the ball only by rising up with your legs and not moving your arms.
Of course, this is an exaggeration, but it will help you paint the picture of what to do when visualizing this move as you play.
Try spinning the ball a few times by using your legs only, as this will help you to feel the contribution that your legs should be making to your execution of your strokes.
Once you’ve done this a few times, go back to normal rallying, but imagine that you’re going to initiate the spin part of your stroke with your legs first. Then simply do the rest of your stroke as you’ve always done it.
You should “get it” very quickly and notice how this mental image of spinning with your legs helps you hit more consistent forehands and backhands.
Just one caveat: don’t try to apply this move literally as you play; if you try to play using this exaggerated drill, you’ll break down the fluidity of your stroke.
It’s just a visualization of the sequence of movements for your ground strokes, so it’s crucial that you maintain the fluidity of your stroke by applying this idea of spinning with your legs in a way that doesn’t break down your stroke.