Category Archives: Backhand

Topspin Pro: an incredible teaching aid to learn how to hit topspin!

Bjorn Borg revolutionized tennis forever when he unleashed his massive topspin forehand on the world in 1972. He was completely unconventional in his technique, with a two-handed backhand and an unheard of (back then) western grip on his forehand. Even crazier was the way he used that grip to hit his forehand. Here is Borg on how he did it (taken from Bjorn Borg: My Life and Game, 1980):

“I snap my wrist upward in a sweeping motion, rolling the racket face over at the end of contact. The secret of my forehand is dropping the racket head below the ball so the upward swing can produce wild topspin.”

So the topspin revolution was launched over 40 years ago in 1972. And even though Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal have taken Borg’s forehand to extremes that would have shocked even him, the teaching world largely ignores the fact, or is unaware of the fact, that topspin is the bedrock principle of modern tennis.

topspin_pro

So imagine my delight when Phillip Hofmeyr contacted me many months ago. Phillip intuitively understood that topspin needed to be taught first – as the core principle around which everything else would develop.

But it’s not easy to “teach topspin”, right? It’s one thing to say to someone “brush low to high”, but it’s another to actually give your students a way to feel the movement. Especially when they are skeptical, thinking “how can brushing up the ball possibly make it go forward?” So, lucky for us, he invented a teaching device to do just that!

How cool is this?! The ball spins around a pin when you brush up the ball, but it also moves forward on a spring like mechanism so it teaches you to move forward as you quickly brush up the back of the ball. The screen is there as a visual aid to show how your racket face needs to stay on the same plane as it brushes upward.

nalbandian_wiper

Phillip originally contacted me because of some graphics I had created showing how the face of the racket goes right up the back of the ball, with the strings facing forward, through contact and well after contact. It was visual proof that his device teaches you to do what professional players are doing!

Phillip just launched a Kickstarter campaign to start shipping his Topspin Pro. Check out his kickstarter page, support Phillip’s incredible work and inventiveness, and get
one of these awesome devices for yourself. I have one coming in the mail right now and can’t wait for both of my kids (3 and 5) to use this device to teach them, from the get go, how topspin works. And it will be my go to device to teach anyone how modern tennis works.

I hope the Topspin Pro takes off and becomes a ubiquitous teaching aid – from kids starting out in tennis to adults who never were taught topspin as the key ingredient to mastering the modern game.

Wrist Action in Modern Tennis (Grigor Dimitrov)

Continuing on with the importance of the wrist in modern tennis, take a look at some stills from high speed clips I shot of Grigor Dimitrov. He uses the exact same racket orientation in his serve, forehand, and backhand to add whip like rotation and forward movement of the wrist moments before contact.

Wrist action in modern tennis (Click to Enlarge)

Wrist action in modern tennis (Click to Enlarge)

The wrist can produce a burst of racket head speed very, very quickly, and really serves as the end of a whip of energy that starts in the lifting of the legs, the uncoiling of the shoulder, the pull of the arm and lag of the racket, and finally ends in a burst of rotation and forward movement of the wrist. When you lay your wrist backwards, 90 degrees to your forearm, and rotate your forearm backwards a bit, you should feel the tension in the wound up wrist. This tension is released moments before contact as the energy from the entire stroke passes into it.

I drew arrows indicating the direction the butt cap of the racket is facing moments before contact. The butt cap is pointed almost sideways on the backhand, and about 45 degrees away from the ball in the serve and forehand. The racket is at a 90 degree angle to the forearm for all three strokes.

In a burst of rotation and forward motion, the racket will end up close to neutral on contact. Completely in line with the forearm on the serve, and a few degrees backwards on the forehand and backhand.

In this serve clip, notice how the orientation of the butt cap of the racket, with the wrist laid back and rotated backwards (supinated), allows him to create a burst of rapid acceleration of the wrist as it rotates the racket into and even after contact (as the hand continues to rotate the racket outward).