In this blog post I’m discussing topspin groundstrokes. Backspin and spin on serves are conversations for future days.
To start, you want the racquet face to be either flat or ever-so-slightly angled down at contact, whether you’re driving the ball or adding spin. You don’t actively manage and manipulate the racquet face during the forward swing, though. If you’re trying to manipulate any part of the arm and/or racquet during the swing, then you have a misunderstanding about how best to generate spin.
Spin comes from an upward trajectory of the hand and the racket through contact. You have two options to generate this upward trajectory: either from using the arm or from swinging the racquet properly.
When you use your arm to generate spin, you work against gravity throughout the forward swing. As your arm travels at an upward angle towards contact, gravity works against it. Further, most of your upward force is coming from smaller muscles that are further from your center: the wrist, the forearm, the tricep, and the back of the shoulder. These muscles can only get you so much.
When you swing the racquet properly, though, your arm and racket begin dropping after you’ve starting rotating and after the forward swing has started. What results is a continuous down and back up motion — a swing. It happens as you rotate. It’s a combination of rotational force and down and up force. The rotation provides the power. The down and up force provides the shape for the spin.
When you swing the racket rather than arm the shot, a couple key things happen in regards to your power and spin potential:
You are using the major muscle groups at the center of your body: the legs, the hips, the core, the shoulders. The arm muscles now are relaxed and ancillary to the major muscle groups, which is a big advantage in a game dictated by feel in the hand. You have greater ability to generate power and spin using the major muscle groups, and it takes less effort.
You are working with gravity rather than fighting it. When you have continuous down and up motion, the momentum from the downward part of the swing will carry the racket and hand up through contact more so than it would when using the arm.
These two things — using major muscle groups and using gravity — allow you to swing faster than if you weren’t using these elements to your advantage. Further, they allow you to swing faster with less effort, which means more control. Swinging faster, given you have that continuous down and up shape to the shot, gives you more spin.
Yes, you can get spin by using your arm to manipulate the racket to brush up the back of the ball. But if you do this without a continuous swing, you’ll never get as much as you want. And it will never be as consistent as you’d like it to be. Using the legs, hips, and the shoulders requires good timing and sound fundamentals, but it will get you much more spin than using your arm.
There is a way to get spin, and then there is an optimal way to get spin. One way is effortful; the other way is effortless. Which one sounds better?