Ball Spin

Good form in placing spin on the ball means utilizing the spin which is best for obtaining the desired results. The chop stroke, which is characterized by back spin, is not efficient as a foundation stroke. Often the player who continually uses a chop is said to have “poor form.” Yet the chop and slice strokes, used occasionally when a low or side bounce is desired are most effective strokes, used by the best players. The player who uses a top spin drive on all occasions is considered to have good form, but he is lacking in versatility. Since many of our former champions have won through use of top spin, and very few topflite players have risen to heights through use of chop or slice spin, our standards of good form are set up accordingly.

The foundation strokes must send the ball forcefully and accurately near the baseline in order to keep the opponent well back, and on the defensive. Since the top spin drive has a wide margin of safety over the net, and will come down into the court due to the top spin, it has always been the most efficient foundation stroke. Since the chop tends to rise, due to the spin, it must clear the net by a small margin and cannot be hit with too great force or it will sail out of the court. The long, fast bounce of the top spin drive is contrasted to the short low bounce of the chop or slice, and it keeps the opponent farther back than the chop or slice.

The law of spin affecting ball flight is as follows:

The ball tends to move away from the greatest wind resistance on the front of the ball.

Thus in the case of top spin, the ball is rolling forward as a wheel rolls. The greater wind resistance is on the upper side of the ball, since the forward spin meets the air resistance at that point. Consequently the ball tends to move away from that resistance; in other words it moves in a downward direction.

There is the least wind resistance on the lower side of the ball because at that point the ball spin is moving backwards.

In the case of back or chop spin the greater wind resistance is on the lower side of the ball and the least wind resistance is at the top, so the ball tends to move upwards.

The flight of the ball in a top spin drive is an arc. This will be a very flat arc if a small amount of top spin is applied, and a decided arc if a great deal of top spin is applied. The ball may be hit upwards to pass three or four feet above the net and will arc down into the court if top spin has been placed on the ball’.

The flight of the ball in the chop is more of a straight line, curving slightly upward until the momentum is expended, when it drops rather abruptly. Thus a chop which is hit upwards over the net, passing above it three or four feet, is likely to sail out of the court if it is hit forcefully.

The bounce of the top spin ball will be long. The bounce of the backspin ball will be short. The maximum height of the top spin bounce for a ball hit one foot over the net will be approximately three feet, while in the case of a chop clearing the net by one foot the bounce will be less than two feet at its maximum height. The top spin ball may have a twelve foot bounce in length while the chop bounce will be less than half that length.

Ball Spin

A second axiom of ball spin is as follows:

A ball with spin tends to bounce in the opposite direction from which it traveled through the air.

Thus a top spin ball tends to rise on the bounce, and a back spin ball tends to hug the ground. A heavily sliced ball may change its direction on the bounce. The classic example of this is the ability of the cut stroke artist to send the ball over the net with so much under spin that the ball bounces back oh his side of the net. Usually, however, there is so much more linear force (forward momentum) than kinetic force (rotary momentum, i.e., spin) that this opposite bounce tendency does not show up in the bounce. For example, the slice serve curves through the air to the left (from the server’s point of view) and also bounces to the left. The twist serve, however, has so much spin as compared with its forward momentum that it curves through the air to the left, but bounces to the right.

Spin on the ball may be defined and explained according to compass directions. Let us think of spin from the standpoint of the player who has hit the ball. We can visualize the ball revolving as it leaves our racquet.

First take the north, north-east, and east spins.

North spin is top spin, used in the forehand and backhand drives. The racquet travels from the back of the ball toward its top, making it roll forward.

North-east spin is a combination of top and side spin, used in the Top Slice Serve, which is often miscalled the Slice Serve.

The racquet contacts the back of the ball and travels upward in a north-easterly direction to finish over the top of it. The top spin helps bring the ball down into the court, and the’ side spin makes the ball curve through the air to the left, and bounce to the side.

Twist spin, found in the American Twist Serve, has a great deal of north-easterly kinetic force. The racquet travels across the back of the ball from the south-west to the north-east. The ball curves in an arced flight to the left over the net, yet it bounces high to the right.

Slice, or easterly spin, is used for the slice serve, slice volley or on a high bounding ball. The racquet contacts the back of the ball, and travels across it to the east. Or the racquet may “slice” the east side of the back of the ball. The flight is to the left, and the bounce is low, sliding off to the left.

In discussing north-west spins we can reverse the descriptions of the north-east spins. Thus reverse serves, and left handed or backhand slices are classified in this category.

Next let us consider south, and south-east spins. South spin is back spin. The racquet contacts the ball on the back, and travels downward to finish under the ball. This is found in the true chop. It is used most effectively on drop shots, where a short bounce is desired.

In south-east spin the racquet travels from the back of the ball downward to the right lower “corner.” The ball curves through the air in a lifting flight to the left, and bounces short and low. In cases of extreme spin the ball may reverse its direction on the bounce, thus “breaking” to the right. This spin is most effective on low volleys and drop shots.

South-west spins are the antithesis of south-east spins, and are used in backhands and by left-handed players.
Implications For The Player

The intelligent player must become well acquainted with ball spins and the effect they have on ball flight and bounce. Even though he cannot perfect them all for his own use, he should have sufficient control of ball spins to utilize them in order to attain an all-around tennis game. Two types of change are essential: top spin drives, and slice volleys. A chop can be a deadly weapon when used as a drop shot. A backhand slice is a most useful stroke for defense. Also it is necessary to be able to send the ball with little or no spin. Punch strokes, flat volleys, cannonball serves have increasing importance in modern tennis because of their great speed. Because these strokes can be used only in certain situations, ball spins are still of great consequence.

Through the study of ball spin and flight the player can anticipate the type of ball which comes to him. By watching the racquet of his opponent as it swings to meet the ball he learns the kind of spin the ball will have. His method of handling the ball depends upon the kind of spin, for example:

If he is returning a heavily chopped ball and attempts to top spin drive it he must aim the ball higher over the net than usual. The reason for this adjustment is that this ball is already spinning in a forward direction from his viewpoint. Since a forward rolling ball tends to descend, if the player places more forward roll on it it will drop into the net unless he lifts it enough to allow a wide margin of safety over the net.

To prepare to return a swift top spin drive the player takes up a position well back from the spot where the ball strikes the ground.
To prepare for the return of a slice the player must make allowance for a crooked bounce.

When a chop or under cut ball is anticipated the player moves closer to the spot where the ball will strike.

Since it is an extreme advantage for a player to be able to move up into the court to return the ball, he should anticipate short or back spinning balls and move into a close position in relation to the ball whenever possible