In the first of my three tennis instructional books, (Tennis Mastery, Coaching Mastery, and High School Coaching Mastery), I coined the phrase, “Advanced Foundation” and described the teaching philosophy of teaching what most would identify as strokes, technical elements, footwork patterns we associate with skilled or advanced play.
There is a fourth advanced foundation element that often is not identified, emphasized, or recognized as part of the overall advanced foundation.
It amazes me to this day the number of instructors who still teach flat shots and flat strokes intentionally. The two strokes that we see this emphasized are the serve and the volley. In my books, I talk about what I call, “Gravity Reliant” shots. IE: Dinking or pushing. Hitting flat almost always results in player depending on deceleration and/or dinking-pushing shots to keep the ball in play. The most obvious is the countless number of players who hit a booming flat first serve, (usually landing no where near the service box—if even in the same zip code!), and then hit their second serve with speeds resembling a deflated balloon falling back to earth.
Flat volleys limit severely the options, the angles, and the defensive potential of players as well as confidence and comfort at the net. Teaching flat volleys, in my opinion is as irresponsible as teaching flat serves.
I find it interesting that these coaches who emphasize flat serves and volleys, usually are adamant about teaching tons of topspin on groundstrokes. The recognized value of creating spin to bring a ball into the net should be equally recognized on other shots.
While it would take a book to describe the why, how, and when, spin is so critical to creating advanced players, (oh, wait, I have written three of them!), I’ll point out a couple key ideas that I have used to create some of the most successful teams of players, including top state, national, and world-ranked players.
Beginners need to recognize early on what spin feels like, how to create different axis of spin, recognize how ball flights are affected by spin, and where to aim accordingly. By avoiding this, and teaching the arguably easier-to-succeed-at-very-low-levels flat shots, we sabotage, or at best, make learning spin-advantage-strokes later far more difficult.
Even kids as young as five can easily be taught spin. It is not a matter of strength or size of the kid. On YouTube, I have a video of teaching my 8-year-old daughter an advanced hybrid slice serve with a full size racket and regular balls after only a couple months of minimal training.
When players learn a spin serve first, they not only have an advanced second serve, but the advantage of spin also increased the first serve consistency, acts as a ‘practice’ serve for the second, and often creates more difficulty for opponents because of the spin. It was proven beyond any argument, that the pros who have very fast serves DO NOT serve these perfectly flat…far from it. In fact, when Coach Tomlin, the architect of Congruent Tennis was comparing notes with Roscoe Tanner about serving big, Tanner confided that all of his recorded fastest serves were a version of slice. Not one of his fastest serves was using the “flat technique” type serve. The average RPM’s of pros serving at 130 MPH was over 1500. Second serves among the pros is over 4000 RPM’s. Both of which are FAR FROM FLAT.
While underspin doesn’t contribute directly to a ball dropping because of spin, the application of slice on volleys allows players to hit low balls firm at an upward angle, (to clear the net), using spin to decrease the velocity of the shot so gravity can indeed bring the ball into the court. If we hit low volleys flat and with any firmness, we certainly can see how players start to dink or decelerate volleys to keep balls in play.
In addition, the reflective angle of higher volleys, (that are almost always dropping as they come to us at the net), is always down off a flat surface. (Incident angle = to reflective angle, not even including spin aspects.) Slicing the volley helps keep the ‘Plane the Same’, (another phrase I coined in my books), and improves the timing and aim of all volleys because of this physics element.
If you want to learn more and read more details about these and other Advanced Foundation elements, please contact me for special player and coaches discounts who are part of this media page.
David W. Smith is the 2018 National High School Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame Inductee. He is one of the most successful team coaches with a win-loss record of over 1100 team wins and less than 25 losses. He has written 9 book including Tennis MASTERY, Coaching MASTERY, and High School Coaching Mastery. He is the creator and author of the Disney mysteries, HIDDEN MICKEY. Dave is a Dunlop Master Professional, and an Elite USPTA Professional.