by Chuck Tomlin
In The Congruent Tennis model we have 3 basic elements that are the legs of the Congruent Tennis Model and it’s cognitive awareness system of “Shot Matching”. The first element is learning clearly the critical factors of “Rally vs Attacking” shot production, where the player must become clear on the many differences between a shot intended to rally for position vs a shot that is going for a Forcing Attack Shot. The second leg is the Dual objectives of targeting that combines your ability to “Bring the Ball Down”, with your ability to hit into the Smart Target Hitting Lanes. The third and most specialized ability needed to complete the Shot Matching Cycle is to understand the “Fade vs Draw” spins for use on groundstrokes.
Most everyone who has played even a little tennis knows about topspin and how it is different from slice. Slice vs topspin is the first and most basic level of understanding spin for a tennis shot and rightly so. As a broadly experienced Tennis Instructor, I can share that most players tend to think of topspin as spin that goes right directly over the top (South to North on the diagram below) and they generally think of slice spin as straight under (North down to South). Traditional instruction also approaches spin the same way. Sidespins (East to West or West to East) are generally taught to be avoided.
Players know that topspin helps them to bring stronger shots down into the court, while slice or underspin can be used in shots that have an emphasis on control or placement (generalizations to simplify). In Congruent Tennis we take this first level concept and advance further into the world of spin function in the game. Congruent Tennis goes to the next level and explains how spin should also be understood as Fade or Draw type spin.
Fade and Draw are two terms borrowed from golf to explain the nature of spin production at a higher resolution. A Fade spin forehand with a right hander will tend to curve the shot to the right (1 and 2 in the images), whereas a Draw spin will tend to bring the ball back to the left (3 and 4)
Just reverse all that for Lefties and the right hander backhand. Much like the best tennis players, top golfers will use some fade or draw on most swings to enhance control of their shots. Interestingly, I think that in golf they use a much more cognitive approach to deciding how to fade or draw a shot than tennis players do. Maybe it's due to the time golfers have to set up for a shot, but also I see this as a concept regularly used in golf instruction. This isn’t something normally seen in any level of tennis instruction and has only been touched on lightly in tennis instruction books.
Golfers have the luxury to study their lie and the course to formulate a plan for the next shot. It is true of tennis that in some cases we have the chance to do something similar when our opponent gives us an easy ball that bounces right up into our preferred strike zone. A player can then go with his or her preferred swing to target a strategic area of the court. Just like with average golfers, most tennis players have a preferred swing type that will tend to draw or fade most of their shots. As with the best golfers, top tennis players will use both the fade and draw as the situation calls for, but with tennis players, from charting I can confidently say it is far more intuitive than cognitive process. The best tennis players have learned from hitting literally millions of balls, that if they hit it a particular way (based on feel normally) the ball will fly a certain way.
For example, when Nadal is on the run, wide of the baseline and makes the decision to target the down-the-line shot area, he realizes intuitively and by experience how putting outside work on the ball to create a stronger than normal Draw spin on the ball, that it will help him improve his chances of getting the ball to curve (or draw) back into the court near that sideline.
In golf, the changes to the swing tend to be more subtle, but with tennis, the difference between the Fade and Draw swings is more significant. I’ll add an article later on the process that led me to discover the need to be more mentally aware of the technical and tactical aspects of using the Fade vs the Draw, but for now I’ll leave with you that the strokes have some key differences that must be mastered to optimize them within your game. The differences are so important that we refer to each as its own separate stroke by calling it “The Two Topspins” or the two forehands (even though we teach it on the backhand side as well as for slices too). I will also later add instruction on how to hit both the Fade and Draw with Topspin as well as with Slices, but this article is just about introducing a higher resolution for advanced spin production.
Beside you will see a more advanced compass than the one earlier in the article. The first one depicted how most players imagine spin in the four primary axes. With Congruent Tennis, we show how these four primary axes are really the ones to be avoided and again, covering that info is another article in itself. We will focus on topspin here and look to the compass to notice how there are a great many directions depicted, such as the blue marking pairs between the cardinal headings. These blue markings could also be depicted as 1 & 2 O’clock in the NE quadrant and 10 & 11 O’clock in the NW quadrant. Creating spin in these Northern quadrants can be seen as a “Diagonal topspin” and if we use a diagonal topspin over the NorthEast quadrant, then we will create a forehand Draw for a right handed player that many will recognize as something often used for a crosscourt forehand. This would be spin like a “drop-curve” or slider pitch in baseball that would make the ball curve left and down with Draw action.
Using a diagonal spin over the NW quadrant would create a curve in the opposite direction which we call a Fade for a righty forehand. If the topspin is closer to over the top using either one of the blue markings (11 or 1 oclock) the corresponding Fade or Draw will take a more vertical shape or dip down. If you use a less steep diagonal topspin blue mark (10 or 2 oclock), then the corresponding curve shape will be more horizontal and generally create more lateral movement of the ball.
Each of these basic types of diagonal topspin used by either the Fade or the Draw have very key differences as to how, when and why to use them. Most of these issues will be covered in depth in the article about “The Shot Matching Cycle” that is coming soon.