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Shot Matching Heuristics: Using Fade and Draw

Written by Chuck Tomlin

Every incoming ball presents a certain set of challenges that is more or less difficult depending on the receiving player’s skills. Understanding the Fade vs the Draw (or 2 Forehand concept) is a tactical advantage exposing how to tame or even dominate a wide variety of incoming shots. Using the Fade, the Draw, or the Re-direct versions of these shots will help you master skills that enhance your ability to match the demands of the opponent’s incoming shots. Our article on “Next Level Spin Production,” with it’s ‘Intro to the ‘Fade and Draw’ describes the spin and shot shapes associated with this design. This article will address the matching  technique and form needed to hit these 2 very different techniques as well as touching on their “Re-direct variations”. 

Many instructors teach how important it is to receive the ball within your hitting zone. Most players tend to hit better around waist high--give or take a few inches. With Congruent Tennis we recognize this expectation and provide some insight as to the reasons why. Besides the idea that this is the contact point that instructors tend to use as they teach new students, there is a more subtle key idea on this preferred hitting zone. When the contact is in this middle strike zone area players can generally use either the Fade or the Draw type stroke to hit well. In fact, just about any reasonable technique will work best here. This is especially true if the player’s movement (often called footwork) is good enough to match the apex of the bounce with this ‘normal hitting zone.’  A ball contacted near the top of the bounce provides the widest latitude of stroke variance when that apex is around waist level.  

Where the Fade vs Draw matching advantage comes into play more strongly is on the higher as well as the lower contact points. Congruent tennis expands the players effective hitting zone vertically and can turn these expanded zones into strengths or even into weapons. By learning to leave the wrist laid back to some extent at contact and hitting through the inside section of the ball, a player can learn to be extremely effective with high contact points even when the ball is rising at contact. This inside contact will create an inside torque resulting in a Fade spin for the players. 

By learning to allow the wrist release out from the ‘lag to drag’ position to a more neutral wrist position, reaching more to the outside portion of the ball, a player can really become strong at ‘lifting and spinning’ contacts. This can be used to create powerful dipping balls with kicking bounces. Getting more work on the outside section of the ball is evidenced by an outside or Draw Spin. This outside work can be anything from a mild draw to some of the more noticeable draws we see from Nadal on his famous ‘Banana Shot’. In Congruent Tennis, I postulate that one of the reasons Rafa goes to the Bolo shot so often is to gain access to some of the powerful benefits of a Draw shot. We have an article in the works on the improved control provided by Diagonal Topspins of Fade & Draw. Oddly, no situation really calls for hitting directly over the ball for 12 to 6 O’clock spin and trying for that tends to spoil the swing quality. 

Above I shared how the inside and outside relate to high and low contact points, but that is only one of a Dual Objective solution. Not only does the Fade & Draw offer guidance for the higher and lower contact points, but in combination it provides insight into harnessing the important “Rising Ball” that Bill Tilden wrote about as the next big breakthrough technique. Since then many have offered strategies on how to take the rising ball but very few have delivered on the stroke production for it. 

Oddly enough, the answer to the rising ball is rather simple once you firmly understand the basic principles of the Fade vs Draw. For topspin, we have the 2 basic types of swings for inside and outside work, but also have another layer that deals with rising or dropping balls. This 2nd layer has two swing planes that are used in conjunction with the Fade & Draw. As P. A. Vaile wrote over a century ago, you can swing more level or you can swing more vertical for stronger topspin. While there are any number of variations on how steep the swing can be, the two key choices are: 1.) Horizontal flat swing for driving trajectories-- as in 1 or 4 on the first image 2.) Vertical carving swing for diving "lift and spin" trajectories.-- as in 2 or 3 The remaining question is when to swing flatter and when to swing steeper. What are the driving factors to help with this decision?

The key to the swing plane lies in the trajectory of the bounce at contact. By matching the best swing plane for the phase of the bounce, a player can exert better vertical control of the shot. So what are our best options for topspin in this scenario? The reason the rising ball tended to perplex Tilden is likely that a rising ball can’t be exactly matched with a topspin swing. If a ball is rising, but not too steeply, then we are forced to go with the closest option. With a more level swing and a slightly closed racket face, we can more closely match the hard hit rising ball as it tends to level out quickly after the bounce! So what we can see here is how the flatter trajectory of the ball hit the more of a level swing we should use to match this ball. The higher incoming balls with more shape suggest we should consider a contact point at the apex of the bounce or afterwards as the ball is dropping. Since using a ‘low to high’, steeper swing is what most players are accustomed to for topspin the dropping ball is a much more natural shot to handle for the average player. Therefore it does not represent the same challenge as 'on the rise’. Balls at the apex of the bounce, as mentioned earlier, can be hit consistently with either type swing.

In closing, we can see that we essentially have 2 types of topspin swings: fade or draw. Then we have two swing modifications: more horizontal or more low to high. Together these result in four basic topspin shots:

  1. Fade spin stroke with the flatter, driving swing plane

  2. Fade spin stroke with the steeper ‘lift and spin’ swing plane

  3. Draw spin stroke with the steeper ‘lift and spin’ swing plane

  4. Draw spin stroke with the flatter, driving swing plane (more rare shot)

These are the four basic fundamental shots for the topspin Fade & Draw paradigm. Realize there are infinite blends players can employ with their strokes. Congruent Tennis is not suggesting that the Fade or Draw spin needs to be a prominent aspect on every shot. Congruent Tennis is sharing how it can be understood and accounted for in the swing. Using these ‘2 groups of 2’ as a guide can help you to understand and utilize these elements in a more organized structure.

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