Tennis Tip: The Errant Overhead

The Overhead: Potentially Errant & an Emotional No-No
The most emotional shot in tennis…the overhead. Whether it arrives to you as Haley’s Comet, in slow motion movie frames, right between the eyes or straight to the area where you were storing your breakfast, its got you re-positioning your racquet toward new coordinates!
Common mistakes on overhead execution:
  • Hitting every overhead as a direct shot.
  • Reacting with a direct shot on high bouncing balls 
  • Hitting an "overhead groundstroke"
  • Hitting the overhead too hard.
  • Attempting an offensive overhead in a defensive situation.
These are probably familiar no-no’s for you but as in life, we don’t always do what we are supposed to do. Because of the unpredictable nature of an incoming overhead, we too often become reactionary and aggressive because we don’t know how else to combat this abomination from the sky! We feel the need to smash this shot as hard as possible (like a loose canon) and usually to an undetermined location-sometimes our opponent-as a message-don’t try that with me! How does this land? Usually the same as any other highly emotional response-rough and dangerous.

Correctly executing an overhead looks like
Racquet up, ready position, and beginning to assess the direction the ball will be coming from, pointing to the ball (for body positioning!), and beginning to roughly judge its speed, possibly its spin. Full extension and a firm wrist at impact watching the ball come to you and hit your strings and aiming for 3 feet inside any of the opponent’s court.
It is very difficult to judge a fast, spinning yellow ball so you must do what you know you can control-get that racquet up, above and behind your head. The rest becomes about minimizing damage. Some experts suggest hitting the overhead flat so as to not add a new spin on an already spinning ball. This does make sense as flat shots stop the spinning action and give full control back to you. Note: this will require big power from you without losing too much control, successfully maneuvering a strong wrist and correct grip. If you can manage-go for it!
Or you can attempt to spin a spinner as long as you take it and place it correctly. If the ball comes at you with backspin, this should be answered with a defensive lob: looks like a slice from them, any kind of cutting motion that finishes with a sweeping under the ball. Retaliate with your own back spin, deep and cross court. Anything you try with topspin will lessen your chances of clearing the net, as it would require a complete 100% change of rotation on the ball-hard to achieve and not worth the risk.
If the ball comes at you with topspin, this should be answered with an offensive overhead. This looks like an upward angling curve from your opponent, and their racquet finish is downward. With any type of overhead, prepare and hit at full extension choosing flat or slight topspin for the change of direction and regaining control for this topspinner. This should be dealt with strategically-aim for the opponent’s T at the service box to cut down on the crazy factor and aim for the middle-that’s your best chance of it landing in. This is a tough overhead and will take practice in self-control and placement. Remember to use this one against your opponets (topspin) because it is difficult to return!
If the incoming missile is in the stratosphere or its very windy, LET IT BOUNCE! These overhead opportunities are unforced errors in disguise, although are actually plainly obvious no-no’s to catch on the fly. These deceptive fliers are difficult to focus on, therefore difficult to judge-don’t try to smash it, you will lose the point. Run “backwards” using crossover steps: looks like moving sideways toward the alley with small backsteps. all the while watching the ball with your racquet up and ready. Getting there is half the battle so watch the ball as you move and stay ready so you aren’t taking this ball too far back and too late. This bounce return is easier for your opponent to return but at least you won’t be hitting it out, losing your chance immediately to win the point. Play smart, not risky to up your consistency.
Do not aim for the baseline. The margin of error is too great! Rather, think right or left with certainty as to draw your opponent away from the middle. Decide quickly so you minimize defensive moves and settling for returning it right back to your opponent-an easy return for them. Aim for at least 3 feet inside the baseline and alley outer lines. Or if you are taking your overhead inside the service box, again, pick right or left (deuce or ad court) and go for an angle in their service box. Keep it simple. Hit it at ¾ speed and keep your cool. You can finish with a winning overhead without smashing the snot out of the ball-concentrate on hitting flat or placing the correct spin on the shot and getting it to land IN.
Finally, after that overhead, charge the net! This overhead should be an offensive shot, so close in to get the best angle on their defensive return.
Don’t be afraid. Practice. Believe. You can do it!
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