ETI 036 | Spin – Changing Two Things at Once


Three factors control your tennis shot – not your feet, not your eyes, not your balance (though all of those do help) but the only three elements are

  • Angle of the racquet face
  • Swing Path
  • Tempo

So from a level swing with a vertical racquet face, if one wants to create backspin the adjustments are at least two fold – open the racquet face (a little or a lot) and create a high to low swing path (again a little or a lot) depending on the amount of spin you want.

But, stay with me on this, when it comes to the serve, quite often when players try the continental grip which does change the angle of the racquet face, all the subsequent serves go way wide to the left of the target because the swing path was not similarly adjusted to somewhat more (or less) to the right of the target.

Worth saying again, if you are working on a sidespin serve, or any other spin shot you choose, you are tinkering with adjusting both face and path.

And as to tempo, truly one can play with an open face and an upswing if the tempo is reduced, (sometimes these people are unfortunately called pushers)

But come to terms with these three factors – sort of like the holy trinity in Louisiana for gumbo – onion, celery and bell pepper!  Man I miss those days when I lived in New Orleans.

I just added a video from my course Mastering the Backhand, which I think you will find a useful complement to this podcast.

25 Comments

  • John Gunkler

    Reply Reply April 11, 2015

    Please, Jim, where can I see the changes in swingpath on the serve that correspond with changes in racquet face?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply April 12, 2015

      John – I am working on this but for a spin serve there must be an off line swing path
      Jim

  • frank van riggelen

    Reply Reply March 12, 2015

    Jim, Thanks again for yet another concise but very important point regarding spin and direction.
    I find when dealing with teaching strokes, especially the serve, I find myself always reiterating two basic laws of stroke physics.
    1) direction of the strings determine direction (flight) of the ball
    2) Swing path determines spin of the ball
    These two basic concepts (as you so clearly voice) make understanding swing mechanics so much easier to grasp.
    One issue I have found and one that you haven’t mentioned (or perhaps don’t agree with) is in regards to swing path and ball contact. I find, regardless of demonstrated swing path be it slice, top, or flat, not only is it important to stay on the intended swing path to get the desired spin (even after ball has been struck) but it is equally important at point of contact that the strings need to “square up” to the ball in order to move the ball towards the intended target. What is your opinion of this concept?

    cheers, frank van riggelen USPTA

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 14, 2015

      Frank – thanks for the note – I am not sure I understand about the squaring – for somehow if I hit a sidespin backhand with a bit of backspin on the shot – I am not sure I find the back of the ball on that one?
      Jim

  • Adrian G Sahlean

    Reply Reply February 25, 2015

    Jim, thanks for your prompt response. I used the “change two things at once concept” with two students last night, to explore their perception of the different racket paths on ground-strokes and serves. The different trajectories seemed ‘obvious’ to them for the former – (‘of course’ you ‘slice,’ ‘cut,’ ‘chop,’ ‘brush’ when you ‘don’t hit out to the target’ – i.e. spins vs. flat), but (as I had somewhat expected) not so for the serve. After all, the difficulty to visualize the path of the racket on the serve is the main point of your podcast. I would even suggest that players are more aware of the ‘two things at once’ on ground-strokes because the player’s eyes are behind the racket – but not on serves (where they would need a periscope to see what is really happening! 🙂 I believe that you are helping a lot of people with your analyses.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 26, 2015

      Adrian – thanks for this – somehow one can use the forehand chop/slice where the pinkie leads with that racquet edge to show the feel for a side spin serve
      Jim

  • Greg Pierce

    Reply Reply February 25, 2015

    Just reminds me yet again what an incredibly nuanced game this is. Hit all 3 factors right, you have a good shot. Swing a little too fast, vary the swing plane by a couple of degrees, turn the racket face a few degrees and now the ball goes out. Simple concept, challenging execution. Guess I better run out and hit a couple thousand more balls….

  • oren ellis

    Reply Reply February 25, 2015

    Thanks, again, for continuing good instruction.
    Your discussion of changing two things at the same time is so logical.
    Since I am an orthopedic surgeon, I have understood that is necessary even before you produced this and other such videos, because we use angles in our daily work and surgery.

  • Don McDon

    Reply Reply February 25, 2015

    There are at least two other factors you need to consider to figure out this ball’s trajectory. The first is the incoming ball’s trajectory. Think of your racquet as a brick wall tilted up at roughly 45 degrees. If you stand in front of it and throw a ball down at it so it hits the surface at a 45 degree downward angle, it will bounce right back to you. If you stand directly above it and throw straight down at it, it will bounce at the net almost parallel with the ground. Finally, if you throw the ball parallel to the ground it will reverse the previous rebound and go almost straight up. This last case applies here. The ball should have rebounded up higher than the roughly 45 degrees but you very skillfully offset this with your downward racquet path. The other force to be taken into account is the spin of the incoming ball. If there was topspin you would have expected it to rebound further upward and would have either tilted your racquet less upward or swung a little more downward. If the ball had underspin, you would have adjusted in the opposite direction. In computing these influences you also have to adjust them for the relationship between the incoming ball’s speed and your swing speed. We are so much smarter than we think we are.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 26, 2015

      Don – understood and I agree – a good example is taking an incoming ball on the rise, especially if it has a lot of topspin – and creating a heavily underpinning drop shot – which is next to impossible to do if the ball is descending and without any spin
      Jim
      A great read on this, which you probably know but the readers may not is Tennis Science for Tennis Players by Howard Brody – who among other thoughts showed how Steffi Graf’s toss 4 feet above contact actually produced topspin just from the contribution of the toss falling that distance until struck

  • Robert

    Reply Reply February 25, 2015

    And if we can visualize ‘Swing Path’ as including both the vertical and horizontal plane, that little floater can be graced with a wicked sideways kick of a meter and a half — lots of fun to watch the big bangers chase that one! I have said it before and I will no doubt say it again, while I am able to play a decent two hand backhand and sometimes pull it out just for fun, I have consistently stuck with the one hander because of the great variety it offers from essentially the same set up — e.g., fading it down the line, knifing it low down the middle, floating a little lob over the net man as a return in doubles — which I learned a lot about in your very comprehensive course on the backhand. In my heart I thank you for that every time I play.

  • Gary Gonzalez

    Reply Reply February 25, 2015

    So true with those nusty flotaters,I just finish playing doubles with my friends that I never can win over them,they play 4.0 usta doubles I’m 3.75 and play once a week but Friday morning I had no one to bring to the match until I found a 67 year old friend I’m 52 and the other guys are late 40 they beat as 2/6 but then my friend star with his nusty floaters the next set was 6/3,6/4 still in kind of a shock they wane play another set and we beat them again 6/4

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 26, 2015

      Gary – many ways to “skin the cat” as the saying goes
      Jim

  • Adrian G Sahlean

    Reply Reply February 24, 2015

    Jim, this puts in a nutshell what drives so many beginners… nuts. You make understandable what is obvious to the pro, but clearly not to the amateur. I am sure this would help a lot of people. It is still a curious fact that for most people the combination of the two factors is almost a ‘given’ for ground-strokes, but not for the serve!

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 24, 2015

      Adrian – thanks but not that is it either or obvious or not – but really this may be one of the difficult things about the game to actually “visualize”
      keep me posted
      Jim

  • Norman Gordon

    Reply Reply February 23, 2015

    Good information. I too, would love to see some slow motion videos of the subtle changes in the grip and swing path to better understand their relationship. I always enjoy your insight and years of experience in helping others to improve their games.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 24, 2015

      Norman – thanks for the note – we are working right now to add a slo mo clip on the backhand under spin floater – stay tuned
      Jim

  • Bernard Mckey

    Reply Reply February 23, 2015

    Dear Jim,

    Excellent Video I use the side serve for my second serve and in Windy Conditions -the Mechanics grips the throw up so important

    Berbard

  • Peter Flynn

    Reply Reply February 23, 2015

    Very precise Jim, good.

  • G Lyman

    Reply Reply February 23, 2015

    There is one other factor that affects your tennis shot, if less so than the other three you mention. Vic Braden used to cite it: the rigidity of the racket face at contact. This is I think a timing and biomechanical issue but can give a ball both more pace and spin then another shot hit with exactly the same tempo (or racket head speed).

  • Carey

    Reply Reply February 23, 2015

    I understand your 2 points, however we keep hearing how so many of the Pros keep the mechanics of their serve the same to make it more difficult to anticipate the serve. Also, it would have been nice to have some slow motion video to show this change in path between a flat drive and a sidespin.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 24, 2015

      Carey – slo mo on the way – but disguise on the serve is a more difficult topic (both to do as a player and to explain or show as a teacher)
      Jim

  • Noushin

    Reply Reply February 23, 2015

    Many thanks for sharing your invaluable knowledge! It’s really appreciated!

  • Jim Friedman, USPTA

    Reply Reply February 23, 2015

    Jim:
    Love your information….you have great knowledge. Again…talking isn’t teaching and listening isn’t learning. Instead of TALKING about the spins…
    please (urge you) have a student (3.5 level) demonstrate the effectiveness of the change.

    Keep up the excellent work however please think about using real people…intermediates…as the talk becomes real to all our senses.

    Best
    Jim

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