If you've been playing tennis for any length of time, you've probably heard of the term "topspin" before, but what exactly is it, and how important is it to your tennis game? Below are some key points that will explain what topspin is all about, as well as how you can use this "secret weapon" of the pros to improve your performance on the court.
First Things First: What Is Topspin?
As the name implies, topspin is basically a type of upward spin that is placed on the tennis ball when it comes into contact with the racquet. Similar to "putting English on the ball" in billiards, topspin is a way of striking the tennis ball at an angle in order to produce spin and slightly alter its trajectory. The great thing about topspin is that it provides the perfect combination of power and finesse, enabling you to add a little extra oomph to your shots while also creating a misleading, forward-rotating spin that makes it more difficult for your opponent to return.
How Topspin is Created
There's quite a bit of physics involved in creating topspin, but the simplest way to explain it is that the strings of the racquet brush up against the back side of the ball in order to produce forward rotation. This is accomplished by holding the face of the racquet at an angle toward the ground while powering through the shot with a slightly upward swing. When the strings make contact with the ball at this "closed" angle, they produce that lethal forward spin that creates so many problems for the returning player.
Why Topspin is So Effective
The forward rotation created by topspin actually enables you to hit the ball harder and higher over the net without worrying about overshooting distance-wise. How is this possible? The secret is this: Topspin actually causes the ball to drop down faster, which means that it will fall to the ground quicker than a ball that is hit without topspin. This is extremely helpful when you're trying to learn how to add more speed and power to your shots without whacking it out of bounds. In addition, topspin can help you reduce the most common unforced error in tennis, which is hitting the ball into the net.
Since topspin allows you to aim the ball higher without adding distance (due to the fact that the ball drops down faster), you can give yourself more margin for error by hitting a little higher over the net than usual. You've probably seen pros like Rafael Nadal hit these kinds of topspin-heavy shots during matches – the ball travels fast, but it has an exaggerated, rainbow-like arc, and it drops quickly to the ground as well. When it lands, it typically has a high bounce (usually at the opponent's chest or neck level) due to the massive amount of spin placed on the ball.
Is Topspin Really That Important?
A well-executed topspin shot is a formidable weapon, but it does take lots of time and practice to develop. So is it worth it? Well, think about it this way: Any shot that can make your opponent work harder and/or keep them guessing is definitely important enough to add to your repertoire. So if you want to develop a more versatile arsenal of shots to use on the tennis court, you should view topspin as not just important, but indispensable.