Rise of the Drop Shot

The Rise of the Drop Shot
By Charlie Lowman

Taking a poll here . . . how often do you attempt a drop shot during play? “Attempt” is the key word. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to actually hit a drop shot that actually does what it is supposed to do?

The drop shot could be a great surprise tactic in your tennis game. Slicing the ball just over the net tape, a drop sot is a sound way of throwing off the balance and rhythm of your opponent. It doesn’t have to be a winning shot and it focuses on your opponent’s movement, or lack of movement and direction. Also, if your opponent isn’t one to come to the net – maybe they are a baseliner – the drop shot forces them to the net where they are less comfortable.  

The drop shot could be considered a mischievous game shot, and also a disrespectful shot against an opponent. I like the drop shot as a strategic shot, that keeps your opponent guessing.  I revel when I see the pros successfully pull it out of their “bag of tricks” and it works for them. And don’t we all snicker and think “that would have been nice – if it had worked” when a player tries it and fails?

Winning a point with a drop shot does feel good – especially when I drop shot this one guy at my club. He actually starts muttering to himself and I find it fully amusing. In his case, I guess you could say I use the drop shot to toy with my opponents. Hey, at my age, anything that one-ups me over my tennis buds and reverses the smack-talk is all good.

Of course a drop shot that is over hit usually turns into a short, easy ball on the other side of the net to be attacked. That’s usually when I realize I have some sort of target on my clothing. Oh, did I mention – my tennis buds show absolutely no mercy.

In executing a drop shot ideally you want to be positioned between the baseline and the service line. You need to bring your racquet a bit further back of the ball. You also want to relax your grip, hand and wrist making your shot smooth and lithe. I find the shot is easier to make if it comes at you with some pace. This way you can use the pace on the ball instead of creating pace on the ball as you try to glide it back over the net. Think about warm ups and when some serves to you and you stop the ball with your racquet taking the pace off it before catching it in your hand to take your warm up serve. You don’t realize that’s what you are doing.

A drop shot uses a similar action to hitting a slice, but the drop shot's biggest element is that of disguise. On the forehand, you set up your body incorrectly, with an open stance as if you were going to hit a massive topspin forehand (if you stood sideways, your opponent might suspect a drop shot was coming). Then, at the last moment, move the racquet softly down the back of the ball so it drops short in the service box. You want lots of backspin, so that when the ball lands it will move forwards more slowly, and the second bounce will happen as soon as possible. If you can hit it with a huge amount of slice, the ball may even land and come backwards, making it even more difficult for your opponent to get to it or handle it.

With your backhand, because the slice is used regularly during a rally, there's no need to try to camouflage the shot - you can set up for a slice as usual. But this time, at the very last second, open the racquet face underneath the ball and chip it with an upward rather than a forward motion. A more advanced technique is to line up with your racquet beneath the line of the ball - as if you were going to play a topspin backhand, but then change the shot at the very last second, same as you do with the forehand drop shot. Remember, playing a drop shot is a bit like catching an egg, so you've got to have a soft touch on the ball.

The way you execute your drop shot depends on the ball movement (ball is on the rise or ball is falling) and position (ball level is way too low for net clearance). Hitting a drop shot when the ball is on the rise and when ball has limited net clearance can be very risky. To create backspin, you must be able to execute a downward swing.

To improve your drop shot, try to practice more often with another player. The ideal way to do this is to start with a groundstroke rally. Then one player should hit a ball in the service line area making sure that ball bounces high. Once the ball bounces high, hit the drop shot. Practice hitting your drop shot in different areas of the tennis court, forehand and backhand. This will help you to refine your shot.

Let me say that a perfect drop shot is always short. The closer the ball is to the net, the longer the distance that your opponent has to cover. Another characteristic of a good drop shot is that the ball falls down when it reaches the net.

And let’s not forget about returning a drop shot. 99% of the time, the best way to return a drop shot is to run in and just pop the ball straight back over the net. Or, if you have a precious extra second or two you can try to angle the shot cross court just over the net.  And if your opponent has done what a lot of people do, they will have played the drop shot and then just stood there watching you running in to the net. However, make sure you keep your opponent in check, because they may have anticipated the fact that you're going to reach the ball to make a play. In this case, you can push the ball at their feet, or if they have followed their shot in, you can flick your wrist and try to lob it over their head.

So the next time you’re on the court, give a rise to your drop shot. Practice it. Have fun with it. Drive someone crazy with it (wink, wink!).

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