The Three Types of Groundstrokes Explained (Topspin, Flat, Slice), and How You Can Hit Them Better

How to Hit a Tennis Ball

  Your Guide

Gavin Davison

Gavin Davison

As most tennis coaches will tell you, in order to really enjoy the game, you have to master the basics.

And as far as basics go, for me, it’s all about learning the groundstrokes to develop solid foundations and therefore be able to rally.

Once you start feeling confident with hitting groundstrokes and reach a point where you believe you can hit them consistently into the court, hence having a rally, you are well on your way to reaching the higher levels of the game.

Sure, you might not be entering the main draw at Wimbledon after mastering a few groundstrokes, but you’ll then be at a level where tennis becomes enjoyable - and that’s what it’s really all about. 

However, to make matters even more enjoyable, it helps to know what kind of spin you are hitting on the ball and how you can use this to your advantage.

This is my aim for this short article!

And regardless of whether you are a relative newbie, an intermediate, or you are already competing in events, I hope you will find the following information useful to help you with your strokes. 

Just to clarify, the information below will continue on from stroke fundamentals you have likely already learned along your tennis journey, so let’s get right into it by outlining the many different spins in the sport of tennis. 

Topspin - your go-to for control

Once you’ve learned to knock a ball back and forth over the net, your coach has probably introduced the concept of topspin. 

To stress exactly what this spin does to the ball, it allows you to hit the ball with a nice arc to it, and the ‘topspin’ brings the ball down rapidly to the ground.

This is why hitting a topspin shot is also a shot that carries more margin for error than other stroke variations.

A classic example of a player that hits with great topspin is Rafael Nadal, especially from the forehand wing. Just check him in full flow here to see what I mean:

Flat - the more aggressive groundstroke

As stressed above, topspin shots are generally used as high-percentage shots, and they are great to work your opponent around the court. 

However, if it’s a finishing shot that you are looking for, there is no better spin (or lack of) to hit than flat.

Hitting the ball flat allows you to hit the ball harder, there’s more chance of hitting a winner, but at the same time - there’s less margin for error.

Slice - an incredibly versatile shot

Some would say that hitting a slice backhand is a bit of a dying art, but I can tell you from experience, it’s an incredibly useful shot to hit.

And since it’s not used as often these days, you might find that your opponents have a hard time dealing with it, since it’s not a shot they will typically practice against.

When you hit an effective slice, it will ideally stay very low, forcing your opponent to hit a lofted shot which you could then attack from (more on this later). 

Check out the great Roger Federer hitting slice backhands to see how effective this shot can be, even if it’s only in practice:

Top tips on hitting these strokes better

As promised, I want to share some top tips on how you can actually hit these varying spins with more precision, more confidence, and just generally feel better about striking them - whether in practice or in a competitive situation.

All of the tips I will share with you have sprung from 20+ years of playing, more hours of coaching than I can probably count, and over 15 years of playing at what I’d like to consider to be a decent level. 

This isn’t to brag - it’s to show you that I’ve managed to use these tips successfully over the years, and I really hope that they will serve you as well as they have done for me.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Topspin

As you work your way up in the game of tennis, this will likely be the type of spin that you’ll use the most - so we may as well take some time to try and master it, right?

Okay, maybe we won’t master it from just one article, but we can do our best!

In my experience, you should try and implement the following three tips when hitting a topspin ball:

1) Extend your arm fully when hitting

It's important to remember that the ball will dip rapidly as it travels through the air when hitting topspin, which is why you need to ensure you get the appropriate extension to make sure it travels far enough in the court!

2) Keep your wrist nice and loose

Believe it or not, most of the topspin you’re able to generate on the ball comes at contact, mainly through your wrist.

If it’s tight, you won’t get the right velocity through the ball to generate big amounts of spin - so keep it loose!

3) Use your knees to push up through the shot

Finally, since topspin requires upward motion through the ball to give it that arc, you’ll be doing yourself a big favour if you drive up from your legs.

This will help you to lift the racket head rapidly through the shot, therefore increasing the power and the depth you can get on the shot.

If you want any confirmation of how important this is, make sure you watch Dominic Thiem!

Use your knees to push up through the shot

Flat

As I’ve stated earlier, you won’t use the flat groundstroke as often as you’ll use topspin, but it’s still an incredibly effective shot when done correctly.

Here are my two top tips for hitting a strong flat shot to do some damage (not literally) to your opponent:

1) Weight on the front foot

When hitting flat, you are looking to try and finish the point, either by a clean winner or by opening up the court enough for an easy ball.

Therefore, you will want to hit the shot with some serious pace, which you can do by getting your weight on the front leg (ideally in a neutral stance), and really throwing your weight through the shot when hitting it.

2) Head still and flat swing path

Unlike topspin groundstrokes where you are trying to get some work on the ball, here it’s all guns blazing.

For that reason, you’ll want to try and keep your swing path quite flat through the shot, as this will reduce the chances of hitting unwanted topspin on the ball.

To help do this, you should also try and keep your head still, as this will steady the body and allow you to get your weight forward at the same time - much like a guy like Del Potro does on the forehand wing.

Head still and flat swing path

Slice

Last but by no means least, let me finish things off by handing you a couple of vital tips for hitting an effective slice backhand:

1) Start with the racket above the ball where possible

Have you ever tried to hit a slice backhand and you keep hitting the ball up in the air?

This tip will cure you - promise! 

Rather than starting with your backswing level to the ball, you should take the racket up by your shoulders so that you can hit down through the ball.

And if you can hit around the top-left of the ball, this is even better. 

2) Extend right through the shot

One of the most common problems players have with a slice shot is not keeping the ball low and skidding through the court, which is the main objective of hitting a slice really.

This is often the result of a shortened extension or chopping across the body.

So, to counteract this, you should try and extend your arm all the way through towards your target, and this will force the racket through the ball at the same time. 

Please let me know whether you give these tips a try and what your outcomes have been in the comments!

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