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A Typology of Tennis Shots

Part I: Groundstrokes


In designing this typology, my most important choice was the basis for groupings. Choosing the way the ball is struck had a profound effect on the result. For example, return of serve, a vitally important shot, does not even appear. A typology based upon purpose or placement would have been quite different.

Most of the names given below are widely recognized. Where this is not the case, I have marked the name with an asterisk. I'd be interested to know what other names these shots might have acquired. Please let me know in our tennis forum.

Note that all of the definitions assume a right-handed player, and the directions of bounces and curves are from the perspective of the player who produced the shot.

GROUNDSTROKES - forehands and backhands hit after the ball bounces, but not with an overhead motion. This category includes several shots often classified as SPECIALTY SHOTS. These are denoted with this marker: (SS).

    Flat - hit without spin.

      drive - hit hard and fairly low.

      lob - hit high and preferably deep.

      dump (SS) - hit very short, usually just tapped over from a contact point above the net.

    Topspin - hit by brushing up the back of the ball.

      drive - hit hard and relatively low, but has more margin of clearance than flat.

      lob (SS) - compared to flat lob: has lower trajectory, more difficult to execute, and much more difficult to chase down.

      buggywhip (SS) - a forehand hit with heavy topspin and the follow-through on the same side as the hitting arm. The classic buggywhip was hit from well inside the baseline at an extreme angle, but the term has broadened to apply to all shots hit with this swing path.

      dipper* - hit fairly low, using topspin to make ball land near incoming net attacker's feet.

      hook - hit with some sidespin. primarily used to curve the ball around the net attacker.

    Slice - commonly synonymous with backspin, hit by brushing down the back of the ball, but see true slice below.

      drive - hit fairly hard; lower than flat and much lower than topspin.

      lob (SS) - used less frequently than flat or topspin; hangs in the air longer than other lobs of equal height.

      drop shot (SS) - hit very short; backspin adds to effective shortness by keeping the ball from bouncing forward.

      sliced approach - hit especially low as the hitter moves toward the net; designed to force opponent to hit up.

      chip - sometimes synonymous with sliced approach, but often hit with less forward drive; also used to make ball land softly at incoming net-attacker's feet.

      chop - a more defensive, downward cut at the ball.

      squash shot* - a wristy, stretching chop used to retrieve balls otherwise out of reach.

      true slice* - hit by brushing underneath the ball and sharply left-to-right on backhands or right-to-left on forehands.

    Half volley (SS) - hit just as the ball is coming up from its bounce, usually with a short forward swing that produces natural backspin because the ball brushes up on the string bed.
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