ov You're at the net and your opponent suddenly throws up a lob: What is your first instinct? Do your eyes widen in anticipation of an overhead smash? Or do they widen in horror, knowing that the overhead is the weakest shot in your arsenal? In this article, I'll answer the frequent questions I've been asked about the overhead, and offer tips for improving or learning this shot-and I'll tell you how to have some fun along the way. SERVING YOUR OPPONENT'S
An overhead is the same motion as your serve with one glaring difference: your opponent is tossing the ball. Sound intimidating? Isn't serving with you own toss hard enough? There you are in the middle of a point and suddenly you have to "serve the ball." Remember, part of what makes serving difficult is an inconsistent toss. Hopefully, you have overA great come the need to move for your own toss, but surely you still remember those deal of days. So get your feet moving and quickly position yourself to "serve your oppodeveloping nent's toss." a strong Having to move quickly is the "bad news" of hitting an overhead. The "good and news" is that since the swing on the overconfident head is nearly identical to the serve, except for a shortened backs wing and overhead quicker preparation, you already know the technique. Also, you are close to the is mental. net, so your target is bigger with better angles. In addition, you no longer have to hit into a designated service box-the entire court is now fair game! SEnlNG
UP FOR OVERHEADS
Setting up, or preparing properly, to hit an overhead is absolutely essential, and consists of four movements. The key is to perform these motions in concert. For beginner players, this may seem like a lot to learn, but after a dozen or so shadow swings, they should get a feel for the shot First, turn your shoulders sideways to the net. Second, step back with your right foot (assuming you're right-handed). Third, set your racket hand to the right of your right ear, just like a quarterback setting up to throw a pass. Fourth, point to the ball with your left (or nonracket) hand. These movements help to line up and time the shot. The pros make hitting overheads look easy, but timing the overhead usually takes patience and significant
practice time to master. After all, the ball is dropping downward while you are reaching upward with your racket to strike the ball above your head. Don't underestimate the importance of setting up for this shot.
The Easy Overhead: This shot is hit on a lob that is not too high or too low and would bounce, if you let it, inside the service line. Set up early, take the ball out of the air and knock it for a winner. This is the overhead shot that beginners should learn first. The Modified Overhead: The reality is that your opponents will rarely throw up an easy lob. Instead, they may loft the ball high, then low, then to your right or to your left-and this isn't even factoring in weather conditions such as wind and sun. To hit such unpredictable lobs, you need to modify your overhead technique. Sometimes you will need to shorten your swing even more. You also can use your wrist to make shot adjustments. The Bouncing Overhead: Although the ideal is to take overheads out of the air so that your opponent has less time to prepare for your return, there are times when it makes sense to let the ball bounce before hitting it. One situation is when the lob is hit extremely high, which means it is descending very quickly. Letting the ball bounce first makes the timing of the shot easier to manage. Another time to let the ball bounce before hitting it is when you are visually impaired by bright sun or night lights, or the ball is moved unpredictably by the wind. Again, letting the ball bounce first will afford you extra time to get into position and on balance. When this shot is hit correctly, it should feel like you are hitting a solid flat serve. The Jump Overhead: This shot is by far the most challenging and exposes players who have poor shot preparation. Yet, if you prepare properly, you'll
be able to hit more difficult overheads than you probably thought possible. First you have to move back from the net quickly, pushing off the ground with your right foot (if you are righthanded). Then, as you jump in the air, you reach up and hit the overhead, landing on your left foot. This movement is known as the scissors kick. The key to this overhead is simplifying your racket swing and emphasizing the snap of the wrist. Looking for LobsBuilding Confidence So far we've detailed the physical or technical aspects of hitting overheads. However, a great deal of developing a strong and confident overhead is mental. Remember, it's called the overhead "smash," not the overhead "pray it goes in." Be decisive; move to take the ball out of the air when possible; control the ball to your target; and when you have control, accelerate your wrist and racket to hit with more power. Whenever your opponent hits you a lob, your mindset should be: "Great! Now I can end the point!" Practice, Practice, Practice ... To get to this positive mindset about overheads, you will need to practice this shot cfuring your workouts. And this is where the fun comes in. Have your coach or practice partner feed you easy lobs that you can hit to learn the technique and build your confidence. What feels better than an overhead smash that wins a point? Set targets for your shots, visualize enemies, role play hitting a championship match point at the US Open. Repeat after me: "Overheads are fun." 0 Joe Dinoffer is a Master Professional in both the PTR and USPTA who has published numerous books and videotapes and is a frequent speaker at tennis conferences around the world. He writes a free monthly newsletter that you can receive by signing up via www.oncourtoffcourt.com. You can pose your tennis questions to Dinoffer by visiting www.tennislifemagazine. com and clicking "Ask Joe."
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