The Big Dipper
I know, you
thought it was a grouping of stars, right? Well, allow me to inform
you that the Big Dipper is a shining star in the tennis universe -
and a great way to keep you from getting into trouble while being
attacked. Let me explain:
The "dipper" is simply a ball hit with topspin that drops
as it goes over the net. With this shot, the peak of the arc is on
your side of the net, so the ball is already falling (or dipping,
get it?) as it goes over the net. The key to this shot is the
topspin that causes the ball to dip as it arrives on your opponent's
Why use this shot? In singles or
doubles, when a player is moving into the ideal volley position they
are hoping to receive a volley above the height of the net. Everyone
knows the ball above the net is easier to volley, while the low ball
needs to be played with caution. The "dipper" will help
neutralize the attacking player by making them handle the more
difficult low, dipping shot. Conversely, if the ball peaks as it
clears the net, you are handing your opponent a much easier shot to
volley away and you most likely will be toast!
Just remember this slogan, "Hit it high you die get it to drop
low, you're in the dough."
When to use this shot.
An opponent who hangs back to protect against the lob, is a prime
candidate for the "dipper". Why lob an opponent who is
hanging back waiting for it? On the other hand, if your opponent is
crowding the net, there's no need to try the dipper. Net crowders
are lob bait for sure!
Try practicing hitting the ball short with topspin and make your
attacking opponent deal with balls dipping at their feet. They won't
have an easy time of it, that's for sure.
To keep opponents from attacking in the first place, practice
hitting the ball deep into their court. That's where you need the
height above the net.
Is there a Little
Dipper? Yes. The Little Dipper also exists in tennis and is
essentially the same as the Big Dipper, only hit with underspin. But
that's a topic for another day.
How to play against a
player with a wimpy serve. Let's face it, these
"weaker" players have challenged us all. They have a slow
first serve and even slower second serve that we often send to the
back fence! Here are a few suggestions on how to play these players.
The greatest reason
the wimpy serve is so difficult to return is that there is no pace.
The ball is floating toward you so slowly you can read
"Wilson" on it! This serve can't hurt you, however;
you can definitely hurt yourself if you are not careful. The key is to
minimize your errors, and not to give away any free points.
If you can, use
more topspin when returning the slower serve. Not more power, more
spin. You are generally standing further into the court when hitting
this ball and there is less court space to work with. Try returning
crosscourt, as there is more court space to work with on the diagonal.
Another option is
to treat the weak serve as an invitation to go to the net. Treat
it as an approach shot. If the opponent doesn't lob or hit passing
shots well, this is probably the best tactic available. You can also
consider matching the speed of their ball on your approach shot. For
example, if their ball is traveling toward you at 25 miles per hour,
return it at the same speed. If you attempt to increase the speed, you
are taking a risk that might not be necessary.
When returning the
wimpy serve always use your best stroke. If you prefer forehands, run
around the backhand return and give it a good stroke. No need to hit
your weaker shot on such a slow ball.
One final idea is
to consider a drop shot off the return. If their serve is short in the
court this might be your best opportunity, so try it every now and
then. The key to success with the drop is to hit it without them
recognizing what's happening. Since the drop shot is much easier to
execute while closer to the net, you might give it a try.
Have fun and don't
let the wimpy server boss you around. Have a plan and enjoy the
Hi Mike, My buddies and I have an
ongoing dispute: if you smash a ball over the net, is it illegal to
break the plane of the net, even if you don't actually touch it? I say
yes, they say no. Thanks a lot!
Mike Says: 1. You must make
contact with the ball on your side only. You can not reach over the net
(see #2) to make contact. Once you have made contact on your side, your
follow though may cross the plane of the net.
2. The only time you can reach over the
net to hit the ball is that it has already landed on your side and is
headed back toward your opponents court. The rules say you may then
reach over as long as you don't make contact with the net. This instance
certainly doesn't happen very often.
Mike, I started playing tennis about
6 months ago. I seem to improve at a fairly rapid rate. I bought a good
video called "Consistent Tennis Wins" and a book on tennis in
the hopes of teaching myself. Here is my dilemma. Do I need tennis
lessons? I would love to have them but don't have the $45-50 an hour to
spend on them right now. Do you have any suggestions on ways I an
improve my technique without lessons?
Brandon, Thanks for your
question. Here are a few thoughts. Tennis is a skill sport where
repetition is the key. You need to make sure you are executing a stroke
properly prior to practicing, or you will be reinforcing bad behavior.
Lessons should certainly be considered. I suggest you consider group
instruction. It is much more cost effective, plus it's an excellent way
to meet people of a similar skill level. Finding others to play is
always a challenge.
Group instruction is great system for meeting new
players/friends -- as well as improving your game. Contact your local
tennis club or parks department about beginning group lessons. It can be
Thanks again Brandon and good luck. Keep swinging.
Mike, I do really well in clinics.
If I could carry the pro around with me, I'd win a lot more, I can tell
you that. I also do well in matches with smart partners who can point
out strategic points to me. Left to my own devices however, I have a
really hard time figuring out what adjustments to make, which shots I
should capitalize on and opponents weaknesses. I have good shots and am
working constantly on better execution. How do I start really thinking
well while playing well? Also, why is it that sometimes, all too rarely,
you seem to be so in tune with the ball and other times you just can't
seem to get with it?
Thank you for your great
question. I can see you are on the right path to improving
your competitive tennis.
Let me begin with the
question concerning which shots to capitalize on. Here are a couple of
simple things which should help. You certainly want to know what you are
good at and make every attempt to "do it" throughout the
match. For example: if you like forehands, hit as many as possible.
Also, be sure to recognize when you have hurt your opponent(s). If you
have hit a good shot and punished them, be ready to back it up with one
more well-placed stroke/volley. Often times it's the second shot that
wins a point, not the first one.
You also asked
"How do I start to think well while playing?" It begins with
having a plan based on your strengths, and the perceived weaknesses of
your opponent. It is always nice to know your opponents in advance, but
that doesn't always happen. You will have to observe their tendencies
during warm-up and then experiment throughout the match. You can view it
as a chess game. In other words, how often can you play offensively, and
when do you need to go into that defensive mode? Don't just go out and
play and hope you win that day. Most players do just that! Have a plan
in mind and I think you will find winning to be more within your
You last question
regarding why it is that some days you are in "tune" with the
ball and other days it's just not there, is an excellent one. If I
had the golden answer, I'd be king of the sporting world. The
"zone" you are referring
to is an illusive feeling that generally comes more often to those
players with confidence and little fear. The times I remember feeling
like I was in the zone, everything seemed like it was in slow motion
when in fact it wasn't. The ball seemed like the size of a volleyball!
My opponents couldn't hit a serve I couldn't rip back! But, as you
mentioned, it doesn't happen that often. Knowing your game, being
relaxed and in control of your fears and confident as to your task at
hand certainly should help you find the zone more often. If you find an
easier way, be sure to let me know.
Thanks again for the questions.