Topspin is where the ball rotates forward as it travels through the air. Viewing it from side on, if the ball is moving from left to right, it will rotate in a clockwise direction. Topspin is a handy shot in tennis as you can hit the ball harder and it will still drop into the court due to the downward force created by the spin. It can be used on both the forehand and backhand sides, including volleys and lobs. A topspin serve enables the ball to be hit higher over the net and still drop into the service box. Topspin shots make the ball bounce higher and they are harder for the opponent to return.
The usual grips for the topspin shot are the semi-western forehand grip and the eastern backhand grip. For the semi-western grip, place the underneath of the knuckle of your index finger and the palm on the bevel of the handle that is 45 degrees clockwise from the racket face, rather like holding an axe. For the eastern backhand grip, your index finger knuckle should be at top of the handle as you hold the racket head vertical ready to play a shot.
The best way to start learning to hit topspin in tennis is to stand square to the net, anywhere in the court. Throw the ball up in the air six or seven feet at about one o’clock and let it bounce. As it comes up towards its maximum height of three feet or so, hit the ball front on. The upward swing of your racket on this shot should naturally impart topspin to the ball. Watch the ball as it heads towards the net and passes over it to the other side. You should see it spinning end over end like it is rolling through the air away from you. Practice this shot a number of times, perhaps moving backwards and forwards to different spots on the court. Aim to make the ball fall within the court each time.
Try turning slightly side on and repeat the movement with the same upward swing as before. Again, play shots from different areas of the court. Note that your racket action is now a bit more side on and will consist of a sweeping upward and forward stroke. Move your body around a little further until you are at around two or three o’clock and repeat the shot from this angle. Keep moving your racket upwards and forwards as you hit the ball. You will probably notice your racket head facing slightly downwards as the action of the stroke will send the ball through the air a little higher than perpendicular to the racket. If your racket head is vertical, your topspin shot will probably go too high and is more likely to land beyond the base line on the other side.
Now practice this shot with someone hitting the ball to you from the other side of the net. Get them to hit it very gently at first, and then to hit it slightly harder and from further away. Just aim to hit the ball back to them using the topspin shot you practiced on your own. Don’t try and hit the cover off the ball, not yet anyway. Trying to hit it too hard at this stage will probably result in the ball traveling too high over the net and sailing out the back of the court.
Once you feel you have started to get the hang of the forehand topspin shot, try and do the same on the backhand side. This time, face 11 o’clock and throw the ball up at about the same angle. Wait for it to bounce and hit it backhand, swinging your racket upwards and forwards. You should see the ball spinning in the same direction, that is, forwards, as you did with the forehand shot. If the ball goes too high or too far, tilt the racket face down a little. Move around to 9 or 10 o’clock and repeat the action. Then get your partner to hit the ball to you from the other side and practice the backhand topspin shot.
If you can hit the forehand and backhand topspin shots reasonably well, you could probably try some topspin lobs, first on the forehand side and then backhand. Angle the racket head slightly upwards for these shots. These strokes are typically played when your opponent is forward of the service line. Stand towards the back of the court and get your practice partner to hit the ball towards you. Swing the racket upwards and forwards as you hit the ball. Aim to hit the ball to a height of about 12-15 feet, so that it passes out of the reach of the partner and still lands in the court. This is an effective shot as the ball will bounce high and travel quicker and further away past the baseline than a shot with no spin, making it harder for an opponent to retrieve.
A topspin volley is a harder shot to play but can still be practiced at the basic level. Try hitting the ball by throwing it up a little way in the air and not letting it bounce first. It should be fairly easy to impart spin, especially on the forehand side. Next, get your partner to hit balls gently over the net. Return them on the full with the same action you learned when practicing conventional forehand and backhand shots.
Probably the hardest shot to play with topspin is the serve. Beginners usually toss the ball straight up and position their racket upright as they hit the ball. Keep throwing the ball in the same manner but bend your elbow out slightly and point the racket more towards one o’clock. Your racket face should still be above your head, but its position will allow you to run the racket upwards over the ball at point of contact so that it will rotate forwards as it travels through the air. Try it very slowly at first and don’t worry too much about where the ball is going. Just practice the action. You could even try throwing it up slightly to your left for an even more effective topspin serve.
Carry these shots into practice sessions and eventually into matches. But don’t expect perfection straight away. Some of these shots can take a long time to master. If you are having trouble with any of them, go back to the basics and hit some gentle practice balls with an upward and forward motion. The best bet might be to hire a coach to help iron out any flaws.