Since I abruptly said goodbye to my longtime hitting partners and therefore don’t have anyone to hit with anymore, I hit against the backboard today. The wind was gusting and I was getting frustrated because it was pushing the ball into my body very strongly and I couldn’t hit a backhand. To deal with my frustration I decided to find a target on the wall and hit every backhand to that target. Since the target was pretty high, I had to hit up on the ball. After a little while I had developed a pretty good topspin backhand.

This is pretty significant because my backhand stroke usually produces a ball that looks like a dead duck or, maybe, a knuckleball. It has no rotation and floats and wobbles before landing in the general target area I aim for.

If you’re Joe Niekro or Tim Wakefield, this is a good thing. If you’re a tennis player it is not. The ball will take longer to get to its target and it doesn’t have two big advantages of topspin. When you hit a ball with heavy topspin it explodes and bounces high when it hits the court. Also, because you are coming over the ball, you can hit the ball really hard and have a better chance of keeping it in the court.

The point here is that I didn’t use technique to develop the topspin shot, I used intent. I chose a target on the wall and did whatever I had to do to get the ball to that target. I didn’t say to myself, “Accelerate up the back of the ball, ” or, “Hit from low to high, ” or, “Finish with the racket high, ” or any of the other instructions you might hear if you were taking a lesson in how to hit a topspin backhand.

The point here is that I didn’t use technique to develop the topspin shot, I used intent. I chose a target on the wall and did whatever I had to do to get the ball to that target.

We’ve encountered this before. For a while I had a two-part follow-through on my forehand. I’d hit the ball, hesitate, then follow-through as if I’d just remembered that I should follow through. My tennis instructor, Sean Brawley, is certified by the Inner Game of Tennis guy, Timothy Gallwey. Sean’s approach to this problem was to ask me to think about where I wanted the ball to go and notice where my racket ended up. Again, no instructions about technique; just think about where I want the ball to go and notice what my stroke is.

Strangely enough, I started hitting the ball with Roger Federer’s forehand. O.k., probably at one-quarter speed, but still, I hit up and over the ball as the racket went in a circular arc in front of my body and ended up with the racket face pointed down at the court. It’s a much smoother stroke than my former herky jerky forehand and only required a good suggestion from my coach and some awareness on my part.

There is enough rubble and litter rolling around in my brain already. I don’t really need to add any other unnecessary instructions to the mix.

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