Types of Tennis Spin

Stakhovsky slice by Marco Zanferrari, flickr

Stakhovsky slice by Marco Zanferrari, flickr

So you have just purchased a racquet, joined a tennis club, or are waging war against a ball machine to practice forehands and backhands. Once feeling comfortable on the basic groundstrokes, you might consider stepping up your tennis game by learning how to add spin to the ball. Perhaps you’ve recorded pro tennis matches and slowed down the game to watch the spins and slices routinely used to smash irretrievable shots across the net. Well, the time has come to learn those moves to surprise and conquer your opponents on the court.

When no spin or slice is employed, you are said to be hitting flat—the tennis racquet is more or less parallel to the ground and strings are at about a 90-degree angle to the ball. Topspin occurs when the tennis ball spins forward. Using topspin on a groundstroke allows you to hit the ball harder while still having it fall properly within the court (no more slamming the ball into the opposite fence), thus giving you greater control over ball placement.

A player places topspin on a ball by brushing the racquet up the backside of the ball, swinging from low to high while keeping the racquet in a perpendicular position (straight up and down) to the court. The ball will then follow a downward arc back to the court (and hopefully to where you were aiming). This spin is a staple for many players, both club and pro level.

Slice is also known as underspin and occurs when the ball spins backward. The opposite of a topspin motion, you move your racquet from high to low to achieve a proper slice while holding your racquet with an open face (shift the top of the racquet face backward). The racquet positioning for slicing is trickier than topspin and requires much practice to perfect. A slice generally drops the ball’s speed and causes it to fall shorter on the court (closer to the net) and is often used when an opponent is at the baseline, forcing the individual to sprint toward the net (and theoretically be unable to return the ball in an effective manner).

Side spin tends to be reserved for elite club players and pros due to increased difficulty to properly pull off. But the result is a hit that can be extremely difficult for your opponent to return. A tennis ball will bounce and spin sharply to the right or the left and either away from or toward your opponent.

To achieve this spin, you must swing the racquet from either left to right or right to left (depending on which direction you want the ball to go) in a side-to-side motion during a normal slice stroke. Although this stroke takes much practice and is more difficult to master, the outcome (feeling of chaos among your opponent) is well worth the effort.


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