Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mastering the Drop Shot in Tennis

As the 2009 US Open continues, the top 4 ranked players, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novack Djokovic are all still in with a chance of winning. To win against the likes of these Tennis greats, the players have to have a complete play list of different shots. One of the most lethal is the drop shot. Federer in particular loves the drop shot as a major attacking weapon.

The drop shot can be used to win a point outright, but it can also be used to draw your opponent to the net and set yourself up for a passing shot or to simply get your opponent winded by making them run up to net in an attempt to recover the point. Playing a good drop shot requires not only executing the shot itself but also determining the best time to execute the shot.

Here is some video of Federer with some sublime drop shots. As you watch the video take note of Roger's court position, how he swings the racket and the court position of his opponent in each case.

We can pick out a few tips from analyzing this video.
  1. Federer usually plays his drop shot when he is just on the baseline or somewhere between the service line and the base line. It is much more difficult to play the shot when you are way behind the baseline. This is because the ball will need to travel further and it will also give your opponent more time to get to the net to hit a return shot.
  2. His opponent in each point is usually way behind the baseline when the drop shot is played. His opponents therefore need to cover much more ground if they want to catch up to the shot.
  3. Points 1 and 2 above actually work in combination, because as one player begins to attack , he moves forward and plays close to the baseline, pushing his opponent further behind the baseline. Therefore a drop shot is seldom played as a defensive shot.
  4. In each shot Federer cuts under the ball to create backspin. He angles his racket and slices under the ball as if he is trying to chop the bottom of the ball off. Back spin ensure that the ball dies (does not bounce high or forward) once it lands on the other side of the net. This will further reduce the chances of his opponent reaching the shot. Cutting under the ball will also slow the flight of the ball down allowing it to drop closer to the net.
Roger has a great drop shot but he is successful with it because he knows when to play it. Using video analysis we can learn from Roger and practice incorporating the drop shot into our own games.


Jane said...

Fascinating. Thanks for this great post. Is 500 shots/second the fastest it's capable of? Could technology speedy up that rate, some day? We're pretty amazed at its consistency with the line judges.

BTW, now it's Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novack Djokovic ... still in with a chance of winning.

Dudley Tabakin said...

Thanks for your comment Jane. 500 frames/sec is definitely not the limit of camera technology. There are cameras available that can capture 10000 frames/sec. I understand though that the Hawk-Eye line call technology uses 500 frames/sec. The problem with high speed cameras is that they require excellent lighting. Therefore if the system used for example a 2000 fps camera, it may be unreliable every time a cloud passed over the stadium and darkened it.
Some day though, I am sure they will be able to improve the accuracy of the line calls, both by using higher speed cameras and also by improving their ball tracking algorithms (calculations).

Oh yes and how about Andy Murray losing in the 4th round. I thought he was going to be Roger Federer's main threat this year.

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