The drop shot is a softly hit shot with backspin that falls onto the court just after clearing the net. It can be hit as an outright winner or to force an opponent to the net. This tactic is effective if the opponent is vulnerable at the net, or slow or out of condition.
The drop shot must be played from a short ball and should be hit from well inside the baseline. The player should be prepared in the normal ready position—at the baseline with the body facing directly at the net, the weight forward with the knees slightly flexed, and the racket held up and in front of the body (see figure 4.48).
The choices with the short ball are an approach shot, an aggressive groundstroke, or a drop shot. Disguise is an important factor because it freezes the opponent at the baseline until the shot is hit. With that in mind, when hitting a drop shot, the player should prepare the body and the racket as if he were going to hit an approach shot or an aggressive groundstroke.
Because he will hit the ball with backspin, the player must be able to hit with an open racket face. An Eastern (page 35) or Continental grip (page 41) works well on the forehand side because it makes it easy to open the racket face to get the height necessary to get the ball up and over the net and to create backspin. When the player is hitting on the backhand side, a Continental grip is best because the racket face is open, which gives the shot the necessary elevation to get up and over the net with backspin.
The backswing for the drop shot begins high, like a loop backswing. Just before contact, the racket path goes from high to level and the racket is open to create backspin (see figure 4.49). The best drop shots are played with a backswing that is the same as a backswing for an aggressive groundstroke. This “disguise” prevents the opponent from anticipating the short drop shot, forcing her to prepare in the backcourt and move forward only after the shot is hit.
The swing for the drop shot is slow and soft, and contact is made even with the front hip at waist level. The racket arm has a slight bend at the elbow. At the contact point, the racket swing pattern will be a high to level with an open racket face. This provides the elevation needed to get the ball up and over the net as well as the backspin needed to make the ball hit and stay low without a long bounce.
The high-to-level swing and the open racket face create backspin on drop shots. The backspin takes speed off the ball and prevents the ball from hitting and bouncing long after making contact with the court. A soft drop shot with backspin should bounce three times before reaching the service line.
The trajectory of the drop shot is up off the racket face, and the ball should be traveling down as it crosses over the net. It is important that the trajectory is more up and down, rather than out, because it should bounce close to the net. The ball should bounce close to the net so the opponent has to run all the way to the net to retrieve this shot. If the player hits the ball with a flatter arc, the ball will have a longer bounce, which makes it easier for the opponent to reach for a return.
The follow-through for the drop shot is slow and controlled. The racket moves forward toward the target and the racket face is open (see figure 4.50). The follow-through is short because the ball is hit only a short distance and with just enough speed to get the ball over the net. The racket face finishes open to create enough trajectory to get the ball up and over the net and to give the ball backspin. The drop shot is the best example of a player taking speed off an oncoming shot. The softer and slower the ball is hit, the better the result of the drop shot. There should be little or no forward weight transfer or body rotation and only a short follow-through when hitting the perfect drop shot.
The recovery after the drop shot varies depending on the situation. If the opponent is fully extended and forced to simply pop the ball up to get it over the net, she should be at the net and ready for a volley.
If the opponent has better play on the drop shot, the recovery should be at the baseline. The opponent will be at the net after playing the drop shot, and so the return shot will be a passing shot into the open court or a lob over the opponent’s head.
As you can see, the drop shot does not have to be a perfect winner to be effective. Because the opponent has to run quickly and cover a lot of court to keep the ball in play, the player has some openings in the court for the next shot.