The overhead smash is a shot that puts fear in the hearts of most amateurs. It can result in occasional brilliance, but it often ends in predictable embarrassment. This section uncovers a handful of secrets that will transform an overhead avoider into an overhead hunter.
The primary cause of a misfired overhead is employing a service motion. Although the overhead shares some basic components with the serve—stance, grip, forearm pronation, and keeping the nondominant hand and head up until contact—the overhead is a little trickier. In a typical service motion, the racket head travels approximately 12 feet (3.6 m) of distance from the ready position through the “down together–up together” backswing, up into the loop, and through the contact phase of the stroke. It’s one thing to do all of this off a controlled toss, but trying to time a two- or three-millisecond hit off an 80-foot lob dropping at the rate of gravity—often while the player is completely unbalanced—is quite a different proposition. Wherever I travel around the world for tennis workshops, I see amateurs attempting this nearly impossible task. They will invariably shank the ball and say, “You know, I just don’t feel my overhead today.”
Consistent overheads are a result of a two-part swing. The first part begins with the ready position (figure 8.4a). From there, the player executes a quick pivot, pointing the feet, knees, belly button, and shoulders toward the side fence. Simultaneously, the player moves the racket handle directly up to the dominant-side ear (figure 8.4b). (Imagine quickly picking up a phone and directly placing it up to your ear to talk.) The role of the nondominant arm is to aid in the coiling process by pointing to the ball with the elbow first (figure 8.4c), then extending the arm to point with the finger (figure 8.4d). This completes part 1 of the swing.
The second phase begins when the lob moves from ascending to the apex into the descent. This is the strike zone phase of the swing. The abbreviated backswing is restarted and moves into its remaining 3-foot (91 cm) swing. Approaching contact, the forearm should pronate (figure 8.5a) as the nondominant hand abruptly tucks into the belly to aid in blocking the shoulders and chest—also known as the third link of the kinetic chain—from rotating (figure 8.5b). After contact, a relaxed deceleration begins down through the follow-through phase (figure 8.5c).
By using this two-part overhead technique, a player can turn a defective liability into a picturesque thing of beauty.