How to hit the Overhead Smash


This shot can be a momentum changer. If you successfully smash a point away, it can demoralize your opponent, or make them feel like they are under real pressure from you. Conversely, if you miss an overhead smash – or miss more than one – your opponent can feel free to hit short balls, knowing that if you come into the net, they can just lob you and even if the lob is short, you might miss the smash. So it relieves pressure from your opponent if they think you might miss.

Often people get down on themselves for missing an overhead because they think it should be an “easy put away” but it’s actually not all that simple. Just as the serve involves many parts of the body to all work together to execute a good swing, the smash too requires good coordination from your feet, shoulders, and racquet arm. There is added complexity in that the ball coming towards you is usually coming from a high trajectory and may not be in a perfect contact zone, whereas on your serve you can place your toss perfectly so it sits there on a tee for you.

Here are the keys to hitting good overheads:

  • Turn your shoulders right after the splitstep
  • Racquet should be in the set-to-launch / trophy hold / cocked behind your head
  • Point at the ball with your left hand to track it, but also to involve your shoulders in the motion
  • Shuffle back about 3 feet further back than you think you will need to
  • Step into the ball. It’s easier to step in and hit a good smash than to hit a moving back fade-away smash where the ball is behind you.
  • If it’s a tough overhead and you have to hit it while running back, your last step should attempt to plant your right foot with your toe pointing at the net, to facilitate getting your hips and shoulders through the shot, and to reduce your momentum backwards.
  • Don’t over-hit the ball. You’re standing in very close to the net, so the ball is going to seem like it is traveling twice as fast as a baseline serve.
  • Don’t try to be too aggressive or aim it, just hit it in the court wherever feels natural. If your opponent guesses right and is able to return it, you will likely have another smash opportunity.
  • Always, always, let the overhead bounce if it’s possible to do so. Sometimes your opponent will lob up a very high ball with no spin. Let these bounce and then smash it off the bounce. The reason is that from the peak of its arc, the incoming ball will descend at you at an accelerating rate of 9.8 meters per second. In other words, for every second of hang-time on your opponent’s lob, the ball falls faster and faster. But if you let the ball bounce, then the speed at which the ball is descending at you is greatly reduced – maybe by half. To hit a very high overhead smash out of the air requires perfect timing. If you let it bounce, your timing doesn’t have to be nearly as excellent. Often when people frame the overhead or hit it out – even in the pros – they could have let the ball bounce and given themselves an easier shot.
  • Finally, WATCH THE BALL. Yes it is an obvious thing to do, but very often people will look down, or look at their opponent a microsecond before they hit the ball. This is not what you want to do. Watch the ball hit the strings, and even keep your eyes there a fraction after you have made contact, just to make sure.

Obviously don’t let the ball bounce if it’s a good topspin lob and it’ll bounce way over you into the back court. I’m talking about short, super-high lobs with no spin.

Here’s an example where I am exaggerating bad technique. I’m doing basically everything wrong. I’m late to move, late to prepare, take a big swing, let the ball get behind me, fall backwards, and don’t come through the shot.

Here’s something a lot of people do – they get in a position they feel allows them to hit the overhead, and then it turns out that they mis-judged the ball and it’s going to be way behind them. It’s too late, they can’t move their feet, and they are thrown off balance and onto the defensive. Instead of doing this, you have to be able to step into the ball and make a quick adjustment if need be.

Here’s an example of a decent overhead. I splitstep, prepare my shoulders early, point with my left arm, take little steps to adjust, move in as I hit (on a bit of an angle. It would be better if I moved directly into the court, but I misjudged the ball), and keep my eyes on the ball.

Here I’m just demonstrating the basic footwork for an overhead – you want to move backward using shuffle steps at least 2-3 feet further back than you think you need, then use that extra space to step into the ball. I noticed here that since there is no ball, I don’t keep my eyes on the imaginary ball, so just check out the feet here. (shuffle shuffle shuffle, and step in).

What’s the hardest thing about overheads for you?


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