The mechanics of the forehand or backhand topspin approach shot are very similar to the mechanics of a forehand or backhand groundstroke; it’s how you move and close on the tennis ball that separates these two types of shots. Topspin approach shots are a popular choice for pros on tour today because it’s easy to hit, and they are agressive shots that keep your opponent in a defensive position at the baseline as you come to net.
Let’s first start by discussing the forehand topspin approach shot. The key is that you need to move forward and get yourself sideways at the same time. Getting sideways will facilitate correct forehand mechanics. You can see in the video above (about 45 seconds in) how to get sideways by using a carioca step, where one foot steps across the other. In this case, my back foot — my left foot because I am left handed — steps in front of my front foot. Again, that allows me to move forward and get sideways.
Now let’s discuss where to hit the tennis ball. If possible, you want to hit the ball while it’s still above the net. This allows you to be aggressive with your topspin approach shot and it gives you some margin for error. If you let the ball drop too far, you’ll have to hit up on the ball to get it over the net. As a result, you’ll need to put some extra topspin on the ball to make sure you keep it in the court.
In the video above we freeze the action at my contact point, which is about shoulder high. Looking at the shot from across the net, you can see that this allows me to drive the ball while still hitting a relatively “safe” shot.
When hitting an approach shot, choosing where to hit the ball is key. Typically, you should hit your topspin approach shot down the line. There are some situations when you want to hit cross court, but the majority of the time down the line is best. When you hit down the line, aim for a spot 5 feet inside the sideline and the baseline. That will give you some margin for error. After you hit, continue to close the net. You want to position yourself a few steps to the side of the center service line. This is commonly called “covering the line,” and it allows you to defend against both a “down the line” or “cross court” passing shot.
Let’s move to the backhand topspin approach shot. It’s virtually the same deal as the forehand, with one footwork exception. As I hit the tennis ball, I take what’s called a “drop step.” This is also a type of carioca step where my back foot — my right foot because I’m left handed — steps behind my front foot. This footwork allows me to stay sideways while continuing to close the net.
At about four minutes into the video take a look at the backhand topspin approach shot from your opponent’s perspective — over the net. Just like on the forehand approach shot, on the I hit the backhand ball down the line. This cuts off the angles my opponent has to pass me and puts me in great position to end the point on the next volley.