You’re in a perfect position in the point.
Your opponent has been scrambling around, only just managing to hang in the rally with some ridiculous athleticism. You’ve been placing the ball all over the court and you have no idea how it’s dragged on as long as it is.
But finally, it looks like you have your chance to finish it, as your opponent has lobbed the ball up in the air to try and give himself some time to recover. Unfortunately for them, they’ve hit it too weakly and their shot isn’t going to make it over your head.
You swing back your racket and get ready and when the ball is where you think it needs to be, you arc it over your head and…
You frame the ball into the net.
Let’s help you avoid this situation in the future by going through the key tips and tricks for learning how to overhead smash in tennis!
What is an Overhead Smash?
Well, we may have somewhat given it away in the introduction!
An overhead smash is a ball that you strike – somewhat unsurprisingly! – when it’s above your head. The aim of this shot is usually to end the point with power and accuracy. It’s a dominant shot and an attacking play.
For all of these reasons, however, the overhead smash has real potential to go wrong if not practiced properly and can leave you looking a bit foolish if you don’t pull it off correctly.
When to Use an Overhead Smash?
…When the ball is above your head! Next question!
OK, OK, there’s a little bit more to learning how to overhead smash in tennis than that, we suppose!
The overhead smash is usually used when you’re inside the court, with a majority of them being struck when a player is right up at the net. As you go further back towards the baseline, you’ll see less and less overheads used.
Having said that, now and then, you’ll see some more experienced players letting the ball bounce first before hitting a smash from a long way back. This is what’s known as a bounce smash and allows players more time to get ready.
With that said, most smashes are used as a way to counteract an opponent’s lob attempt and yoy’ll probably be looking at taking the ball right out of the air to finish the point quickly and make a statement in the process!
You’re here to play with power!
As we’ve mentioned, you can technically be hitting a smash wherever you stand on the court and a lot depends on how your opponent has played their lobs.
However, usually, you’ll be well inside the court when the time comes. Perhaps they’ve brought you into the net with a dropshot before trying to get the ball up and over you. Or maybe you’ve played an approach shot and their response is to try and lob you.
Whatever it is, as soon as you see your opponent hitting the ball skywards, you should know what to expect and be ready to move in for it.
Something to also keep lodged in your brain as you move off your baseline is that the closer you are to the net, the more likely the ball is to land in. The less space on your side of the court when you strike the overhead, the higher the chance is that you’re going to come away with a winner in the point.
…Just make sure not to touch the net in your haste to get into position beneath the ball. You do that and all this will be for nothing. Your opponent will get the point.
So the ball’s heading into the sky, you’re in position right underneath the ball… Now what?!
Well, now you want to be getting your feet in the right place. Trying to hit an overhead smash with both fleet flat and facing the net isn’t going to work well for you… Trust us. We’ve tried it.
The stance you’re going to want to take up is very similar to an average service position with only a few slight differences. Place your non-dominant foot out in front of you for stability and ease-of-movement and allow your knees to bend slightly to offer you some spring as you swing.
Something to remember is that you may well need to track either forwards or backwards to make sure you’re in the right place for your swing. With lobs, balls can move around slightly or get caught in the wind and if that’s the case, your footwork will need to be read to take you to where you need to be.
We know it can be somewhat tempting to rush into your overhead swing motion with your forehand swing but in reality, that’s probably a bad idea and results will most likely vary wildly… Unless, of course, you naturally use a Continental grip for your forehand. In which case, fire away!
Yep, we here at Mind the Racket suggest that you use the Continental grip, the grip that most players us to serve with. This grip is going to offer the most stability and control when you go to make that sweet smash impact.
Sometimes referred to at the chopper grip, hold your racket like you would a hammer or an axe, with the v shape between your thumb and index finger facing up towards you! That’s the chopper grip.
You’ve got your grip. You’ve got your positioning. Now you’re ready to go for it.
Follow the ball with your eyes at all times throughout. It can be VERY easy to lose track of it in the air, especially if the sun is naturally facing you down the court (you can always wear sunglasses if I’ts an extra bright day).
So yes, as you’re following the ball back through the air, make sure to not let it drift too far over your head or you’re going to be tying yourself in knots to get your smash in play.
Get ready to rotate your shoulders up and over the arch of your back. Bring your rack up and back behind you slightly so that it’s hovering around your head height. Make sure the frame is targeting the ball as it’s flying overhead and keep your arm bent slightly, ready to swing forwards through the ball.
Make sure your non-dominant hand is pointed upwards at the ball as well. This is a similar position to when you toss the ball to serve. This will help keep your eye on your target, while also adding a bit of additional support as you get ready.
5. Follow through
Another area in which the overhead is going to differ from your serve is that you’re going to have less time to prepare for your swing through the shot. Your shoulders aren’t going to be able to rotate freely through the ball and you’ll need to be ready to extend your arm forward and down through the shot much more.
In a serve, you’re playing with a service box a fair distance away. With the overhead, you’re dealing with the entire side of the court but you’ll be wanting to get maximum leverage and power so that your opponent has no chance of returning it.
So with all that said, when the ball is above your head and slightly in front of you, make sure that your arm is at full extension at the point of impact with the ball to allow for better weight and power movement through the shot. You’re going to bring your dominant shoulder forward and your arm down, bringing the racket face on top of the ball.
To help direct and aim your shot more, bend your wrist to snap into the ball as well. As you’re doing this, bring your dominant side of your body around to face the net again so that your feet are parallel and facing towards the net.
Now, we’ve all seen the absolute disasters that this moment can cause. Even professional players struggle with it. It can be a difficult shot to time properly and you may well mess it up even if you’ve done everything that we’re suggesting here. It’s a shot that requires an immense amount of practice to get just right.
But if you swing with confidence and relaxation, you should soon be able to start bringing that ball down through the air for a winner…
…But what if you don’t hit a winner?!
Well, this may well happen. In an ideal world, that your smash isn’t coming back. However, if it does, if your opponent guesses which way you’re directing the ball and manages to get a racket to it… Well, what then?!
You need to be ready.
As soon as you’ve hit through the ball, get ready to take your usual split-step. If your opponent scrambles and lifts the ball back up in the air, you’re going to need to prepare yourself for yet another overhead smash, and this time… This time, you want to put it away for good.
Watch where your shot goes. Do NOT assume you’ve won the point until you see that the ball has bounced twice. There are multiple examples of players celebrating a point won just that bit too early and you do not want to find yourself in THAT embarrassing category…
6.5. A Few Quick Clarifications
There are a few areas we haven’t focused on as much throughout this article that we briefly want to touch on.
Backhand Overhead Smash
Firstly, all of what we’ve been over are forehand side overhead smashes. It is possible to do a backhand overhead smash. However, we only really recommend trying this shot if you’ve had a fair bit of experience playing tennis.
Basically, the backhand overhead is also known as a sky-hook and requires that your track the ball up over your shoulder. You then turn around so that your back is fully facing the net, fully extend your forehand arm (which will now be on your backhand side!) into the air, and flick back with your wrist at the ball.
If this sounds difficult, that’s because it IS. It’s easily one of the hardest shots in tennis and we’d need an entire article to cover how to go about hitting this properly.
This is the final thing we want to include.
With bounce smashes back at the baseline, we recommend trying to control the ball by resorting to hitting a forehand off the bounce instead of a smash. This way, you’ll still be in a good place in the rally and you won’t be risking missing by smashing the ball long or into the net.
Baseline smashes are difficult. Until you feel ready, go for a regular forehand.
And there we are!
With that all out of the way, it’s time to reflect back on a few things.
First thing’s first, learning how to overhead smash in tennis is tricky. You’ll go into it thinking that it’s nothing more than a slightly modified service motion but you’ll find that there’s a lot more moving to be done with the smash.
You’ll also find yourself dealing with the pressure of being in a very good place to finish the point off with a powerful winner. While that’s undeniably a good thing, it means that you may well start rushing and overthinking your smash a bit too much before hitting the ball.
With that said, work on perfecting a rhythm for your smash. As soon as you find the right flow for your technique to click together, you’ll feel much more comfortable taking balls right out of the air.
Also, don’t get disheartened if you do mess it up. It’s easy to lose confidence and let the next few points slip away from you afterwards. Keep in mind that even the men’s world number 1 Novak Djokovic has issues with the overhead.
Keep at it and you’ll get there. And if you keep it long enough…
…You’ll smash it!
OK, we’re done now, we promise!