How To Hit a Drop Shot

Spike Gonzales

You have your opponent(s) running and deep in the court after a long rally; and you go for the “killer dropper”!  But it either hits the net and falls on your side or it sits up for an easy put-away winner by your opponent(s).  How come?

One Expert Dropper’s Opinion

Those of you who have ever played with or against Spike Gonzales know what great touch and drop shot he has.  So I asked him to give us a few pointers on this often misplayed shot.

“We would all agree that the drop shot should be hit with backspin, in order to retard the ball bounce.  Accordingly, the ideal grip is the continental, which tilts the racquet back on both the forehand and backhand sides. 

“We would also agree that the striker should be well inside the baseline to attempt a drop shot.  Ideally the incoming ball is still “on-the-rise,” which assists in imparting backspin and giving most of the energy to the shot.  The best opportunity to hit drop shots is against a weak second serve!

“However, there are a couple misunderstandings on hitting a drop shot.

1.     The ball should go low over the net.  Not so, the ball should go up to four feet over the net.  What’s important is that the ball is falling before or at the time it gets to the net.  This allows the second bounce (with backspin) to stay close to the net and disguises the shot somewhat because the opponent cannot quickly perceive that the ball will be short.  (When you hit it low over the net, your opponent will start coming in immediately, and the second bounce will go deeper.)  I liken the dropshot to being a “mini-lob.”

2.     The drop shot should be a winner.  In most cases the intent of the drop shot should be to get the opponent out of position, or out of their comfort zone.  Trying to hit a winner with a perfect placement will end in the ball going into the net too often.  Remember, “It doesn’t have to be that good.” 

3.     It should be hit cross-court.  Yes, a successful cross-court drop shot is devastating; but trying to hit it results in more errors.  Your mind has a more accurate estimate of how far the net is from you when you hit straight-ahead.  The net gets farther and farther away for cross-courts. 

“If you miss a drop shot, or lose the point because of your hitting it, pause and record mentally what you could have done to be more effective next time!”

After Hitting the Drop Shot

“Move inside the baseline, slightly cross-court to protect against the re-drop or attempted angle put-away.  If you can get your racquet on the angle you have an easy winner; if your opponent goes down-the-line they have to carefully go over the high part of the net to the shortest amount of court left so you often have time respond with a lob when they are quite vulnerable.  By moving in slightly, you should be able to get to a re-drop to carefully tap the ball down-the-line or with an angle.”

How about YOU, how do you hit a successful drop shot?

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13 thoughts on “How To Hit a Drop Shot

  1. Nice info, George. I like Spike’s thinking here and have a couple of questions:

    1-Why is the return of a second serve considered the best chance to hit a drop shot? Certainly it represents an opening, but is it necessarily the best? I would think there might be other easy opportunities:
    – an incoming ball hit with reasonable pace but not much depth
    – the opponent is deep in one corner and has hit the ball crosscourt but barely past the service line

    2-Interesting to hear that some people believe a drop shot should be hit crosscourt. How did that come to exist? While certainly viable, I think it takes much more skill to hit a drop shot crosscourt than down-the-line, which after all is the shortest distance between two points.

    3-Would be interesting to hear if people find it easier to drop shot off the forehand or backhand. For me, much easier off the backhand, as the technique is similar to my slice backhand. I can hit drop shots all day off that side. On the forehand, not quite as frequent or workable (a function of my technical challenges)

    Again, great topic, George.

    Joel, i am with you in hitting the dropper off the backhand better than forehand. I will leave the other questions to others. thanks, george

  2. Tough shot but a great shot! I try and use it very selectively and when I do it should come as a total surprise to my opponent, who has fallen in love with the base line. For me it all comes down to having the great combinations of “feel” and “touch” with “soft hands” and a racket head that skillfully carves out the underspin!

    Jim, yes, if the opponent expects the dropper, you are going to be in trouble. thanks, george

  3. Careful what you ask for. 🙂
    Here’s a drop volley video that actually covers most all the basics of any (of my style’s) drop shot – the three spin axes and the necessity of catching it behind you and swinging really hard. I can dig more up if you think there’d be value in same. 🙂
    Oh, one other major aspect of hitting them. The amount of topspin on the incoming ball has a major effect on the technique required. Lots of incoming topspin makes hitting my kind of dropper *much* easier, but it’s important to understand that it calls for a more “downward” stroke and less “under”. Oh, and in certain situations, like a short lob to my backhand side (Laurie Hammel got a kick out of this one and hollered at me from two courts away a couple of years ago 🙂 ), I catch it behind me after it’s dropped below shoulder height, and, at least “feel like” I’m actually brushing up the “front” of the ball. 🙂 Taught *that* one to Jim Ward the other day in a few seconds, too. 🙂

    Kevin, that is an INCREDIBLE drop volley (and you made five in a row!). thanks, george.

  4. I agree completely with Spike’s comments, especially the design being to get the opponent out of position rather than to hit a winner. Against strong opponents, I am happy if my drop shot ends up eventually winning the point 50% of the time. With the current equipment and techniques, allowing your opponent to comfortably stay behind the baseline and have time to hit grooved strokes is not helpful. By having a good drop shot as a threat, the opponent has to look for it even when you are hitting a regular shot. This gives you a small advantage and it is the small advantages that determine the result with relatively evenly matched competitors.
    Perhaps as important to me, the drop shot option makes the “physical chess” mental aspect of the game broader, more challenging. Fun!

    Winder, the dropper is like the serve/volley… you have to do it enough so that they don’t know if/when you will be doing it. thanks, george

  5. George,
    I believe you should adopt a mental rule that your dropshots will never fall on your own side of the net. Giving yourself this margin of error will mean that your dropshots will force weak returns from your opponent rather than outright winners. Dropshots are low percentage shots and should be used sparingly, especially during an important point. Being adept and confident in one’s shotmaking technique can play on an opponent’s mind. As you know, great drop shots have both disguise and controlled backspin. I prefer to hit a backhand “dropper” verses the forehand because I can make better use of underspin, after the ball clears the net. Signature dropshotting ability or any touch shot, ( i.e. Spike Gonzales) can pay huge dividends throughout a match.

    Glenn, i admonish myself EVERY time my drop shot hits the net and falls on my side of the court! Thanks, george

  6. I think the master of drop shots is Jimmy Parker, and I posted a video some time ago of a clay court finals match between Parker and Brian Cheney. From the first game on, Parker is just deadly with both the backhand and forehand drop shots. His control on the forehand side is particularly deadly as his drop shot looks just like his underspin forehand drive. I personally am not looking for forehand dropshots as much as backhands, so I think it is more effective in that regard. Here is the link if you care to take a look: I wish I had done some slow motions of that shot!

    Mike, and what makes Jimmy’s forehand drop shot even more effective is that his normal grip is the Continental, which aids in the opponent not knowing what is coming… a forehand slice deep into the corner or his incredible dropper (having been on the receiving end of it, i can vouch for its effectiveness!). thanks, george

  7. Kevin, great job on that video, and yes, I love the drop shot as do many of you, and love hitting it cross court, and off the backhand. Fun and effective shot at our age!

  8. George,
    I certainly appreciate all the comments. In reference to Joel’s comments:
    1. It was probably inaccurate to use the word “best” in saying it is opportune to hit the drop shot on the second serve. Joel’s other named opportunities are certainly equal. Against the second serve is certainly the most threatening and predictable, and it generally meets the criteria of the receiver can be inside the baseline and the opponent back near the baseline.
    2. I kind of wince when I hear pros teach that drop shots should go cross-court.
    3. It is absolutely easier for most players to hit the drop shot off of the backhand side, as it’s common to hit with a continental grip on the backhand and the shot can be disguised by anyone who typically hits slice backhands. The drop shot is more difficult on the forehand side for several reasons. First, the hitter often has to change his grip. Second, it is more difficult to disguise, especially if the player usually hits topspin forehands. Third, it is far more difficult to contact the ball ahead or even with the forward foot (as the source of the swing is now on the shoulder farther from the net). Generally slice FH’s need to be contacted closer to the back foot.
    Thanks, as always, for the recognition!

  9. There are of course only 2 shots which are worth watching – drop shots & lobs, preferably both during the same point ! Have another look on You Tube at the Nadal match against Dustin Brown, a masterclass of drop shots over & over again !
    Our courts have reopened, some of them anyway, Singles only allowed for the time being, but still no socialising !
    Best wishes George & hope you have a good summer.

    Howard, get out on those British courts and drive some people nuts with your dropper/lob combos! thanks, george

  10. George,
    There is some very good advice here. My problem with the drop shot is that the only time I feel comfortable practicing the shot is when I am hitting with a ball machine. I used to play with a guy that would practice the shot during the 10 minute or so warm-up period. I was never ready to play until the middle of the first set.
    Tennis is now open, with some restrictions, in New England. The weather is also getting much warmer. You can return.

    Bob, you are right… few of us ever really practice the drop shot with friends. Going north for us this summer is now questionable… DeDe and i are seriously considering staying in Florida for the first time this summer! thanks, george

  11. I urge Spike NOT to amend his thought that the “best” time to play the drop is against a second serve! 2 reasons. First, when else during a point do you know for sure that the next shot will land inside the service box? When receiving a second serve you can take a receiving position halfway between service line and baseline, or even closer, which allows you to be in ideal position for the dropper. Second, since very few senior players charge the net after a second serve, you are now able to play the drop while your opponent is still recovering from his service swing. This situation is way different than dropping during the run of play, when your opponent has ample time after his shot to observe your preparation and swing. And finally, since you are already in an offensive position you are easily able to play a slice approach and take an advantageous position at the net – no intermediate shot needed and the slice approach looks exactly like the drop . Your opponent has trouble deciding whether to charge forward for the drop or hang back to defend. So Spike and I will continue to look for the drop against second

    Sean, i agree with you both! thanks, george

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