At times I wonder if using the traditional "smash" reference is a good idea in describing the overhead since the connotation among club players is that they should crush them. The motivation is certainly there to aggressively answer lobber's avoidance to get-it-on.
Yet, in many instances, a really good hitting position - absolutely essential in going big - is challenging. When it often cannot be achieved backing off the gas pedal and simply making a good placement to stay in the point is prudent.
Fundamentally, the overhead is nothing more than a serve off of a very high toss. So what's the real difficulty? It's that the vast majority of mid-level clubbers don't even ask for any "up" in the warm-up, and, as a direct result, not only generally fear the shot, but because of this omission, are not very good at it as well.
Photo by Shaun Ondak
Consider the overall ratio of forehands hit versus overheads in your lifetime tennis experience. Twenty to one? Maybe greater than that.
And it's being neglected in the warm-up? A bad idea that leaves a big hole in your game - especially your doubles game. Once exposed, it becomes an embossed invitation for opponents to lob you, and often.
Positioning, in relation to the always angled downward trajectory of the lob, is the overhead's core building block. Maneuvering yourself into a perfect position, one that allows the ball to descend into an ideal in-front strike zone, does indeed represent the smash opportunity.
But the mistake commonly made is positioning directly underneath the downward flight of a lob - good for a header in soccer - making both watching it and getting on top of the ball very challenging unless you have a very flexible neck, a strong, whippy wrist, and you play on the ATP or WTA tour.
Lobs, by their very nature, are seldom right into your wheelhouse, never mind the effect that even a slight breeze has on them. Moving backward or forward to achieve a good hitting position, often on a diagonal simultaneously, requires an energized brand of non-stop footwork to get the ball where you want it.
In the accompanying image you can see that I'm in a balanced, ready to fire, sideways to the net position. My head is up tracking the ball, and I'm moving laterally - my back foot is stepping back - in pursuit of a lob that's going past the service line.
Caution, never, ever chase deep lobs by back pedaling in a facing-the-net position. I've witnessed some nasty falls - triggered by a loss of balance or a caught heel - sometimes with even worse consequences like broken wrists and arms trying to brake the fall, and concussions from unimpeded head plants. Move laterally!
"Grounded overheads" are just that - hit off the forward left foot (righties) while connected to the court, or while moving forward with the ball nicely in front.
"Jump overheads" - referred to as the "scissor kick" back in the day - require jumping both up and backwards to intercept a good, deep lob.
Either way, stay aggressive. Attack the ball. That doesn't mean kill it. It means go up and get it whether jumping or not. Do not wait too long to pull the trigger as so many do. Choose a manageable swing speed - only as fast as you can control - along with always visualizing where you're going to place the shot.
Now go make those lob, lob, lobbers pay the frustroball price!
Jak Beardsworth, USPTA, author of "More Than Just the Strokes," is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Club. For adult and junior lessons, email him at JB1tennis@comcast.net, call 941-626-0097 or visit www.JakBeardsworthTennis.com