Angling for more Aggression off the Back Foot
Each and every groundstroke is heavily dependent on the shape, size and attributes of the person executing the stroke: it is a unique mix of topspin and power: ie, upness & throughness.
The Through-to-Up Ratio
This is a good notion to keep in your head and lets look again at Mats Wilander to emphasise the upness part of it.
Mats was more of a rock-steady tactician than a power hitter (his ’88 US Open final win over Lendl is a masterclass in tailoring tactics to suit the opponent), and we see he’s hitting what could be described as a purer strain of topspin – meaning, his through to up ratio is quite heavily in favour of the latter.
This isn’t a scientific reading (this is tech-tennis as art, remember), but for emphasis, lets give it a percentage: say 70% upness to 30% throughness
Gustavo ‘Guga’ Kuerten was also a master tactician who could pull anyone out of court in a few shots and I would’ve loved to see an at-his-best fully-fit Guga go toe-to-toe with Rafa on clay (and don’t be so sure about the outcome).
But Guga wasn’t shy about smacking the cover off the ball, and in this sequence of images, Guga’s Through-to-Up ratio could well be the contra of Mats’.
Again, for emphasis only, let’s say Guga’s ratio is 30% upness to 70% throughness.
Basically, its his variant on the low-to-high shape – same combination of elements, only repackaged (or re-moulded) by different intentions… .
‘You were tempted to go all lyrical and load tropes on top of your metaphors again, weren’t you?’
‘You can be such a show off.’
I resisted though.
‘Yep. Stick with the therapy and keep it bite sized.’
These two are also perfect examples to emphasise aggressive backfooting but first lets recap on a few of the reasons why players hit off the back foot:
1: They are forced onto the back foot by the depth and/or kicking topspin of the opponent’s shot.
2: Like Mats (above), they choose to suspend body weight, so as to enhance the topspin stroke shape, for a purer, fluffier kind of topspin, which furnishes rallies to give opponents cramp.
3: A player has been pulled open by a deep, wide ball to the baseline.
4: Players become so used to hitting from an open stance…
…an Open Delivery, that they hit everything but the shortest of balls off the back foot.
As we know, Mats has chosen to hit off the back foot – his patient game was built on suspending his body weight – because he wants to hit more purely up, and the throughness of getting weight forward is surplus to his requirements for this type of stroke.
70% upness to 30% throughness is his chosen ratio.
Now look again at Guga, who’s facing a deep effort from his opponent.
In the absence of the easy weight forward option, which the short mid-court ball offered to Ivan Lendl earlier, Guga resorts to other means to generate and direct racket head speed:
- He cranks up a sizeable loop.
- Drops the racket head only moderately below the impending hit
- Engineers an out-front connect that invites aggression, and the aggressive through-to-up ratio is also apparent
- And he turns up the shoulder spin volume
70% throughness to 30% upness isn’t a strict measurement, but I want to over-emphasise that different mixtures of upness and throughness achieve different ends.
Let’s get back to Aggressive Backfooting.
Run the animation again and now concentrate on Guga’s legs.
He shifts onto the back foot, sinks into a knee bend and then launches his efforts UP and IN to an aggressive forward contact.
He isn’t pushing purely upwards like Mats (above) – rather, Guga’s efforts are angled up-and-in, and he has delivered his payload along a flatter trajectory, to a way-out-front connect.
This is aggressive back-footing.
And this ain’t no polite swing of the racket head, either– this is an Underarm Throw – but that’ll keep for the more advanced stuff (I’m still warming up).