The Essentials of the Overhead

Whether you're a great net player, a strict baseliner, or somewhere in between, a good overhead should be an essential part of your game.

If you think of the great players of our game both past and present who also had great overheads, many of you would list aggressive players like Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, or even Rod Laver.

Many of you might not put Andre Agassi in that group, reasoning that he is a baseliner and doesn't need a great overhead. But John McEnroe himself has said many times that Andre's overhead is one of the best -- if not the best -- in the history of the sport. If you think about the top players today, both the men and the women, you won't find one who doesn't have a great overhead, no matter their game style.

Andre Agassi: A baseliner with one of the best overheads ever.

If it is crucial to them in their game, why isn't it crucial to improve yours? If you get a chance to hit an overhead, the point should be over in most cases. It's true for the pros and it should be true for you, too.

The overhead is a put-away shot. If yours isn't, then you are giving away what should be free points.

Essential Elements

The key to improving your overhead is understanding, learning, and practicing a few essential elements: the unit turn, movement (footwork), and the arm swing.

Before I start discussing the three elements, I want to stress the necessity to learn and to use the continental grip around the net, on the serve, and on the overhead. The continental grip, along with a good unit turn as described next, is what allows greater racket acceleration and, therefore, ball speed.

The Unit Turn

Although the overhead is like the serve in obvious ways, in one basic way it is more like the groundstrokes or volleys. This is because it begins with a unit turn.

On the serve, the player starts stationary with his feet and shoulders already sideways or at least partially sideways to the net.

On the overhead, the player generally is starting from a ready position. This means he must first turn and achieve this sideways alignment. Not making this initial move is a fundamental problem for many players who start moving to the ball first. Without a good unit turn, your overhead will never have power or consistency.

A look at the sideways turn with the feet and torso within the first steps.

This unit turn on the overhead has two related parts: the movement of the feet and the movement of the torso. Watch in the animations how quickly the players turn sideways. The players start in the ready position with the shoulders facing the net and the tips of the toes pointing more or less straight ahead. Basically they turn completely sideways within the first two to three steps.

The step pattern differs depending on where the player is on the court and where the lob is hit. But the result is basically the same. At the end of the unit turn, the tips of the toes are pointed sideways at the sideline. The torso has turned usually 90 degrees until it is square with the net.

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