As one vaults up pickleball skill levels, it becomes more and more imperative to possess weaponry that can be called upon when needed. It’s no longer enough to simply dink and outlast your opponent. Being able to take a short return, for example, and put your opponents immediately on the defensive with a hard, well-placed drive is critical in your advancement and success as a well-rounded pickleball player.
But this hard drive does not come naturally to everyone. For most – particularly if you don’t possess a tennis background – hitting a hard drive results in an error into the net or, perhaps more commonly, one that sails well beyond your opponent’s baseline.
While many have, indeed, mastered the art of topspin, those who haven’t would be well-advised to learn it.
So How Do You Generate Topspin?
To simplify matters for this blog post, we’re going to address topspin volleys (frequently referred to as roll volleys) and hitting topspin groundstrokes (hitting the ball after a bounce) from the forehand wing.
While I advocate for the continental grip (hammer grip) for the vast majority of shots on the pickleball court, the forehand drive – and from time-to-time the forehand roll volley – is such an instance in which I would suggest rotating your hand into a more eastern or semi-western grip.
That changed grip allows one to get the paddle face into a more perpendicular position at contact (as opposed to an open paddle face) when swinging from low-to-high.
It also positions the palm of your hand behind the handle as you swing forward – resulting in additional stability and power.
The Swing Path – Low-to-High
As I observe lower-level players hit the drive, most [incorrectly] hit with a horizontal swing path. With a horizontal swing path, there is no brushing up on the ball – no topspin created – and, consequently, a very small margin for error in getting the ball over the net and landing it in the 22 feet of real estate in your opponent’s court.
For the low-to-high swing path, it is critical to get your paddle under the ball as you swing out-and-around – and up – while following through over your non-dominant shoulder. In the following video, I turned a bicycle upside down on its handlebars and practiced this low-to-high swing path on one of the wheels. This is a motion (a brushing up on the ball type-of-motion) with which you want to become second-nature.
Pronate your Forearm as You Go Into your Follow Thru
It’s important to note that as you begin your follow thru, pronate your forearm in such a way that, as you finish, the side of the paddle you used to hit the ball is facing to your side (not directly behind you) with the butt-cap of the handle “pointing” in the direction of your target.
Begin practicing your topspin. I mean really practice it. It’s a skill that will serve you well. You don’t even need a paddle and bucket of balls to practice. Shadow swings work great! When watching television, for example – while pretending the palm of your hand is your paddle face – practice the low-to-high swing path motion. If all else fails, turn your bicycle upside down and get the wheel spinning!
Before long, you will have developed some serious weaponry that you can call upon in a variety of instances.
See you on the courts!
Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.