Trick shots are an important part of tennis matches and highlights. They can provide an outlet for players that are struggling to implement their tactics onto an opponent, or can be the highlight of the match that a bunch of avid tennis fans sit and replay over and over the next day. They are an outlier in a sport that generally has a lot of the norm when it comes to shot-making. In this era, groundstrokes dominate the type of shot played by most players. The systematic (and at times robotic) way that the sport is played from the baseline now was not so common before the improvement of racquet technology involving strings, frames, and tension. With those upgrades, the sport has seen an increase in the amount of spins and paces that can be used by a player.
Shots like the classic Roger Federer tweener against Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios’s forward through the legs tweener (which Federer and more have done as well, of course) are ones that transcend being a fan of tennis and can intrigue supporters of any other sport. In addition to current trick shots, it’s shots like the Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, and Jack Sock forehands (in the case of Nadal and del Potro, it’s their forehands on the run) that have progressed the sport immensely, yet were once shots that were either not possible or were looked at as if they were a trick shot. What is the norm now in tennis was not what it once was, and the sport will have its shot selection continue to grow in waves, dictated by the players on tour. The timing of a shot can bring it to the state of being mainstream if it’s done on a big enough occasion (an upset or big match) or at a Grand Slam.
There was a time where players came to the net with the intention of ending the point early, as the sport was previously dominated by serve and volley tactics. Nowadays, it’s more common for a person to be brought to net by his or her opponent with the intention of being passed or lobbed over. There are a handful of the elder players on tour like Philipp Kohlschreiber and Mischa Zverev that still use the old-fashioned style a lot. However, it’s not mainstream now and most players that use this tactic are either tall (which transcends the new technology, it’s the standard way that taller players can use their size to the best of their advantage) or old like the players mentioned previously. Whether or not there is a renaissance resulting in it being widespread again will be up to players like young American Reilly Opelka.
The three parts of trick shots
- Shots that were once very uncommon but are now embedded into the game: This categorization is for shots that have been devalued due to the recurrence of them over time. The growth in the amount of appearance has made them a staple in tennis versus just being a coincidence or out of the ordinary. Here is a list of some of the shots that make this list:
A. The Rafael Nadal forehand on the run- Perhaps the most devalued shot in tennis that has so much historical significance. Nadal’s forehand passing shot on the run is an iconic representation of the grit, tenacity, and determination that he has shown throughout his career. It also won him a number of important points and came at the end of long-rallies a fair amount of the time.
B. Roger Federer’s SABR. Sneak Attack by Roger. Nothing more to say here.
C. The Novak Djokovic backhand down the line- The shot that allowed Djokovic to open up the court for himself throughout his career, there’s no question that his ability to rifle a backhand down the line at any point with a subtle angling of his body is unmatched.
D. The Andy Murray topspin lob- Nothing about the way Murray hits this shot with such confidence is typical, and his ability to hit this shot in pressure situations is second to none.
E. Just about anything eye-popping that Dustin Brown does on a tennis court.
F. The Juan Martin del Potro forehand on the run- Every big tennis fan remembers the performance in the 2009 US Open final, but on many occasions, del Potro has whaled unbelievable forehands both inside out and more famously, cross court. Also, he has hit a number of tweener lob shots that he pinpoints deep into the other player’s side of the court.
G. The Roger Federer’s tweener passing shot now used by everyone who can do it. Of course there was that forward through the legs shot against Sam Querrey though… that just so happened to land close to the baseline (not like Federer planned that or anything).
There are plenty more shots like this that happen all the time on tour, but these have occurred to the point of noticeable recognition, and have been done by good enough players that they wind up affecting the match in such a way that results in a win.
- Your standard, crazy trick shots:
This is what Federer’s tweener against Djokovic at the US Open was like at the time it happened. Or another example is the shot that Nick Kyrgios playfully hit, a short forehand through his legs from near the baseline, against Rafael Nadal in his triumph over the 14-time Grand Slam champion in their first meeting on the grass of Wimbledon. The players that are most likely to make these shots are Roger Federer, Nick Kyrgios, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Dustin Brown, Gael Monfils, and sometimes players like Fabio Fognini and Bernard Tomic who can sometimes lose their minds during a match. These are the shots that we wait for in addition to watching a match for its typical reason of wanting to know who will win. They keep things interesting, and wow you to the point that you understand how difficult it is to pull it off.
- The shots yet to come…
Is the Nick Kyrgios forward tweener on the run a shot that will be hit on tour a lot in the coming months? Will the behind the back volleys stop once Dustin Brown retires from the ATP tour? Will anybody else use the SABR tactic as much as Federer? How much more complex can tweeners get? Will Nadal ever hit his forehand on the run to win an incredibly significant point again? Will there be new trick shots created by new players coming up on tour? In terms of the nature of the game in pertinence to the technology and style, will there be an increase or decrease in the amount of trick shots that are played in matches? Perhaps the most important question of all though is: Will all of the different shots that have been hit and used over the years, will there ever be an association between a player and a shot that is individualized to the point where the person is the only one that can do it or is the only one that is known for doing it? We have seen Federer almost have the tweener trademarked at times, but with the increase in popularity of that choice of shot in back-tracking situations, it’s been used so much by everyone that it’s considered to be everybody’s shot to play. It will be interesting to see if one player on the ATP World Tour can trademark a shot to the point where only he is known for making it.