Tennis requires dedication and practice to master the range of shots required to be a successful player. The coordination between the hand, eye, and footwork is essential to the sport. The top professionals have very few weaknesses.
To play at the top you need a killer serve backed up by a powerful forehand, backhand, and smash. Throw in good volleying technique and a decent lob and you begin to have a rounded game. Yet tennis is also about entertainment, and sometimes the stock shots just do not do the job.
Trick shots are a part of tennis at both the professional and recreational levels of the game. Tennis trick shots can vary in the degree of showmanship involved, but they never fail to entertain. They also vary in difficulty and can take a while to fully master.
Below I shall take a look at some of the most iconic trick shots in tennis and the players who use them, as well as some shots you could term party pieces.
1. The Tweener
This is perhaps the most recognizable of tennis trick shots, one you see increasingly utilized on the pro tour.
However many times you see it though, it still never fails to entertain and get you off your seat as a spectator.
Also called a hot dog, the tweener can be the only realistic option for a player who has been lobbed by their opponent and is running toward the back of the court.
The success of the shot depends on the positioning of the body, which needs to be directly over or just beyond the ball (source).
With your back still to your opponent, the ball is hit between the legs just before it bounces for the second time.
A continental grip can be the best option to play this shot, allowing some rotation of the wrist to have the strings of the racket facing the other side of the court. Just make sure the swing path is quickly curtailed to prevent a painful contact! This is a tough shot to execute and requires more practice than instinct.
The tweener remains a flashy trick shot which the crowd loves to see.
You will see many of the top players use the shot, including Novak Djokovic, Nick Kyrgios, and Gael Monfils. Roger Federer has always been a large exponent of the tweener.
His epic tweener winner against Djokovic in the third set of the US Open in 2009 stays long in the memory.
2. The Tweener Lob
Adding a lob to the tweener makes an already impressively flashy shot even more spectacular.
The one thing you can be fairly certain is your opponent following their lob by coming into the net. Therefore, as you chase the ball down toward the back of the court you can be pretty sure where they will be without the need to look.
You will need to maintain a loose wrist as you strike the ball with the face of the racket pointing toward the opposing court.
By getting under the ball and striking it marginally earlier than you would for a tweener drive, you can get the elevation required for the lob.
A successfully executed tweener lob can surprise your opponent as well as put them straight back on the defensive as they are forced to backpedal to retrieve the ball.
3. Behind the Back Volley
This is another great-looking shot and one which can be very practical too.
When you are at the net reaction times are crucial, as is court position.
However, there are times when the ball is struck at such a pace you can not maneuver the body quickly enough into position to play a regular backhand volley. This is when instinct kicks in.
Instead of turning the body to hit a backhand volley, the arm moves behind the back to strike the volley instead. This is a difficult skill to execute, depending on the speed of thought and speed of reaction. However, if you make a clean connection it is very difficult for your opponent to respond.
The behind the back half volley is similar in execution, although you will tend to be at the back of the court or in mid-court approaching the net.
The extra time to see the ball makes this variant a little less instinctive. The need to play the shot usually stems from being caught out of position or wrongly anticipating a shot to the forehand which is then delivered to the backhand side.
Again, Federer is a good exponent of the behind-the-back volley as is Dustin Brown, while Grigor Dimitrov supplied one of the finest backhand volley drop shot winners you are likely to see against Victor Troicki during a match in Basel.
4. Fake Overhead
Fake shots can come in all shapes and sizes.
They largely involve a huge amount of disguise, with the actual shot played very late. The fake overhead provides great theater but can be highly effective for anyone with the nerve to attempt the shot.
This is an extremely difficult trick shot to master.
It involves faking a big overhead swing on a high bouncing ball.
With a continental grip, the wrist is snapped down while missing the ball. You should then be in a position to play a drop shot on the reverse side of the racket which is now facing the opposing court.
With your opponent on the baseline expecting a big overhead smash they are unlikely to recover to reach your drop shot.
Benoit Paire provided a top example in a match against Richard Gasquet at the Ultimate Tennis showdown event.
5. No Look Shot
The no-look shot continues the theme of fakery.
This can be an effective shot selection, although it can have the air of arrogance and will likely annoy your opponent in the bargain.
The difficulty lies in retaining hand-to-ball coordination while you look elsewhere when playing the shot. However, by turning your head away from the ball you make it considerably harder for your opponent to read the shot.
A no look shot can be subtle or outrageously flamboyant.
The great entertainer Gael Monfils likes a good no-look shot, while Philipp Kohlschreiber enjoys the more exaggerated version of this trick shot.
6. Round the Net
This is a shot born out of necessity rather than showmanship.
When a cross-court shot pushes you wide of the court and the ball is low, stretching to return the ball and get enough elevation to clear the net is unlikely.
Even if you do clear the net your opponent will be waiting there to finish the point off with an easy volley.
Therefore, instead of going over the net, you can go around. Around the net winner always brings the crowd to its feet. It is a legal shot, and its low trajectory means your opponent is unlikely to recover and cover the shot.
The degree of difficulty goes up a notch if you have to squeeze the shot between the net and the umpire’s chair.
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic all players who will happily hit winners around the net.
7. One Finger Serve
So far we have looked at trick shots which pro players will use in matches.
However, it’s fun to have a few tricks up your sleeve when playing tennis with friends. Serving offers plenty of opportunities for showy trick shots and the one-finger serve is a good one to start with.
For this service you place the ball between the forefinger and the tennis racket. As you begin your upward swing you lift your finger off the ball. The aim is for the ball to roll along and up the frame of the racket.
The swing of the racket should then propel the ball up to the point of contact for your serve.
This is a tough skill to crack and will need some practice. However, once you have mastered this serve in one fluid movement your friends will undoubtedly be impressed.
8. Racket Flip Return
If your opponent is going to fire down trick shot serves you may as well have a trick shot or two in return.
This shot is largely for show’s sake and does not add to the effectiveness of your return. However, it is a bit of fun and certainly has an entertainment factor.
As your opponent serves and you position your body to either the forehand or backhand side you toss the racket up so it completes a single flip. You then catch the racket in time to make your return.
This is not a trick shot you will see the pro players use and does not have a high element of difficulty once mastered. What it can do is make your opponent think you are in such control of their serve that you have time for such tricks.
9. Super Burrito
This is another one that you will not see the pro players turn to, but this shot is fun and looks spectacular.
It is a good one to try when facing a serve as you have slightly more time to get your body into position.
It will certainly rattle the server if you return in this manner.
As the serve is played your body is positioned as if it is going to play a forehand return.
However, at the last minute, you make a complete 360-degree turn, swinging the racket around with you so that it strikes through on the backhand side.
The plus for this shot is it can create an angle to play an effective cross-court return winner.
10. Extreme Drop Shot
The drop shot can be a brave choice at the best of times, but the extreme drop shot takes it to another level.
The backspin generated on the extreme drop shot moves the ball back toward the net, and in the perfect scenario back over the net.
If the second bounce of the ball is back on your side of the net it is still your point
Whether on the forehand or backhand side, you are looking to cut under the ball with a wide-open racket face to generate the extreme backspin (source). By loosening the arm you can also ensure a slow, looping ball that does not travel too far. It should then be a tough reach for an opponent who is on the baseline.
This is a risky shot to make, and sometimes can be aided through wind assistance.
Even if your opponent reaches the ball they may have trouble doing much more than clipping it over the net.
By following the drop shot with an approach to the net you are in an ideal position to finish off the point with a volleyed winner.
Trickshot maestros Dustin Brown and Benoit Paire are good exponents of this style of the drop shot.
11. The Dive
Maybe not a trick shot as such, but still one guaranteed to have the crowd off their feet with a large, appreciative ovation. It is certainly not a pre-meditated shot, one born out of necessity in trying to reach the ball.
You are most likely to see players diving and stretching for a ball when at the net as they attempt to cover a passing shot from their opponent.
Boris Becker was a classic tennis diver who pulled off some remarkable shots this way.
Probably best known for his diving shots on the grass of Wimbledon, he was not afraid to dive on any surface if he thought he could prevent the passing shot.
In an interview, he emphasized it was not pure theater, but a way to show your opponent you would go to any lengths to win the game.
12. Spinning Jump Shot
We return to Gael Monfils for the inspiration for this trick shot, which offers an athletic alternative to the tweener.
If you have been dragged to the net and then lobbed, your options are rapidly running out as you approach a ball that has just bounced within the baseline.
As previously discussed, many players today are adept at playing the tweener to keep the rally going or play a winning drive.
With the spinning jump shot, you are looking to reach the ball before it has dropped too low, when a tweener may be the only option.
However, if you are athletic enough and flexible enough, there is a further potential shot in the locker, as Monfils demonstrated in a match against Marton Fucsovics at the Madrid Open in 2019.
In fact, some people labeled it the finest shot they have seen, although that is clearly open for debate.
After scurrying to the back of the court this shot requires perfect timing in the leap, which is done with your back to the opposing court.
At the highest point of the leap, you spin the body sharply round to whip the arm through the forehand. The power generated can be too much for your opponent who has come into the net behind their lob.
13. Behind the Back Overhead Smash
A great trick if you can pull it off, and a nice flashy manner to put away what would normally be a routine overhead smash.
It is similar to the fake overhead smash, but this time you will be playing the ball from behind you instead of allowing the ball to drop onto the racket strings in front of you.
As the ball drops you position the body for the overhead smash. You swing at the ball as you would normally, feigning the overhead smash shot. Y
ou deliberately miss the ball on the way through, allowing the momentum of the swing to move the upper body forward and down.
The shot is completed by completing the swing from its highest point, bringing the racket down in an arc that takes it behind you.
As the racket arc continues you strike the ball from behind, over your bent upper body and head. This is a difficult shot to master, but impressively entertaining when successful.
14. Mansour Bahrami Underarm Serve
No article on trick shots is complete without a nod to the master entertainer and aficionado of trick shots. Mansour Bahrami brings them all out in his exhibition matches and is a huge crowd favorite.
From exquisite no-look shot winners to expertly timed fake overhead smashes, Mansour Bahrami is a great study in trick shot technique.
A particular crowd-pleaser that we have not covered yet is his trick underarm serve.
With two tennis balls in his hand, he sets up to serve as normal while playing to the crowd about how big the serve will be. As he throws the first ball up, he simultaneously drops the second ball in order to bring the arm around for an underarm serve.
It may look straightforward but the timing required is sheer perfection.
Tennis is a gladiatorial sport at the top level, with the skill and athleticism to entertain millions of spectators around the world.
Trick shots are the icing on the cake, an added level of fun and entertainment. However, they can be much more than sheer showmanship, as they can be genuine point-winning strokes.