The Overhead

The overhead is one of the most important shots in platform tennis. It is the counterpart of the lob: the shot most hit from the baseline is the lob while consequently the overhead is the shot most hit while at the net. The ultimate purpose of the overhead is to prevent the backcourt team from hitting drives at you WHEN YOU ARE OUT OF POSITION (OFF THE NET)!

Good players hit different types of overheads as each has a different purpose and you want to have variety on all your shots. Of the six types of overheads presented below, only two are true overheads (i.e. you make contact with the ball over your head). The other four are mistakenly referred to as overheads – they actually are various kinds of volleys.

I encourage everyone to keep one general rule in mind when it comes to overheads. Regardless of the type of overhead you hit, if you aim and actually hit the second individual side screen panel (counting from the corner of either side) you are virtually guaranteed to see a lob coming your way, regardless of who you are playing against (unless you are playing David Caldwell, Mark Parsons, or Mike Cochrane!).

The six different types of overheads are:

1) The Sidespin Overhead

This is the only overhead (other than the Waterfall Overhead) that you actually make contact with the ball above your head. The grip should be the continental or the Eastern backhand grip. You hit off of weak to average lobs, which allows your body weight to lean forward towards the contact point and the target. You are looking to generate as much paddle head speed as possible and accelerate through the contact point. Contact point should be anywhere from 1 to 3o’clock for a righty (9 to 11 o’clock for a lefty). This overhead is designed to make the ball spin a lot both off the deck and off the screens. Some players can do really crazy things with it and if you are not used to it, you might actually fall to the ground as those shots buckle your knees and take your legs out from underneath you. I have seen phenomenal athletes who have played in every major tennis tournament look silly and drop to the ground like someone just shot them. The best player at hitting this type of overhead is by far Brian Uihlein. There are other players who have become very proficient at it but every single one has copied Brian – Brian invented, tinkered with, and made this shot what it is today.

2) The Push Overhead

This is a shot which does not exist in tennis. You hit it off good, deeper lobs. It is called a push overhead for two reasons: i) you are looking to push (not hit) the ball deep to the middle of the court and towards one of your opponents’ weaker side and ii) if executed properly, the shot should push your opponent back from where he/she is waiting for the ball in the backcourt. One very important thing to keep in mind: you are always aiming the push overhead TOWARD THE BACK SCREEN and NOT toward either of the side screens since that angle is very tight and the risk rewards are extremely low. It is particularly efficient to hit it against players who have trouble generating their own pace on drives off the deck since the push overhead has little or no pace to it. Best grips for this type of overhead are the eastern forehand grip or the continental grip and contact point should be at eye or shoulder level. Try to hit the lower back of the ball – this will give the ball some backward spin which will make it stay low both off the deck and off the back screen. The great tactician Jim Kaufman is the best I have seen at hitting this shot and he has taught many players how to hit it, including Mike Cochrane and me (with limited success in my case, of course). Mike Cochrane, Brad Easterbrook, Drew Broderick, David Caldwell, and Scott Estes Jr. are also great at hitting this shot. The push overhead is an essential shot but if you miss your target and hit it too short it can quickly turn against you. Given the recent influx of great tennis players who have successfully picked up platform tennis, I suspect the push overhead will become slightly obsolete in the upcoming years since more and more players can generate their own pace and drive any ball from either side. If so, players will need to develop another type of overhead – the hard overhead to the screens.

3) The Hard Overhead to the Screens

This is the go to shot if you are having little or no success with your push overhead. I believe this type of overhead best complements the push overhead and will actually soon replace it in the players’ shot selection process off of good, deep lobs. Best grip for this shot is the continental grip but some players hit it with an eastern forehand – try both and do whatever works best for you. The proper way to hit it is by getting your entire body behind the ball and letting the ball drop lower to your eye level. At this point, lock your wrist and hit HARD THROUGH THE BALL without snapping the wrist at contact. You do not want to snap your wrist as you are hitting the ball because you have less court to hit the ball into (you are making contact with the ball from your own service line since the lob was deep and pushed you back toward the service line) and if you snap the wrist you will miss the ball into the net or leave it short and be vulnerable against an incoming drive. Hit this overhead hard and make contact on the lower back of the ball. Aim it DIRECTLY AT YOUR OPPONENT WHO IS DIAGONALLY ACROSS FROM YOU, literally aiming for him/her body. The goal is to make the ball get to the back screen and then move toward the side screen while losing more and more height as that happens. Aim for your opponent or for the first pole on the back screen counting from either corner (your opponent will usually be positioned right in front of that particular pole). By doing this, a few good things should follow:

  • You might hit your opponent with the ball.
  • If your opponent is able to get out of the way, he/she might not be able to track the ball down off the back screen since the ball will be moving AWAY from him/her once it hits the back screen because of the angle you have generated with your overhead.
  • Even if your opponent is able to catch up with the ball off the back screen, by the time he/she does so the ball should be very low off the side screen and at best they will only be able to lob it.

Scott Estes, Brad Easterbrook, Chris Gambino and Peter Berka hit this shot as well as anyone in the game.

4) The Roll/Swing Overhead

This shot is actually a swing volley, pretty much the same shot one hits in tennis. You can hit it off either side although it is very difficult to hit it off a one handed backhand. Its purpose is primarily to prevent the opposing team/player to drive your shot off the deck. It needs to be executed properly and the goal is to keep the ball low both off the deck and once it hits the screens. It is not easy to execute. Proper grip is either a western or a semi-western forehand grip. You should look to hit it from weak to average lobs and need to be closer to the net than to the service when doing so. It is also very important to time the contact point properly – contact point should be elbow high and not shoulder (too high) or waist (too low) high. Some of the best in the business at hitting this shot are, in no particular order, Scott Mansager, Flip Goodspeed, Chris Gambino, Mark Parsons, David Caldwell, Johan duRandt, and John Schmitt.

5) The Slash Overhead (Cut Overhead)

You hit off of extremely weak and short lobs, contact point is only one or two feet on your side of the net. The Eastern backhand grip is highly recommended for this shot. Miss hits are common and you should not let that deter you from trying to hit this overhead. The windup is the same as for a sidespin overhead but you have a different contact point when hitting the ball. Contact point should be 5:30 or 6 o’clock for righties and 6 o’clock or 6:30 for lefties. The result is that you end up hitting a ball that lands three or four feet on the other side of the net which then skids violently to either side (depending if you are a lefty or a righty) and back towards or into the net. You hit it with the same arm speed as the sidespin overhead. Since the windup for this shot looks the same (up until the contact point), your opponents will not know what shot you will be hitting and you will keep them guessing. It is one of the few ways of finishing the point with a winner but only half a dozen players or so are able to consistently rely on this shot. Once again, this is a Brian Uihlein made shot. Brian and his former partner Dave Keevins hit it better than anyone else. In the last couple of years, more players have made this shot an important part of their arsenal – Juan Arraya is one of them.

6) The Waterfall Overhead

You hit this particular overhead off of very weak but high lobs. As long as you have good touch, it is probably the easiest type of overhead to hit for players of any level. You will be very close to the net at contact and the goal is to hit the ball very shallow on the other side of the net and at such a steep angle that it goes over your opponent’s head and dies in between him and the back screen. Most players prefer hitting the side screen first and make the ball die in the back screen. In my opinion however, it is easier to make the ball die on the side screen so aim for the back screen first. Grip is not that important and you can use whatever grip you are most comfortable with. Look to make contact on the top of the ball. It is a shot that requires finesse because key is to hit it hard enough that that ball will go over your opponent’s head but soft enough that i) the ball does not go outside the court over the screens and ii) it dies behind him/her. Last thing you want to do is have one of your opponents hit a hard overhead off of your overhead! Bill Fiedler and Brian Uihlein are particularly good at this shot.

7) The FYM

We will not cover this shot here since Johan du Randt already wrote a great article on it on PaddlePlayer.com. Most FYMs are hit as swing forehand volleys anyway so am not sure the shot should be called an overhead anyway. Some of the players who use this shot as a weapon are David Caldwell, Johan duRandt, Mike Marino, and Drew Eberly (off swing volleys) and Brian Uihlein and Brad Easterbrook (off overheads).

By Alex Bancila