What exactly does a "heavy shot" mean?

"Heavy shot" is one of the most common descriptors of a tennis groundstroke, but I've always found it rather abstract, akin to a "soft touch" in basketball. From a physics perspective, we know a moving ball really has only three main variables - spin rpm, spin direction, and ball velocity. I wonder what combination of the three would classify as a "heavy shot".
 

Cashman

Professional
A heavy ball is just a ball that retains more horizontal velocity after the bounce than the receiver would normally expect.

It comes onto the racquet faster and harder than anticipated, giving a feeling of weight.
 
A heavy ball is just a ball that retains more horizontal velocity after the bounce than the receiver would normally expect.

It comes onto the racquet faster and harder than anticipated, giving a feeling of weight.
I agree with you, but isn’t the feeling of weight subjective and relative? Like when I was a kid and my dad would hit hard, it was always difficult to return his shots. But now I rarely have much difficulty returning just about any groundstroke and only feel the ball is heavy when returning hard, flat serves. I guess my OP was trying to see whether there’s a universal formula for hitting shots that are “unexpectedly” heavy. Does topspin help retain horizontal velocity after the bounce? It’s tricky because if you hit a really hard flat shot, there’s an upper threshold on horizontal speed without the ball landing out since there’s no spin to pull the shot down. You can also hit hard but add a lot of topspin, sacrificing some horizontal velocity but maybe the topspin helps to impart that extra oomph after the ball bounces. Maybe it really is all subjective but I was hoping there’s a sage on the forum who could provide additional insight.
 
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34n

Rookie
According to this video
heavy = pace + spin. Which is in my understanding high vertical velocity in addition to forward velocity of the ball.
 

BlueB

Legend
According to this video
heavy = pace + spin. Which is in my understanding high vertical velocity in addition to forward velocity of the ball.
Correct, it's been discussed to nauseam on these boards.

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JimJones

Rookie
Hitting the ball at a 45 degree angle (i.e. equal horizontal speed and vertical spin vectors) of the racquet face relative to the swing path.
 

Kevo

Legend
Heavy varies with the level of competition, but it's a combination of pace, spin, and trajectory.
 

Dartagnan64

Legend
A Heavy Ball is like Hard core Porn. I may not know how to describe it but I know it when I see it.

Heavy balls just feel heavy to hit.
 

5263

G.O.A.T.
"Heavy shot" is one of the most common descriptors of a tennis groundstroke, but I've always found it rather abstract, akin to a "soft touch" in basketball. From a physics perspective, we know a moving ball really has only three main variables - spin rpm, spin direction, and ball velocity. I wonder what combination of the three would classify as a "heavy shot".
a heavy ball tends to combine the strong pace with strong spin....this is rare because most players hit for spin or pace, but few can do both well. When you face a player who can give that quality pace with better than expected spin the ball starts to feel heavy because it comes to your racket stronger. This is can also get kicked up a notch with certain trajectories. If a player can hit a very hard shot with loads of topspin on a flattish trajectory, the the ball will tend to dive hard to the court as some point. This diving or dipping ball can throw off your timing just a bit, but then phase 2 kicks in as the ball tends to blast up, bouncing up at a higher trajectory than initially expected, while still carrying more pace than normal shots. So now with your timing slightly off against this strong shot, you don't get the solid timing you wanted at contact, which makes the ball feel much heavier on impact.
 

movdqa

Talk Tennis Guru
One thing about a heavy shot is that you quickly adapt to the different timing if the fitness and footwork are there.
 

FiReFTW

Legend
Am I the only one here that thinks you don't really need heavy spin to produce a heavy ball? Most people here says its a combination of heavy spin and heavy pace, but I found that a heavy ball can be either a ton of spin and good pace or not so much spin but heavy pace.

For example playing against a UTR13 guy he was crushing my 2nd serves and really hitting aggressive shots against me, but he didn't really use alot of heavy spin, hes more of a flat hitter, and the ball felt just as heavy as playing someone who hits good pace but a ton of spin, just a bit different since heavy spin one seems slow and then fast after bounce, but the end result after the bounce seems similar, ball retains alot of speed and really shots into you and you feel the heaviness if you are even a tiny bit late.

I don't think Nadal hits a very heavy ball while Delpo doesn't (because he hits more flat with less spin), I think both hit a very heavy ball, so a big arc and huge spinrate combined with pace is not the only way to hit a heavy ball in my opinion.
 

34n

Rookie
Most people here says its a combination of heavy spin and heavy pace, but I found that a heavy ball can be either a ton of spin and good pace or not so much spin but heavy pace.
My understanding ( and again it is pure terminology ) heavy not because it feels heavy on the raquet. But because it behaves as a heavier object as it really is. Hits the ground harder than it suppose to.
Heavy ball is where downward speed is dominated by the Magnus Effect ( not by only gravity force, called gravity balls ).
Magnus effect needs both speed and spin. Spinny slow balls or fast flat balls are all gravity balls.

Regular ball will never jump off the court higher than the apex of its trajectory. If it is cleared the net at 4ft it will not jump over 4ft off the court.
At some point, when speed and spin are high enough the ball gets so much extra downward speed from the Magnus force that it can jump higher than it cleared the net.
I pretty often play against guys who hit low over the net but if I step back the ball will rise over my shoulder. I play such balls myself and on my opinion this is the most difficult ball to deal with. Even if it goes straight to you you cant immediately predict the way it will bounce and often mistime it. It also moves across you field of vision fast. I would rather prefer getting a faster flat ball.



 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
I believe that the perceived heaviness of a heavy ball is related to its total momentum (linear + rotational) or its total kinetic energy (linear + rotational). The link below appears to indicate that it is the total momentum that determines the heaviness of the heavy ball

http://www.smartertennis.org/?page_id=132
 
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Kevo

Legend
For example playing against a UTR13 guy he was crushing my 2nd serves and really hitting aggressive shots against me, but he didn't really use alot of heavy spin, hes more of a flat hitter, and the ball felt just as heavy as playing someone who hits good pace but a ton of spin, just a bit different since heavy spin one seems slow and then fast after bounce, but the end result after the bounce seems similar, ball retains alot of speed and really shots into you and you feel the heaviness if you are even a tiny bit late.
Really hard and flat makes the ball go out unless the ball is high enough to hit down on it. Trajectory can come into play in different ways. But yes, if you can get a high shot and crush it flat that ball will be heavy, but in general most better players don't really have trouble with hard flat shots that are low line drives over the net, assuming they can get to them in time, because it's easy to hit a ball like that back since it's well in your strike zone and there is no vertical angle to counter.
 

movdqa

Talk Tennis Guru
I associate heavier balls with college-players. I typically have to adjust my timing. The ones I've hit with are typically baseliners with Pure Drives; tall, fast, strong and they hit forehand and backhand (2-handed) kickers with a lot of pace and I have to do a lot of running. If I'm not having a good day (fitness-wise) then it isn't going to be pretty.
 

Moveforwardalways

Hall of Fame
I suppose we can only speak to what it means individually. But to me, a heavy ball “feels heavy” for a couple of reasons. They are mostly related to spin. Power is a component as well, since obviously a low paced ball will not feel heavy regardless of the spin. But it’s mostly spin. The first thing that makes it feel heavy is that it bounces up higher than your typical strike zone, requiring you to engage more of your core and lower body strength (or exposing lack of core/lower body strength) to get leverage over the ball to hit it back. Secondly the heavy topspin makes the ball have it’s own trajectory coming off of your racquet face that makes it harder for you to command the shot going back. This may require more swing weight and/or more core/lower body strength to make the ball do what you want it to do. This is why you hear people say things like “heavy topspin made the game more athletic” or “this guy is going to make it a physical match”. They don’t mean that tennis pre-heavy topspin wasn’t athletic necessarily, but dealing with these shots is taxing in a physical way that it wasn’t before.
 

FiReFTW

Legend
Really hard and flat makes the ball go out unless the ball is high enough to hit down on it. Trajectory can come into play in different ways. But yes, if you can get a high shot and crush it flat that ball will be heavy, but in general most better players don't really have trouble with hard flat shots that are low line drives over the net, assuming they can get to them in time, because it's easy to hit a ball like that back since it's well in your strike zone and there is no vertical angle to counter.
Well its not pure flat it has spin, just not that super hight arc spin.

For example

Shot 1 has a high trajectory over the net and 3500rpm spin and 65mph fast

Shot 2 has a low trajectory over the net and 2500rpm spin and 75mph fast

These are just random made up examples.

But anyway shot 1 and shot 2 would both feel heavy and have alot of pace after bounce and u would feel the heaviness as the ball hits ur racquet if ur even slightly late.

So my point is more topspin does not equal more heaviness, because people often think heavy ball means heavy topspin, the more topspin the heavier, but thats not 100% true, a shot with less topspin but more pace can be just as heavy in my opinion.
 

movdqa

Talk Tennis Guru
I think that part of the heaviness is that you have some uncertainty as to where it will go so it's not going to go into the sweet-zone consistently. With hard, flat balls, you pretty much know where they are going to go and you're going to time it to hit the sweet zone of your strings. In many cases, you can just shorten your swing and use the incoming pace to redirect it back with lots of pace with a small amount of effort.

It's harder to do this if you're less sure of what the ball is going to do.
 

BlueB

Legend
My understanding ( and again it is pure terminology ) heavy not because it feels heavy on the raquet. But because it behaves as a heavier object as it really is. Hits the ground harder than it suppose to.
Heavy ball is where downward speed is dominated by the Magnus Effect ( not by only gravity force, called gravity balls ).
Magnus effect needs both speed and spin. Spinny slow balls or fast flat balls are all gravity balls.

Regular ball will never jump off the court higher than the apex of its trajectory. If it is cleared the net at 4ft it will not jump over 4ft off the court.
At some point, when speed and spin are high enough the ball gets so much extra downward speed from the Magnus force that it can jump higher than it cleared the net.
I pretty often play against guys who hit low over the net but if I step back the ball will rise over my shoulder. I play such balls myself and on my opinion this is the most difficult ball to deal with. Even if it goes straight to you you cant immediately predict the way it will bounce and often mistime it. It also moves across you field of vision fast. I would rather prefer getting a faster flat ball.



Ball can not jump higher then the apex of the previous trajectory, irrespective of the spin, unless it hits some irregularity on the ground.

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Kevo

Legend
So my point is more topspin does not equal more heaviness, because people often think heavy ball means heavy topspin, the more topspin the heavier, but thats not 100% true, a shot with less topspin but more pace can be just as heavy in my opinion.
Yes, it's the total combination of factors, not just spin.
 

rkelley

Hall of Fame
Hitting the ball at a 45 degree angle (i.e. equal horizontal speed and vertical spin vectors) of the racquet face relative to the swing path.
If all you do is swing at the ball with a face 45 degrees down you'll just drive the ball into the ground.
 

rkelley

Hall of Fame
You didn't completly understand his post...

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@BlueB, you're right. Apologies to @JimJones. If I may paraphrase, JimJones sad saying to swing the racquet with both the racquet angled at 45 degrees AND with a 45 degree path. Yes, that will put topspin on the ball and not just drive it into the ground. I will say that even with the swing path matching the racquet angle, 45 degrees is a pretty extreme angle at contact. The trajectory of the incoming ball, it's height, and court position will all effect if 45 is the right angle.
 

JimJones

Rookie
@BlueB, you're right. Apologies to @JimJones. If I may paraphrase, JimJones sad saying to swing the racquet with both the racquet angled at 45 degrees AND with a 45 degree path. Yes, that will put topspin on the ball and not just drive it into the ground. I will say that even with the swing path matching the racquet angle, 45 degrees is a pretty extreme angle at contact. The trajectory of the incoming ball, it's height, and court position will all effect if 45 is the right angle.
Almost but not quite right. I didn't mean 45 degree face angle AND swing path. I just say 45 degree angle relative to swing path which can be accomplished in multiple ways depending on the height of the ball you encounter.

1) For example, one way is swing at a ~45 degree angle swing path and have a racquet face angle of 0 to 5 degrees relative to the ground = total ~45 degree contact on the ball. This puts a strong spin vector and strong horizontal velocity vector on the ball simultaneously. And due to the 45 degree swing path give a high trajectory over the net. This is the typical way you would hit from the back of the court.

2) Another way is to swing with a 0 degree swing path (i.e. flat) and have a racquet face angle of 45 degree relative to the ground. This will also produce a total ~45 degree contact on the ball producing both strong forward velocity and spin. But in this case the trajectory will be quite flat so you would only want to use this for high balls and close to the net. In either case 45 degrees is the magic number for putting heaviness on the ball.
 
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Kevo

Legend
Almost but not quite right. I didn't mean 45 degree face angle AND swing path. I just say 45 degree angle relative to swing path which can be accomplished in multiple ways depending on the height of the ball you encounter.
This doesn't really work very well as a general rule. You need quite a few qualifications and it seems while it might work for some scenarios it doesn't work for others. It feels quite arbitrary to me.
 

ptuanminh

Hall of Fame
Was hitting a college player the other day. He is probably a legit 5.0 or 5.5, i have no idea. His forehand is not the fastest i have seen, but has a lot of topspin. Every ball jumps straight at me after landing. The topspin creates that "heavy" feeling when i try to get a clean contact. Very tough to handle.
 

rkelley

Hall of Fame
Almost but not quite right. I didn't mean 45 degree face angle AND swing path. I just say 45 degree angle relative to swing path which can be accomplished in multiple ways depending on the height of the ball you encounter.

1) For example, one way is swing at a ~45 degree angle swing path and have a racquet face angle of 0 to 5 degrees relative to the ground = total ~45 degree contact on the ball. This puts a strong spin vector and strong horizontal velocity vector on the ball simultaneously. And due to the 45 degree swing path give a high trajectory over the net. This is the typical way you would hit from the back of the court.

2) Another way is to swing with a 0 degree swing path (i.e. flat) and have a racquet face angle of 45 degree relative to the ground. This will also produce a total ~45 degree contact on the ball producing both strong forward velocity and spin. But in this case the trajectory will be quite flat so you would only want to use this for high balls and close to the net. In either case 45 degrees is the magic number for putting heaviness on the ball.
2) was my original assumption. This drives the ball into ground unless the ball is sharply on the rise, and in this case would have some backspin.
 

Dragy

Hall of Fame
2) was my original assumption. This drives the ball into ground unless the ball is sharply on the rise, and in this case would have some backspin.
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Actually for most shots racquet face angle varies from slightly closed to slightly open, with racquet head rise being responsible for topspin creation. The latter comes from arm swing steepness and from racquet head flip (down below the handle and then up through contact).
Significantly closed racquet face definitely appears when hitting high balls close to net.
 

BlueB

Legend
Like:)
Actually for most shots racquet face angle varies from slightly closed to slightly open, with racquet head rise being responsible for topspin creation. The latter comes from arm swing steepness and from racquet head flip (down below the handle and then up through contact).
Significantly closed racquet face definitely appears when hitting high balls close to net.
Yes, but if you are swinging up at 45°, with vertical face, the angle of the face relative to the swing path is 45° closed.

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Raul_SJ

Legend
Keep in mind that with late contact, the ball is going to feel like a basketball. And players wrongly attribute that to the opponent's "heavy" ball when in actuality it is poor preparation and footwork.

Fix the late contact, and the ball should not feel heavy given that the mass of the racquet is far greater than the ball,
 

rkelley

Hall of Fame
Yes, but if you are swinging up at 45°, with vertical face, the angle of the face relative to the swing path is 45° closed.

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If I understand you, that swing path angle and racquet face angle directly tradeoff , then respectfully I disagree. They are related and influence each other, but they don't just trade off with each other.

Let me know if I missunderstood you.
 

BlueB

Legend
If I understand you, that swing path angle and racquet face angle directly tradeoff , then respectfully I disagree. They are related and influence each other, but they don't just trade off with each other.

Let me know if I missunderstood you.
This part of discussion started with the racquet face angle relative to the swing path. Yes, they are related and have to be observed together. If you were swinging at 45° with racquet face at 45° you are practicaly presenting the stringbed to the ball at 0°, i.e. trying to hit with the frame. The swing path of 45° and racquet face at 90° would present the stringbed at 45°. All of this, for simplicity, assumes the incoming ball flying parallel to the ground (apex of the trajectory).
In reality, most of prople hit with less then 45° upward path, thus the racquet face can be a bit closed from 90.

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rkelley

Hall of Fame
The swing path of 45° and racquet face at 90° - yes, this clearly works. Ball will have ts and come off the racquet at some angle up relative to the ground.

would present the stringbed at 45° - 45° open? I'm not exactly sure what you mean, but if you swung at the ball straight with a 45° open face then the ball would go almost straight up into the air with backspin.

swinging at 45° with racquet face at 45° - If you want the big ts this is what you do, though 45° is too steep generally. The incoming pace on the ball drives the ball into the racquet, and practically speaking its hard not to have some forward component even if you feel like you're swinging the racquet totally on edge. If the ball has no pace you have drive through it more. Look at vids of any male pro and you'll see them swinging the edge of the racquet across the ball's path.
 

BlueB

Legend
The swing path of 45° and racquet face at 90° - yes, this clearly works. Ball will have ts and come off the racquet at some angle up relative to the ground.

would present the stringbed at 45° - 45° open? I'm not exactly sure what you mean, but if you swung at the ball straight with a 45° open face then the ball would go almost straight up into the air with backspin.
Where did you get this? I never mentioned open angles. 45° path and 90° face produce virtual 45° closed face.
swinging at 45° with racquet face at 45° - If you want the big ts this is what you do, though 45° is too steep generally. The incoming pace on the ball drives the ball into the racquet, and practically speaking its hard not to have some forward component even if you feel like you're swinging the racquet totally on edge. If the ball has no pace you have drive through it more. Look at vids of any male pro and you'll see them swinging the edge of the racquet across the ball's path.
It's impossible to swing across the ball's paths with racquet face at 0° and produce a reliable and repeatable shot. The contact depth "window" is close to non existent.

Here's Rogi swinging at about 20-25° up from horizontal, closing the face about 5° from vertical, presenting it at virtual 55-60° to the incoming ball (90° would be square, 0° would be edge into the ball).


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BlueB

Legend
Here's Rafa, with someone already having done the math for us:

Just invert the 41° from vertical into 49° from horizontal (ball path) and you get a similar number to Rog.

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rkelley

Hall of Fame
Sorry to be so dense, but I'm just not understanding what you're saying about the various angle you're calculating. Apologies for all of the misunderstandings.

But seriously, swing the edge of the racquet across the ball's path, trying to match the swing path with the racquet's angle. Use experience to figure out how much you need to open or close the racquet face to get the height over the net that you want. It doesn't have to more complicated than that.

Yes, theoretically you have no contact window. However the reality is that you'll never really achieve this perfect edge swing (and you don't really want to), and going for that feeling produces a swing that gets the huge spin. The swing will feel totally different than a swing where you're hitting straight through the ball, or mostly through the ball with an upward trajectory. The contact window is smaller with this "edge swing" than if you swing straight through the ball, or mostly straight through the ball. You're going to shank balls. That's the price you have to pay to get the big spin, and that's why it becomes so important to keep your head and body still near contact with your eyes on the contact point.

You can learn to control how much you're really hitting through the ball with how much you allow your shoulder to drive through contact.

Again, sorry for the misunderstandings.
 

tennis4me

Hall of Fame
I remember reading several articles that discusses this in great depth in @JohnYandell website when I had access in the past. Don't know if the article is still there or whether it has been updated. I believe it was called "Myth of a Heavy Ball". It also talks about Sampras' serve in relation to this subject.
 

ThiTran

New User
"Heavy shot" is one of the most common descriptors of a tennis groundstroke, but I've always found it rather abstract, akin to a "soft touch" in basketball. From a physics perspective, we know a moving ball really has only three main variables - spin rpm, spin direction, and ball velocity. I wonder what combination of the three would classify as a "heavy shot".
Following is my own interpretation:
There is a concept of momentum which is a sum of mass multiplies with velocity (speed and direction). If there are a bowling ball and a tennis ball traveling at the same speed, which one do you feel more impact if you hit them with your racket? The bowling ball has more mass so the momentum is more. If we keep the mass the same and increase the speed, the momentum will increase. If you swing two rackets at the same speed at a ball, the heavier racket will cause the ball to feel "heavier" because the ball will travel faster.
 

JohnYandell

Hall of Fame
4me,
The heavy ball isn't a myth. We were the first ever to quantify spin in pro tennis and what we found were the rpms associated with various velocities. The same kind of data they show on TV now. (No one has recently mentioned the origins of the work...)
In any case a club player might hit 3000rpm but at 50mph. Or he might hit 85mph with less than a 1000rpm. The real heavy balls are the ones that combine high velocity with high spin levels. But you could argue this is relative to the level of play as well.
 
A lot of good discussion here :). I started with an open-ended question and I think the general consensus is heavy ball = (high ball velocity) + (high ball angular velocity, i.e. spin). @JohnYandell I would be interested to see the results of your study; do you have a link? At which point of the ball trajectory (e.g. immediately after contact, when ball crosses the net, etc.) are you measuring RPM and velocity? Are you measuring only horizontal velocity or the vertical component as well? As a data scientist well-versed with machine learning algorithms, I would be really interested exploring this data to tease out some more interesting insights. Even visualizing in a scatterplot (you've probably already done this) the RPM vs ball velocity could be pretty cool.
 

BlueB

Legend
Sorry to be so dense, but I'm just not understanding what you're saying about the various angle you're calculating. Apologies for all of the misunderstandings.
No worries, but I can't explain better then I already tried...

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