Jumping Groundstrokes: Not All Hot Dog
When the ATP and WTA Tours hit the North American summer, the action takes place on fast hard courts. Because of the hot conditions, the ball moves through the air even faster. A premium will be placed on the ability to hit through the ball with just enough topspin to keep the ball in the court. A great way to get in position to make this type of hit is to get airborne!
The shot is typically known as a jumping groundstroke. On TV, it might look like the Pros hitting the shot are doing it just to show off. While adding some style points to their shots is part of it, there's a solid tactical reason to get airborne when the opportunity is there. On a fast hardcourt, the first player to be able to hit down on the ball has a big advantage. If the player has time to elevate and give themselves a chance to hit down on the ball rather than up on it with heavy topspin, their shot will be far more damaging. The most common use of a jump on groundstrokes is on the backhand side. Here's what it looks like:
The return of serve is a very common place to use the jump backhand due to the very high bounce of the American Twist serves being hit on the ATP Tour. If Novak doesn't get off the ground on this shot, he'd be forced to start much further back and hit a defensive return. He elevates and stays on the offense. Here's another example off the groundstroke:
That match was being played on a superfast indoor court. He doesn't hit the jump backhand to be a hot dog (even though he's a well-known hot dog); he hits it because his opponent's shot forces him to get off the ground to stay on offense. His only other option would be to throw up a desperation defensive lob...not a wise option with 6'5 Marin Cilic at the net.
The jump forehand is typically a response to the heavy crosscourt topspin bounces of the modern game. The receiving player of this type of topspin attack has a choice. Option #1 is give a lot of ground and try to attack the incoming ball with equally heavy topspin and send it back crosscourt to continue the rally. Option #2 is to take some ground while the ball is in the air, and use the jump forehand to go on the attack. Here's a couple examples of that jump forehand:
In that example, if Roger doesn't get off the ground when he did, his opponent has more time to recover, and possibly get off another passing shot attempt. The jump keeps him on offense; not just a hot dog play. Here's one more:
Could he have hit a forehand groundstroke with both feet on the ground? Of course! However, notice the match conditions. It's on a hard court with the sun shining down – fast conditions! He who plays offense first has a big advantage. Had Gael not gone after this slow incoming shot, his opponent could have had the first chance to attack. He made sure that didn't happen. So if you're playing on hard courts this summer, and you've got some jumping ability and very good timing, jump groundstrokes can keep you on offense and closer to the win!