By Larry Hodges
Many players practice looping against both backspin and topspin, against blocks, pushes, chops and loops, even against (!) lobs. However, once they get into a game, they find all this practice to no avail as they loop serve after serve off the end or into the net.
The problem is they are not used to looping against a sidespin serve. There are two things to be considered when doing so.
First, a spin serve is going to break as it comes toward you. You have to adjust to this by anticipating it, not by reacting as the ball breaks. If it breaks away or toward you, be in position for where it is going. A backhand serve will break to your right. A forehand serve, racket tip down, will break to your left.
Second, you must consider what the ball is going to do when it hits your racket. That spin is going to make it jump off your racket! To adjust you have to vary your contact point.
Imagine the spin on the ball when it is breaking to your right. (A righthander's backhand serve, for example.) Suppose you are a righthander trying to loop a forehand. If you contact the back of the ball, the ball will go to the left. To adjust, you have to contact the inside of the ball—the left side of it. You might even loop the ball "inside-out," so your loop breaks to the right.
Against a serve breaking to the left, do the reverse. Contact the ball on the outside (right side). This time your loop might break to the left. (Note that you can loop with sidespin either way against any spin, but it is easier to do it as above against the indicated sidespins.)
Making these adjustments can be difficult, so you have to practice them. I know, because for years I have been plagued by an inability to loop balls that break away from me. (Ulp! There goes my secret!) This is partially due to arm stiffness (a ten-year bout with tendinitis), but also because I too neglected practicing looping against serves.
In reality, the above subject is far more complicated than I have made it appear above, and variations are endless. Fortunately, with a little practice, your reflexes will pick up most of the little subtleties even if you don't understand them all consciously. For example, a serve can be combined with topspin or backspin. Worse, it can have "screwspin," a type of sidespin that I will cover in a future article. With a little practice (or a lot!) you will adjust to these spins.