Service, one-handed forehand, two-handed backhand and sometimes a smash or a volley. To explain the different tennis shots, to a child, this is probably what a teacher would say. Except that there are many other ways to return the yellow ball in the opposite camp. The proof with these ten things once invented by the instinctive mind of some genius tennis players.
Frank Hadow’s lob
If it has became one of the basic shot of tennis, the lob has not always existed. It was invented in 1878 by a man named Frank Hadow. At 23-year-old, this farmer on holiday made the crazy bet to participate in Wimbledon. Better, he beat his opponents one after the other without ever losing a set. In the final, he faced the great Spencer Gore. "He was very tall, with long legs and tentacles at the net, the ball was coming back to me as soon as I had touched it," said Frank Hadow at the time. Then the Briton had an idea: to send the ball over the opponent. The lob was born. A technique that allowed Hadow to overcome Spencer (7-5 6-1 9-7).
Gene Mayer's two-handed forehand
As often in his time, Gene Mayer learned to play tennis with both hands, either backhand or forehand. But unlike most of his opponents, the American never went to the one-handed forehand, his left hand never left his racquet to smash or serve. Requiring a perfect placement, this technique allowed Mayer to develop a wide range of moves, made of spin and variations. A technique that inspired many players including Hans Gildemeister and Fabrice Santoro.
Guillermo Vilas’ « Gran Willy »
Contrary to what many believe, it is not Yannick Noah but Guillermo Vilas who invented the famous shot between the legs back to the net. A shot that the Argentine imagined in training after seeing a whiskey commercial in which a polo player, Juan Carlos Harriott, did a "backhander". He then tried it and succeeded the shot during a tournament in Buenos Aires against the French Wanaro N'Godrella. In 1975, at the Munich tournament, Vilas succeeded again by lobbing his opponent. But after seven or eight consecutive successful attempts, the former Roland Garros winner missed his "Gran Willy" at Wimbledon. He never tried again.
Yannick Noah's jump smash
Invented by Vilas, the "Big Willy" was democratized by Yannick Noah who used it successfully in Flushing Meadows' Central. But the French player didn't simply copy his illustrious elder, he invented his own move: the jump smash. A moved executed for the first time in the semi-finals of Roland Garros 1983 against Christophe Roger-Vasselin. « I served on his backhand and went straight to the volley, said Noah to the press. Vasselin made a kind of lobed slice return: the ball stayed in the air longer, and then I played the shot of my life. The ball was perfect, I rose, pushed hard on my legs and saw my fifteen days of training paying off. The effect was such that the ball stayed one tenth of a second longer in the air, but it was as if I was attracted. Then, I played a smash with fifteen days of rage in the racquet. The ball bounced and went into the stands. I had never seen a shot like this. I invented it during the tournament, I have the patent, it's my shot: the smash, but the volleyball way aka the jump smash.»
Michael Chang’s underarm serve
This move became famous all over the world. It was in 1989, the young Michael Chang, 17, was facing Ivan Lendl in the second round of Roland Garros. Weakened by cramps, exhausted, Chang tried an incredible shot at 4-3 in the fifth set by serving underarm. Better yet, he won the point against Lendl as surprised than despondent. The world number 1 never recovered and lost the match a few minutes later on a double-fault. A week later, Chang won Roland Garros.
Gaël Monfils’ 360 smash
Gaël Monfils is a showman. Fan of the jump smash created by Noah, the French has always a good idea to entertain the audience. Against Tommy Haas in Halle in June 2013, The Monf had a stroke of madness. On a high defence of his opponent, he let the ball bounce between his legs, made a 360 and played his smash. Amazing. He eventually lost the point (and the match) but earned the admiration of the public.
Victor Hanescu’s fake overhand smash tap-over shot
Another unlikely shot, the one used by Victor Hanescu against Michael Llodra at the U.S. Open in 2010. While he was at the net, the Romanian player was about to win the point by smashing on a high ball from his opponent. But when hitting the ball, he voluntarily missed to finally take it from below and realize a beautiful drop shot. Clever. Mansour Bahrami would have been proud.
Agnieszka Radwanska’s 360 spin backhand volley
Another style of 360, the one performed by Agnieszka Radwanska. In 2013 against Kirsten Flipkens, the Polish succeeded an unlikely shot. On the volley, she seemed to be beaten on a passing of her opponent, but the ball was slowed down by the band of the net. Taken off-balance, Radwanska had the reflex to make a turn on herself and put her racquet in opposition. With a good deal of success, she scored the point. Flipkens still has nightmares.
Roger Federer’s freak smash
Sure, he's been very lucky. Nonetheless, it was a first. At Brisbane on the 1st of January 2014, Roger Federer was playing a doubles with Nicolas Mahut against the pair Chardy-Dimitrov. On a lob of the Bulgarian, the Swiss tried to smash but only touched the ball with the top of his racquet. The ball went just behind the net before returning to the Federer-Mahut camp with an amazing retro effect. The four players couldn't believe it, neither could the audience.
Grigor Dimitrov’s back half-volley tweener
Grigor Dimitrov has not always been the victim of extraordinary points. Against Viktor Troicki, the Bulgarian player managed an exceptional half-volley tweener behind his back while the Serbian had targeted his feet. There's a good reason for Dimitrov to be nicknamed "Baby Federer".