What Is Topspin And Why Should We Use It?
Most players have heard of topspin and know it’s something they should be implementing into their game. But what is it and where can it be helpful?
When playing pickleball you can try to control a point in 5 main ways; by using variations of direction, power, height, depth and last but most importantly, spin. Using spin and especially topspin is crucial to competing successfully and moving up to and beyond the 4.0 level. Mastery of topspin gives you extra tactical choices than you wouldn't otherwise have.
If you want to learn more on what type of paddle generates the most spin, check out this article: The Best Pickleball Paddles for Spin.
What is Topspin in Pickleball?
The two main types of spin we use in pickleball are topspin (the forward rotation of the ball) and backspin or slice (the backward rotation of the ball).
We use topspin because of its useful effect on the both the flight path of the ball and its resulting bounce. This is called the Magnus Effect which causes the ball to dip dramatically and much sooner than if the same shot is hit flat. This means we can hit the ball much harder or higher and it will still land in. We can also use this resulting dip to drop the ball short and into awkward areas for our opponent. Think topspin 3rd shot drop.
How to Create Topspin in Pickleball
Topspin is created by the upward motion of the paddle on the back of the ball and the friction caused by that contact. This causes the ball to rotate forward, resulting in topspin. The faster your paddle travels up the ball the more friction is generated and the more spin you create. The swing shape we associate with generating topspin is known as the windshield wiper. In pickleball we can use this for a variety of shots. Most commonly; serves, dinks, volleys, lobs, attacking drives and for dipping the ball down at your opponents feet.
The Tactical Benefits of Topspin
We already know that topspin allows you to hit the ball higher and harder but what are its overall benefits?
Consistency - Hitting the ball with a larger net clearance means less errors in the net. This can be useful for return of serve, 3rd shot drops, lob and general groundstrokes, especially in singles where there is no-one close to the net to reach a higher ball.
Accuracy and Aggression - The Magnus Effect causes an arc-shaped flight path which means we can:
Serve with an aggressive height, depth and speed
Dip the ball down closer to opponent's feet
Create wider angles off the side of the court
Hit more aggressive lobs (higher/faster)
Lift volleys with topspin and have them still drop in
Drive a heavy dipping topspin ball
Want to learn more about using Topspin in Dinking? Check out this video from pro player Tyson McGuffin:
Not All Topspin Shots Are The Same
Every shot you hit on the pickleball court will be different. Each one is unique, requiring ever changing amounts of spin, depth, power and height as well as tactical adjustments in direction.
Hitting a topspin shot is actually a combination of an upward and a forward swing. This swing needs to change shot by shot depending on what you want to do with the ball.
Upward - The upward speed and steepness of the swing controls the amount of spin and the height.
Forward - The forward component controls power and depth. The faster you swing forwards the more power and depth you will have.
Example: If I want to hit an aggressive topspin drive my swing is going to be more forward with speed vs a drop which is a steeper more upward and slightly slower swing. Both are topspin shot but a different blend of forward/upward.
Mastering this blend of topspin production gives you more weapons to choose from. It also allows you to adjust to the different topspin demands on the pickleball court. The swing you use for a topspin serve is not the same as the one you use for a topspin dink or volley so you want to be able to adjust to the demand of each situation.
An added bonus of using topspin is that it's bio-mechanically efficient for your body. You are effectively rolling the ball back into the court vs hitting it. That upward topspin action takes away a large amount of the strike impact and therefore protects your body from overuse and shock injuries. Imagine swinging your paddle directly in a straight line at a solid wall vs rolling your paddle straight up it. You know which one will hurt more!
What Is The Best Pickleball Paddle For Spin?
Selkirk has a number of pickleball paddles designed for spin, including the Luxx Control Air, the Halo, and the Vanguard Control. You can read more about these paddles here: The Best Pickleball Paddles for Spin.
Check out this independent review of the top 10 paddles for spin!
About the Author: Originally from England, Zoë has coached in both the UK and USA, being based in Los Angeles for the last 5 years. She has been teaching tennis full time for nearly 20 years and pickleball since 2020. Zoë is currently the resident pickleball and tennis expert at TopspinPro. You can find out about their new TopspinPro for Pickleball and read more coaching tips here: topspinpro.com.