There are two critical components to ball awareness: spin and height.
Only two things make a ball land on the court – gravity and spin. By hitting harder or softer, beginners use gravity to help them vary the depth with which they place the ball on the court. Pros however use spin to control the depth of the ball, allowing them to hit the ball very hard without sacrificing placement.
The fundamental rule in understanding spin is that backspin bounces lower and topspin bounces higher. Also, backspin will tend to float while topspin will dip quickly down toward the court. Observe someone hitting with different spins. A topspin ball landing at the service line will bounce past the baseline. A backspin ball landing on the service line will bounce inside the baseline.
Use backspin as your control spin and topspin as your power spin.
Generally, on a medium paced ball, the height at which the ball clears the net relates to how deep it lands in the court. A higher ball will land deep and a lower ball short. Obviously this varies according to the speed and trajectory. Good players can see the height of the ball as soon as their opponent hits. The very latest they see it is as it crosses the net. That’s why, on a let cord shot, a pro will often get to the ball quite easily whereas a club player watches the ball fall over for a winner. The pro, seeing the height of the ball earlier, knew the shot would be short.
While some people just naturally have good ball awareness, you can improve yours through drilling. Try the drill below and let me know how it works for you!
Divide the court up in to four equal zones starting from the net and working back to the fence. Watch your opponent carefully. As soon as the ball leaves the opponent’s racket, look at the height, and call out which zone you think the ball will land in based upon the height of the ball.