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FOREHAND GROUNDSTROKE -- STANCE, BACKSWING
& FOLLOWTHROUGH by TennisTom
There is no perfectly correct way to hit a forehand, but there are some definite “basics” that need to be in involved. It is my job as an instructor to teach sound fundamentals and I will try to keep things as simple as possible. Instructions are described for a right-handed player, however left handed forehands are mirror images of the right-handed strokes. Grips are explained elsewhere.
BODY STANCE OPTIONS – How Your Body is Positioned in Relation to the Net
Closed Stance (Recommended). This position is established when you rotate your body about 90 degrees to the net as you prepare to hit the ball. In other words, you have rotated your entire body. I prefer this stance as it allows you to swing at the ball using a forward motion with your racket face directly in line towards your target area. I call this in-line racket movement a “linear section.” It is easier to develop forehand control using this method because your racket face is moving straight at the ball rather than tracing a semi-circular pattern. The closed stance alignment, also called “side on,” is where your left foot and right foot are in line with each other and your left shoulder is pointed sideways toward your opponent. The closed stance is optimal for early learners and intermediate players, which is to say 90-some percent of tennis players in the world.
Semi-Open Stance (OK but not encouraged). This stance is similar to the closed stance except that your rear foot is moved back only half the distance of the closed stance. With this stance an imaginary line drawn between your feet would be approximately at a 45 degree angle in relation to the net. (On rare occasions this stance will be used simply because you do not have sufficient time to fully rotate your body.
Open Stance (Not recommended). This stance is similar to the semi-open stance except that both of your feet are side by side and your body is standing parallel to the net. When you swing at the ball, this stance requires that you torque your shoulders, arms, and hips a great deal. This stance is sometimes called a “modern forehand” and was necessitated by the significantly higher-paced shots involved in the professional and college-level arenas. For accelerated power, your right foot will come off the court and swing around in front of your left foot. With this stance great body flexibility is required and It is most suited for youthful players. This type of alignment is useful for the small percentage of elite competitors in the world.
BACKSWING OPTIONS – How You Bring Your Racket Back
As in most groundstroke swing styles, there is considerable acceptable variability. First, before considering your racket arm, let’s consider your non-dominant arm (left arm for righties). I prefer extending your left arm outward toward your opponent as this helps your establish balance. Just before extending your arm you can hold onto your racket with your left hand momentarily as you rotate your body and bring your racket arm back. This is a trick that you can use to ensure a full shoulder turn.
The three racket swing takeback alternatives are:
MEDIUM LOOP (Option 1, recommended). I encourage the medium high, circular loop for most groundstrokes. You bring your racket hand back no higher than you chin level. For topspin, at its lowest point your racket head drops down about a foot or so below your contact point with the ball. Your best contact point is somewhere near your waist level. A medium loop has the best timing qualities.
LARGE LOOP (Option 2, not recommended). This backswing is the high, circular, continuous backswing. If you are quick enough it can generate the most power. However I do not recommend it because it also can contribute to late timing when you get into a time-pressure situation. A large loop has the most difficult timing requirements.
NO LOOP (Option 3, an OK option that some players develop). This backswing is the straight back and pause takeback. You should drop your racket head down about a foot or more to hit topspin. The pause causes a momentary stop before you swing forward and breaks your swing into two distinct movements. It has less power than the other two loops, but is a good option is you tend to overhit the ball. A no loop takeback has no timing problems. It can be used by all players when forced to hit a really fast oncoming ball.
FOLLOW THROUGH OPTIONS FOR TOPSPIN GROUNDSTROKES – Generally the longer your follow through the more depth you’ll get on your groundstrokes. All learners and intermediates should try to hit topspin on their groundies. [The theory for hitting topspin is described in my instructional “Some Basics for Early Learners by TennisTom.”]
Always use a good follow through on your goundies as it greatly aids in developing a controlled, smooth stroke. Three forehand follow throughs, which vary considerably according to style, are:
LITTLE OR NO FOLLOW THROUGH (NOT advised on groundstrokes). Players who “push” the ball use this and get little pace. Early learners often wrongly use this in an instinctual effort to control their shots.
ABOVE YOUR SHOULDER (highly recommended). When hitting a topspin groundstroke, which uses a low to high swing path, your racket ends up across your body and above your left shoulder. I recommend this follow through as the best method for most players. If you get this habit as an early learner, it will serve you well for the duration. For those who have not established this habit, you can hold your left hand near your shoulder level and catch the racket handle, which will force you to have a high follow through.
BELOW SHOULDER LEVEL (OK but not optimal). Some players, including pros, use these follow throughs which end up below shoulder level. I do not recommend these variations for learners but some players can do them successfully if they spend hours practicing.
IMPORTANT WARNING – WRIST OSCILLATION. Whatever method you use for your follow through, do NOT turn your wrist over or down during or just after contact with the ball. The inherent problem with this quirk is that if your wrist oscillation is slightly mistimed then your consistency will suffer, especially when you are fatigued or under pressure.
For most players, regardless of their level, the forehand groundstroke is the most important stroke in their repertoire, so good forehand form is fundamental to your game. Just playing tennis will not improve your tennis much, but practicing your shots mindfully with good form will accelerate your success, not to mention your fun.
[13-Forehand Groundstroke Stance, Backswing & Followthrough by TennisTom] [Rev 5-5-11]