It’s what made Roger Federer a formidable champion. The one that carried him through to 20 Grand Slam Singles Title, the most in tennis history. Rafael Nadal, another future hall of fame has it as well. Both men possess this “weapon” that every one of their opponents fears. If you still have no idea what I’m referring to, it’s the forehand.
The forehand is one of the most important strokes in tennis. It’s usually the one that guarantees a player US Open success. Juan Martin Del Potro proved it when he won the 2009 US Open, defeating Roger Federer in an exciting 5 set match in the finals. Federer described it as “ferocious and the most explosive”.
Coaches and professional players know that learning the right fundamentals in hitting a forehand is critical in tennis. While there is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to the right form in executing the forehand stroke, certain basic principles apply to make it effective.
We will discuss the fundamentals on how to properly hit a tennis forehand. And why it’s a very important skill to learn for those who aspire to be a great tennis player.
The grip is a very important element in hitting a forehand. If you’re a beginner in tennis, knowing how to properly handle a tennis racket is the most basic yet is also the most important thing to learn.
There are two types of grip that most professional tennis players prefer. The Eastern Grip and the Semi-Western grip. While few still use the Western grip, it’s not recommended by most coaches as much as the Eastern and Semi-Western.
The Eastern grip is made by positioning the knuckle index finger at bevel number 3 along with the heel of the palm. If you are not familiar with what a bevel is, it’s the eight equal sides of the octagon-shaped handle on a tennis racket.
If you hold the racket on its side, the top bevel is bevel number 1. However, If you’re a right-handed person, you count the succeeding bevels from numbers 2 to 8 clockwise. If you’re a lefty, it’s the opposite side or counter-clockwise from bevel number 1.
This is the grip that Roger Federer use in hitting all his forehand strokes. This is also what the great Pete Sampras used while he was active in professional tennis.
The Semi-Western Grip is popular for most tennis players. It’s a preferred grip because of its ability to create topspin, which is a forward rotation of the ball across the court.
Place the knuckle of your index finger and the heel of your palm on the 4th bevel of your tennis racket. The reason this grip is good for creating topspin is that an upward accelerated motion towards the approaching ball is needed to execute it.
Since the hand is underneath the handle, the upward motion is more fluid compared to the hand placed on the side of the handle. Rafael Nadal uses a slight variation of this grip. This is more a combination of a Semi-Western and Western grip since his hand is placed on the 4.5 bevel position (Western grip is 5th bevel).
Now that we know what are the two types of grips for the forehand, we need to know what are the types of forehands used in tennis.
There are six different kinds of forehand shots. These are the following:
- Flat shot
- Inside out
- Swing volley
A flat shot forehand is made when you hit the ball at a neutral level or position. It’s normally called a natural shot, because of the inclination of anyone that is holding a racket to swing it across the body when hitting a ball. In short, this is a very basic forehand shot. This shot is not “wristy” which means the wrist is not involved as the hand and the arm are the ones doing the job.
Topspin is a shot that allows a player to have a bigger room for error when hitting the ball across the net towards the opponent. It brings the ball down towards the grown faster allowing the player to hit it way higher across the net. The standard and official height of a tennis net are 3 feet high. Imagine hitting the ball across the net clearing it with more than 4-5 feet of space and then hit the ground on your opponent’s side.
Without a topspin when you hit the ball across and it clears 4-5 feet above, the speed and velocity of the ball will carry it to at least 30-50 feet across. That is why a topspin forehand is a shot that is a weapon of choice of professional players. This is considered as the signature shot of Rafael Nadal who has the heaviest topspin with an average speed of 3,200 revolutions per minute (rpm).
In any sport, whether it’s basketball or tennis, when you make the same moves over and over, your opponent can “read” you and this makes you vulnerable. In tennis, if you only utilize a certain type of stroke, your opponent acrossthe net can take advantage and anticipate your next shot. The slice is one of the forehand strokes that stops your opponent on his track. If done perfectly, it can catch your opponent by surprise and not be able to react. The slice is done by holding the racket with your arms on your side with the racket face towards the court. As the ball approaches you tilt the racket and with an upward motion carry it through across your body. This will slow down the ball bounce which can throw off the timing of your opponent making him miss the shot.
When you need an attacking shot to take control of the play to win a point, the inside out forehand is one great option. This is especially good if your opponent doesn’t have a good backhand stroke. The idea is to bring the ball to the backhand of your opponent and then run him throughout the court. The way to execute the shot is by making an upward swing motion with the tennis racket and follow-through with your hand. In doing this shot, it’s like throwing the ball across the court with your hand starting from your side and carrying it across your body.
A moonball forehand is a groundstroke hit with topspin and goes across the net in way high (hence the name) and lands almost always at the opponent’s baseline. To hit it, the hitting elbow must be up and the racket face is closed as the ball approaches you. The hitting elbow must be away from your body and the tennis racket is perpendicular to the ground. And with a swing-up, the racket will hit the ball creating a spin that pulls the ball back into the opponent’s baseline.
There are three ways to approach the ball when hitting a moonball forehand. The first is to take the ball out of the air with a swing volley. The second is to take the ball on the rise after it hits the ground. The key is to transfer your weight in your front leg as you hit the ball towards the net. The third is to step back and wait for the ball drop into a more comfortable hitting zone. And hit it on a waist-length to generate more power into the shot.
The swing volley forehand is a favorite shot by professional players who have a strong serve. When your opponent gives a weak return off of your service, the ball is lobbed high or what’s called a “floater ball”. The idea is to take the time for your opponent to react as you hit the ball off the air not allowing it to land. This gives you a great offensive advantage off of the shot.
Another advantage of this forehand is you remove the possibility of an ugly bounce from an uneven court surface, especially on grass courts. And if this is done near the net, you will have a variety of angles to choose from in hitting the ball on your opponent’s court. This is where hand-eye coordination exercises will pay off as it demands quick reflexes on the part of the player. One of the main things to keep in mind is where the tennis racket ends up at the end of the shot. Usually, you will know you’ve made a great shot when the racket head ends up where it’s supposed to be.
Getting the hang of it yet? Maybe as you read try to practice with your racket. Soon you’ll be able to master the steps on how to properly hit a tennis forehand you’ll see.
While the grip is an important part of tennis, also important is the proper stance when executing shots. An improper or incorrect stance can restrict the player on the ideal angle the ball should be hit. And most importantly, a wrong stance can limit or hinder the power that is needed to deliver an effective shot to your opponent.
In the forehand, two types of stances are used. These are the open and neutral stance.
The open stance in forehand is not new as this was used in men’s tennis championships. And Bjorn Borg in the late ’70s made most of his forehand shots using open stance. In modern tennis, more and more players use an open stance. And this is also true for women’s tennis. In the 1985 women’s French Open Finals, you can watch a video of Chris Everts against Martina Navratilova. Both of these women have struck their forehands using the open stance. So what is an open stance and what are the advantages that can be derived from it?
Open stance as the name suggests is standing open with your feet slightly apart. This is good in handling fastballs and high balls especially with lots of spin on it. It’s also ideal when moving side to side as it allows you to react quicker to the ball. This also gives you more power as a lot of torque is created in generating power as you turn your body away from the ball before the strike. The only disadvantage with the open stance in hitting forehand is when you are dealing with short balls since you cannot give a good weight transfer on the ball. The tendency is to move forward and reach down low compromising your balance. This makes you vulnerable to the return shot from your opponent as you will lose time to properly position yourself on the court.
The neutral stance or also called the “stepping-in” stance is ideal for shorter balls. Since it’s easier to step into them. The neutral stance is when you are standing with your dominant leg behind the non-dominant one. So if you’re a right-hand player, your right leg is a few inches behind your left leg. While in an open stance, you are in a relaxed position with both of your feet slightly apart. The neutral stance is not a good position to receive fastballs or high balls. The reason is you need to step in with your shot and the distance between your racket and the ball is shortened, which diminishes your power. Your core is not engaged as compared to the open stance and your arms will not be able to swing in full as compared with an open stance.
Stances and grips are important elements on how to properly hit a tennis forehand. So be sure to practice constantly!
We have covered at least three of the most important aspects of the forehand. And these are the grip, the types of forehand shots, and the stance to execute it most effectively. How to properly hit a tennis forehand is crucial in your tennis development even if you are into tennis just for recreation or hobby. But in case you have a dream to become a professional tennis player someday, the more that you need to learn the fundamentals of a forehand which is one of the most potent shots in tennis.