The Two-handed Forehand Revisited
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
Four years ago, I wrote an article on the two-handed forehand (The Two-Handed Forehand) for TennisOne describing this unique stroke as both a learning tool and potential weapon for suitable players and within many learning situations. This article continues to generate significant interest and dialogue among players, coaches, and teaching pros alike! Similarly to what we saw of the two-handed backhand of yesteryear, the two-handed forehand has been looked upon with with both suspicion and intrigue. Its use has invoked slander and ridicule, interest and curiosity, acceptance and rejection by both those in the teaching arena as well as those who enjoy playing and watching tennis.
This year at the Pacific Life Open here in Indian Wells, California, one can’t discount the number of pros seen hitting two-handed forehands…and winning! While the tournament is far from over, two specific players, Marion Bartoli of France and Peng Shuai, dominated first round opponents; Bartoli a 6-1, 6-2 over Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, and Shuai Peng defeated Vasilisa Bardina 6-1, 6-2. On these and the courts of other two-handed forehand players, one could overhear common remarks and observations among spectators.
“Look at that! She is using two hands on both sides!”
“I haven’t seen a two-handed forehand since Monica Seles! Check this out.”
Other pros using the two-hander include Zi Yan of China and Aiko Nakamura of Japan on the women’s side and Fabrice Santoro and Ramone Sluiter on the men’s.
In this update of the use and techniques of the two-handed forehand, I wanted to share not only the technical side of this stroke, but some common impressions which pros and players experience when trying to teach or learn the stroke.
|Marion Bartoli cracks this two-hander during her first round match at the Pacific Life Open.
Now I don't think the two-handed forehand is a shot everyone should use, nor do I think it is destined to become as common as the two-handed backhand has over the last thirty years.
Most pros and recreational players do fine hitting the traditional one-handed forehand with a high degree of success and minimal difficulty. However, it is not uncommon to discover many players who have difficulty with the conventional one-hander, but also, after seeing the pros use the shot at the world-class level of play, it certainly is not the limiting stroke so many claim it to be. Let’s consider that if the pros can use it at the speeds associated with professional-level world-class competition, then certainly the average Jane and Joe at the local club or city tennis courts should be able to execute the shot within their parameters of play. In addition, those who indeed learn tennis with a two-handed backhand, are already conditioned to use two hands and execute movements relative to those associated with two-handed strokes.
Perception on the Teaching Court
Often, when a student asks their teaching pro if they should or could learn the two-handed forehand, the common reply by many is: “Why would you want to learn that?” They usually add their take on the stroke as being limiting or weak.
It is not uncommon to discover that the vast majority of teaching pros have never even tried teaching the two-handed forehand. And, it is even more uncommon to have a pro offer to teach something they know nothing or very little about. We encountered the same level of distaste for the two-handed backhand in the early 70’s. Common remarks heard about that shot included: “There is no reach” and “It’s a woman’s backhand.” Even after Borg, Connors, and Evert demonstrated that the two-handed backhand could indeed be taken to the highest levels of the game, it was still a shot that would take nearly another 20 years before a new generation of pros forced its acceptance.
Consider that tennis-legend Jack Kramer labeled the two-handed backhand in the early 1950’s as a shot that “Limits your power and gives your opponent a psychological advantage.” Today, it is not uncommon to hear pros label the two-handed forehand in the same light. Yet the two-hander has many benefits; less wrist, more stable swing pattern, a repeatable, reliable swing path, emphasis on better footwork and less lazy tendencies
As many of the record crowds have seen at the Pacific Life Open, the two-handed forehand is not just a stroke for beginners or to improve an existing flawed forehand. One of the beauties of the shot at the pro level is in the ability to take balls on the rise as well as direct balls down the line with an aggressive stroke. Certainly the stroke discipline, the ability to reproduce the same stroke pattern—a staple of pro-level swings—is facilitated at this level too.
The Two-Handed Forehand
Unlike the one-handed forehand, (and similar to the two-handed backhand), there is not as much variety in swing characteristics between players who hit the two-handed forehand. In review and contrast of the two-handers on tour, I’ve chosen the two highest ranked two-handers, Marion Bartoli and Peng Shuai—both ranked in the top 50 in the world.
Both Bartoli (left) and Shuai, use relatively straight-back backswings, with Bartoli starting the take back higher but both getting below the ball early with nearly no loop in the swing. The turn and racquet preparation is as simple as it gets.
Having taught this stroke for nearly twenty years, I have found that the two-handed forehand can be hit with a full loop or, as in these examples, almost no loop at all. However, neither player were lacking in pace, spin, or overall power.
Granted, with two hands, you are not open to as much "whip" that the one-hander can implement; however, such a stroke uses a loose wrist and is difficult to hit with consistency and control. Thus, while one can generate more racquet head speed through such a swing, the two-handed forehand can be just the tool to help govern a player’s swing into a disciplined, dependable stroke. As someone once said, there is nothing wrong with hitting the same old boring winners.
Both players can execute the two-hander with an open, closed, or neutral stance. In these examples, Bartoli sets up with a semi-open stance and Shuai sets up with a small step in using a more neutral stance.
Both players are nearly identical at contact. Key position points include:
- Significant double bend of the hitting arm (elbow and wrist bent at nearly 90 degree angles)
- Non-dominant arm close to the body
- Contact point right off the front knee.
The use of two hands helps facilitate a full shoulder turn and a core turn of the torso which uncoils as the player begins to accelerate into contact. However, notice that the body does not open up as much as players who swing with one hand and those who use more significant western grips.
Here a subtle but distinct difference occurs. Note the extension of Shuai’s follow-through and height of her dominant right elbow compared to Bartoli. Peng Shuai’s form is closer to that of a conventional forehand which, at the pro level, includes the higher finish of the hitting arm’s elbow. Bartoli is more compact and brings her hitting arm across her front earlier than Shuai.
As both players finish their stroke, you will notice they appear to have their racquets pulling them around to finish as opposed to the player trying to muscle the finish by the body pulling the racquet around. This finish is common among nearly all full strokes in tennis. Players who try to swing the racquet around consciously, tend to muscle the swing. Watch the pros, and you will see a more fluid, almost languid stroke element even within the power structure of most swings.
It is interesting to see this swing pattern among pros in other sports too. Professional golfers look like they swing with far less effort than typical players at the public courses trying to gain extra yardage. This concept becomes readily apparent when you watch a “fast serve” contest. Players can be observed trying to swing with every thing they’ve got, only to wind up with serves that seldom exceed 100 mph. Compare this to professionals when they serve: It is not uncommon to see women serve well into the 120’s and the men into the 130’s and above. Yet, watching the pros, their motions appear effortless in comparison to the recreational or club player trying to hit a big serve.
Finally, notice the back foot, both players stay down and back until well after contact. This too, is an important quality of any forehand stroke. Too often, players will swing allowing their bodies to open up (usually because they try to either hit too hard or because they are not balanced throughout their stroke).
Today's pros routinely serve the ball at speeds exceeding 130 mph with seemingly far less effort than club players exert.
In addition to hitting terrific topspin groundstrokes, Peng Shuai is also a world-class doubles player, able to hit volleys, drop shots, and lobs as well as any other top player.
Zi Yan, also of China, is another two-handed player on both sides who is also one of the top five world-ranked doubles players. I bring this up because it is not uncommon to erroneously group two-handed players on either side as not being able to volley. This assumption has been made by many but any inability to play the net or play doubles well is only a weakness because the player was not trained in this capacity. It would be like saying that because someone has a good backhand, they would not be able to hit a good overhead. These are different shots that simply need to be mastered to be used well in competition.
Today, we are finding more and more top ranked juniors using the two-handed forehand. So, obviously, I must not be the only one promoting or developing this shot!
I don’t believe we will see the shot make as big of difference in the game as the two-handed backhand has done over the past thirty years; however, since it is becoming more common at the junior level as well as at the pro level, we just can’t summarily dismiss this shot any longer!
Your comments are welcome. Let us know what you think about Dave Smith's article by emailing us here at TennisOne .
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