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Positioning the Hand and Wrist
Hit the ball out in front. Firm the wrist at contact. See the ball through the back of your strings. Win the collision. These and many other prompts are commonly exhorted by coaches, parents, or self directed in an unusual monologue (I am never really sure if audibly talking to oneself is a good sign), all in service of making good contact. But I believe that the position of the hand and wrist at contact is often either overlooked or poorly understood. For when advised to firm the wrist, or win the collision, many if not most of us tighten up the muscles, bracing for contact.
Federer looks through the back of the racquet as he
hits the ball.
But there is another way. And certainly we see that when players hit effortlessly, with power, but somehow without betraying tension. Or worse (might be better depends on your perspective), when a slender teenage girl on the next court (ours is named Allana) hits bigger groundstrokes with far less muscle than we exert on our own court. The secret, I believe, is in moving the hand to a position where the bones and not the muscles locks the wrist.
Vic Braden has called attention to the position of the hand and wrist over the years, with his unusual pronunciation of the forehand and backhand. Vic calls it the "forehahnd," and "backhahnd," and to hear him say it, he directs the attention entirely to the “hahnd.” But with the length of the racquet adding significant leverage, the temptation if not the norm is to use the hand to accelerate the tip of the racquet. This type of stroke often appears wristy, occurs because the hand is active rather than passive, and results in a point of contact where the wrist is not in a locked position.
As you read this you can experiment for yourself. Extend your hand toward the computer screen as though shaking hands, consider this a neutral wrist position. With the palm vertical (sort of the eastern forehand shake hands grip) lay your wrist back (extension) as far as it will go, and feel the bones ultimately inhibit further motion. This corresponds to the wrist position for the forehand. Return to neutral, now move the wrist to the left (flexion) until it comes to rest. Note this particular position really no relevance to tennis.
Now back to neutral. Turn the forearm so the hand is extended palm down (like patting the dog on its head). Extend the wrist ever so slightly by lifting the hand up from the wrist, more or less a cupping motion. Now shift the hand to the right, back to neutral, and then shift the hand to the left. This position with the wrist cupped and hand shifted to the left jives with an eastern backhand, where the wrist is totally locked, palm down.
Continue the experiment. Feel a forehand stroke without the racquet, moving the arm to a position of contact way out in front with the wrist totally laid back, and locked. Note the wrist only needs to lock at contact, prior to contact a neutral wrist is just fine.
For the backhand, move to palm down hand extended and wrist laid back to the left, and feel how this would occur by swinging the arm on the backhand side to a point of contact way out in front.
Well gang, when locking the wrist by using the bones rather than muscles there are a number of advantages. One can relax the grip promoting a looser swing. One is less likely to discover tennis elbow. And one can start to hit the ball more squarely with less effort. Viola!
Note for further insight into this topic please refer to the following newsletter
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Connecting the Body
There are many ways to hit a tennis ball. A good stroke at a beginning tournament level won’t work at the satellite level. Some people are very consistent with short swings using big racquet heads. Others take long, fluid swings which give more power but less consistency. But the most effective players connect the body when they hit groundstrokes. That means they experience a swing where the legs, hips, torso, shoulders, arm, and racquet all work together in synergy. Doug Eng
Ana Ivanovic's Forehand
Vic Braden and Andy Fitzell analyze the forehand of tour star and recent number one, Ana Ivanovic using the the Ariel Performance Analysis System (APAS) which captures actual match play then digitizes each body joint resulting in a skeletal figure. In addition, Vic talks about becoming number one, the add pressures that places on players to remain there, and how it can effect the way they play the game.
Don’t “Play,” Practice
We’ve all gone through periods of frustration where we’ve felt that our games are struck in neutral. Tennis is a sneaky game, because improvement can initially come quickly. In many cases, someone who has just picked up a racquet and had a few lessons, can rally back and forth a bit, pop in 50 percent of his serves and begin playing the game. But in order to move to the higher levels you need to do more than come to the courts once or twice a week and play a few casual sets. Greg Moran
The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
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