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5 Power Sources of the Forehand
With racquet and string technology dramatically improving, as well as enhanced focus on fitness and strength conditioning, it’s no surprise that the forehands of the best pros in the world today display such great power. But by employing the right mechanics and technique, even mere mortals can increase their power on the forehand side as well.
Within this article, I will identify and prioritize certain elements of technique in the forehand that can help you generate greater and greater power when implemented correctly.
Five Power Components
Racquet speed, the use of the legs, shoulder and hip rotation, leverage, and forward momentum all work together throughout the execution of a well-struck forehand, and all contribute to one's ability to create increased power resulting in hitting a tennis ball harder within the parameters of control.
Understanding these elements can help anyone develop power on the forehand and without using a great deal of extra effort. Using this increased power on your shots should simply be considered another element in one's proverbial tool bag. Yet, knowing when, where, and how to use this power, is another facet of developing a forehand that is indeed a weapon. For more information about how and when to use power, refer to my tennis one articles, "The Lost Art of the Neutral Ball."
But for now, let's delve into the five components that you can use to create this added power.
The most obvious way to hit the ball harder is to increase your racquet speed. In other words, swinging your racquet faster will result in a ball hit with more power.
These days, having a good loop during the backswing contributes to the ability to swing faster through the shot. A good loop begins with the backswing above the hand holding the racquet up and the butt of the racquet facing the ground. With the topmost tip of the racquet starting at 12 o’clock – and then circling around the clock down to 5 or 6 o’clock before swinging low to high up through the ball. Having a loop makes it easier for players to have a long, continuous motion with the stroke.
Fernando Gonzalez has one of the biggest loops on the tour and one of the biggest forehands. Notice how far he takes the racquet back before dropping it into the slot.
One caveat here, a longer take back may increase the chances of a mis-hit and Gonzo does tend to mis-hit balls when he is not on top of his game. Thus, as with many compromising element of hitting a tennis ball, a balance must be established between any stroke component that can produce some undesired result and the more effective result we are seeking.
The follow-through also contributes to racquet speed. A complete follow-through allows a player to maximize racquet speed within the contact phase. One good follow-through entails finishing the stroke with the racquet head over the shoulder or near the left ear (for a right handed player), with the butt of the racquet facing up to the sky. However, most pros can elongate the follow-through by bringing the racquet down around the shoulder, below the shoulder, and even down near the waist. Many follow-throughs are a by-product of the grip or optimal swing path for a specific spin. Usually, a complete follow-through can keep a player from truncating or pulling out of the stroke too soon.
Loading with the Legs
The legs are one of the strongest muscle groups of the body and their proper use often is the precursor to more powerful forehands. For years we were told to stay down on the shot but with the exception of some situational strokes, the modern forehand is not hit this way. The knees are bent during the backswing and straightened as the player brushes up on contact. The legs can generate so much added momentum that the player is often lifted off the ground at or slightly after contact.
Click photo: The modern forehand is usually hit with an open stance and the upward thrust of the legs often propels the player off the ground just like Verdasco demonstrates here.
Open stance forehands are hit by "loading” onto the right leg (for a right-hander) during the backswing, then standing up on contact and transferring the weight from this loaded leg onto the other within the stroke. On a closed or square stance forehand, both legs load and then lift up on contact and follow through.
Shoulder and Hip Rotation
The unit turn on the forehand is a significant power source and a major foundation of technique. Typically, pros keep their off-hands on the racquet as they rotate their hips and shoulders 180 degrees or close to it. This ensures a complete body turn. At the club level, it’s not uncommon to see players take the racquet arm back without really turning the body which results in more of an arm swing.
After turning the body during the backswing, pros then rotate back and open up the torso so they are nearly facing the net at contact. (This can be different depending on the severity of the forehand grip.) After contact, pros then rotate their shoulders and hips even further, to the point where they are facing sideways in the opposite direction at which they began. For a right handed player, this means pointing the left shoulder at the ball as it coming toward them before contact, and pointing the right shoulder at the ball at the finish.
This rotation not only facilitates an out in front of the body contact point, which adds power, but also helps the player use his or her entire body to hit the forehand.
Contacting the ball out in front of the body adds a considerable amount of power to a forehand.
Click photo: The longer the lever the more power a player can get. Notice how long a lever Robin Solderling uses on this forehand.
A basic principle in physics states that leverage is an action, power, or force of a lever – in our case it’s our racquet and our dominant arm that creates the lever and produces leverage. The longer the lever, the more power a player can get. By extending out and striking the ball far out in front of the body, a player can maximize leverage and thus dramatically enhance the ability to generate power.
By contrast, hitting the ball in close to the body, with the dominant arm bent in an L shape creates little to no leverage, and therefore the player struggles to generate the same amount of power.
Many recreational players feel a sense of control by bringing the arm closer to the body on the forehand, and then using the rotational movement of the body almost exclusively to create racquet head speed. This is a very pedestrian swing pattern that you seldom see more advanced players utilize.
Weight Transfer and Momentum
Another major power source is weight transfer and momentum. A forehand that contains a sound transfer of body weight from one foot to another is a forehand that uses more of the body to hit the shot in a well-balanced way, and the act of transferring the body weight creates body momentum into the shot.
Right-handed pros place the majority of their weight onto the right foot during the backswing and then finish the stroke with most of their weight on the left leg on the follow-through. On very deep shots or balls landing wide in the court, it is sometimes more suitable for a player to transfer the weight backwards slightly or more to the side, often called a "Reverse Pivot." The Reverse Pivot, while transferring the weight of the player backwards within the stroke, the rotation of the shoulder plane still brings the hitting shoulder forward during the shot. Regardless, the act of transferring the weight and creating body momentum can add a great deal of power to a player's forehand.
Use these five power sources of the forehand and learn how to hit the forehand with the kind of effortless pace the pros use. This can be a great benefit to players of all sizes, shapes, and abilities. Loading, rotating, hitting out in front, transferring the weight, and accelerating with the racquet head all are foundational principles of optimal forehand technique and all add power to the stroke.
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Learning Tennis as an Open Skill, Part 2
Tennis is rife with technical coaching and information, but is copying the "Federer forehand" really what it's all about? The skills required for ‘game sports’ are different than the skills required for ‘technical sports’ like diving, gymnastics, or figure skating. Tennis technique is important, however, success is every bit as much about correctly adapting the technique at the right time as it is about moving correctly. – Wayne Elderton
Holding Form on the Serve
In past articles, Doug King has stressed the importance of maintaining proper form on groundstrokes. Here he turns his attention to the most important stoke in tennis, the serve. Form is just as important on the serve and Doug points out similarities between the serve and the forehand groundstroke. In many ways he sees the serve as an up-turned forehand. Check out Doug's unique prospective on this complex stroke.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Ai Sugiyama's Forehand
Ai Sugiyama retired at 34 years old, in September of 2009 after playing 19 years on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. During that span she won six single singles titles and 38 doubles titles. Her best ever singles ranking was 8th, but she excelled at doubles becoming the first Asian women to hold the No. 1 ranking. but her most notable achievement was her Grand Slam streak, playing in 62 straight Grand Slam events. Never a big hitter, she played a baseline retrieving game, but she was solid off both wings and held her own–and then some–staying remarkably fit for years.
TennisOne Writers Store
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- "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
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