The Two-handed Backhand in T1 Super Slow-Mo™
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Ways of the Wrist and Forearm
I have written many an article for TennisOne – Ken Rosewall and the underspin backhand, drop shots, Lew Hoad on the serve, commentary on Venus Williams and Andre Agassi, material on the legendary coach Tom Stow, the First things First Instructional suite and more. I am a life long teacher and player of the game, and at work I am always observing different playing styles and teaching methods. One of the most difficult but equally most important aspects of tennis is to come to grips with the grips – that is getting the feel for underspin volleys with a continental grip, overspin forehands with a low eastern or semi western, and fluid serves with a loose continental or even eastern backhand grip.
Click photo to hear Jim McLennan talk about the wrist and the position of strength.
These are distinctly different shots, with different grips, and distinct and different feelings. But just as important as the grips, there is an optimal alignment of the wrist and forearm on all of these shots. And once the grips have been explored, then in my mind, it is all about awareness of the wrist – forearm segment. And importantly, the wrist and forearm are not meant to operate independently but rather in concert.
Resting the hand and wrist on the racquet, the hand aligns itself with the wrist and forearm. The wrist is not flexed, not extended, rather “natural.” Interestingly, this is the same position as the shake hands grip when the hand is extended to another. This natural position is the heart and soul of all the various grips. The secret to adjusting the racquet face, imparting spin, and varying racquet speed lies in control of the forearm, when the wrist rests in the “natural” position.
Forearm Rotation movement is similar to turning a doorknob or reaching up to either screw in or unscrew a light bulb. As you imagine or actually try to feel this while reading these words, the rotation of the hand comes from the forearm, not the wrist. So, extending this awareness to the racquet, similar rotation of the forearm enables you to feel the edges of the racquet head. Topspin generally occurs from a hooded racquet, tilted slightly or even extremely closed where the top edge leads. Backspin occurs from an open racquet face, where the lower edge of the frame leads. Once you have adjusted your grip, the key to feeling the appropriate edge lies in the subtle adjustments to the forearm.
From the natural position, Federer lays back or extends the wrist on the forehand within the contact zone.
Quiet Wrist at Impact
When the ball and racquet collide, there are a number of options. An off center hit will often turn the grip in one's hand. Late hits cause the racquet to wobble. But on perfect hits, it feels almost as though the racquet has “won the collision” and on those contacts, the ball is met in the sweet spot and of equal importance, the wrist is in a position of strength. By that I mean the following – one doesn't lock the wrist by flexing hand and forearm muscles but rather by moving the wrist it to a position where the bones prevent further movement. In this manner, the wrist becomes locked without unnecessary tension. From the natural position, one lays back or extends the wrist on the forehand within the contact zone, and one adducts or brings the hand and thumb towards ones center with palm down in the backhand within the contact zone. In both instances these movements (extension or adduction) tend to lock the wrist without muscular effort.
On ground strokes, the position of strength becomes more and more important as the incoming ball has more and more momentum. Same goes for the volley. Winning the collision is obviously more difficult when the incoming ball is “heavy” rather than light. On the other hand, when serving there is little momentum from the toss that needs to be overcome, so in this instance the hit is less about winning the collision and more about racquet speed.
Click photo to hear Jim McLennan talk the role of the forearm in varying spin.
Now the forearm steps front and center. I once read an article by Vic Braden in the 1970's, where he suggested one could serve with full power were the wrist in a cast. I didn't understand the article at that point in time, but saved it and revisited it. Now I see that the wrist can be “natural” and neither extended nor adducted, and that the final moments of the racquet acceleration are caused by the full forceful and whippy action of forearm rotation. We have seen this in every one of the Sampras photos that captured him a split second after contact on the serve.
Everything I read these days, from article proposals, to teaching materials, all emphasize awareness of the player and an awareness that comes from within the player rather than imposed by the coach. And further, there are so many levels to this awareness, that for any of us (you or I) to continue to improve we MUST be willing to continually experiment and explore. So on your next sojourn to the court, take a few moments to explore a natural wrist and forearm rotation – there might be something there.
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