How To Hit a Tennis Forehand
Forehands are one of the most potent weapons a tennis player can use, so mastering them is extremely important.
Mainly used as a form of attacking play, this movement involves hitting the ball on the dominant side, creating acceleration, power, and a solid sense of dynamism to the game.
Tennis Gate states that a solid forehand will allow a player to cover 75% of the court, which gives it the title of the most essential component of a solid groundstroke game.
This article will walk through each step that forms a part of the forehand process.
Like with learning any technique, it is crucial to break down each step into the basic foundations to comprehend and execute such a move fully.
Although appearing like a relatively simple concept, the forehand stroke requires thought, skill, and agility, and this article will provide information, guidance, and tips on how to master this stroke.
What You’ll Learn
The 8 crucial steps
According to Tennis Uni, there are 8 steps to follow in creating a powerful forehand.
The movement has a natural feel to it, making it an effortless stroke to play.
Simultaneously, the forehand is an effective way to pressurize the opponent, which explains why it is often used to hit winners.
Generally, novice tennis players will start their foray into the sport by learning the forehand stroke first.
Adopting the perfect technique will allow you to win points and conserve precious energy during the match. Each step will be described in great detail below.
The foundation that paves the way to a successful shot uses the correct grip.
A stable grip is even more crucial when playing with a forehand stroke due to the heavy force often required during the stroke movement.
Additionally, the racket’s grip should sit comfortably in the player’s hand throughout the entirety of the stroke.
When looking at the racket’s butt cap, it’s clear to see that the grip is octagonal.
A better viewpoint can be offered when turning the racket head perpendicular to the floor. The grip’s individual bevels should be marked with numbers from 1 to 8, beginning with the top side and moving around in a clockwise direction.
The numbers will indicate the area on which the knuckle of the index finger and the palm of the little finger should be placed.
The forehand can require three fundamental grips, all of which possess specific characteristics that allow for a solid forehand stroke.
These are the Eastern grip, the Semi-Western grip, and the Western grip.
Generally speaking, the dominant hand should always be deployed for forehand strokes.
The below grip descriptions will refer to the position of a right-handed player.
Therefore, left-handers will need to inverse the information to the other way around.
This type of grip places the knuckle and palm on bevel number 3, allowing for much greater power upon contact with the ball.
Consequently, the shots will be straight and hard, with a flat trajectory.
However, this grip could potentially be deemed less attractive for players who like to put topspin on their shots, and therefore not the preferred choice for advanced players.
Semi Western Grip
The Semi Western grip is arguably the most widely-used, popular grip among the vast majority of tennis players.
Here, the grip is based on the fourth bevel, which offers a desirable combination of power and topspin.
Therefore, the Semi Western grip is appropriate and adapted to the dynamism of tennis matches today.
Compared to the variations above, the Western grip can be considered the exception.
When using this type of grip, the wrist is turned further down to bevel 5, which allows the potential to give the ball a great deal of topspin, but at the expense of lower power.
The Western grip is often described as tricky to play with due to the wrist’s intense placement. It is therefore recommended to use either the Eastern or the Semi-Western grip.
The Ready Position and Stance
Once the correct, most suitable grip has been established, the ready position must be adopted.
It’s crucial to differentiate between being in a ready position and being in a ready state; merely standing in a particular manner does not indicate that the player particularly “ready”.
Instead, the player is waiting for the ball to travel in a specific direction, and only then will they begin moving and playing. This is known as a ready position but not a ready state.
When a player is in a ready state, they move almost in a choreographed manner.
Whether dancing from foot to foot or taking little split steps, being in a ready state involves some movement.
When the ball is in play, there is no reason that the player should be standing still at any time; they must always be on the move.
Keeping constant movement will allow the player to move quicker with that first step, especially when landing into a split step, as the mind is being kept more alert and thus reactive.
It’s crucial to keep in mind through the entirety of a game that without any form of movement or split step, then proper tennis is not being played. Adopting both the ready position and ready state is paramount to playing decent tennis.
At no point should players ever be stationary. Additionally, the player’s stance should be as stable as possible, no shaky legs, as this could damage the efficacy of the forehand.
For a visual guide to walk through the ready position for forehand strokes, visit the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwPBZg2OVH8
Before the ball travels in your direction, the “split step” should always be done.
It is an easy move using the toes, putting the player in the ready position for the next shot.
When the ball is flying through the air and traveling in your direction, it’s at this point the body should be turned to the right and the right arm should be stretched halfway with the racket.
The left-arm should then be turned until it is parallel to the baseline, with the left shoulder pointing towards the ball. Simultaneously, the knees should be bent in order to somewhat build up energy.
When the ball is traveling towards the forehand side, the first thing a player should do is turn to the side.
Many players make the common error of using the arm too much to go back; instead, it is better to turn sideways, preparing the racket mostly with the off-hand.
This should have the sensation of pushing and lifting the racket with the non-dominant hand. When turning to the side, the righthand rests on the racket and it’s the left arm that does all the hard work.
A second rookie mistake many players do during the preparation step is overthinking the racket’s preparation backwards.
The better way to imagine it is to turn to the side, as the rest will naturally follow during the stroke.
Upon proper preparation, which will use the Semi Western grip, the racket face and the non-dominant hand will be pointing to the side.
The hitting hand’s wrist will be placed just below the shoulder, keeping the arm in a slightly bent position. Eyes should be kept on the ball at all times. Concentration is key.
After successfully leaving the preparation phase, the racket should be allowed to drop down for gravity to do its bit by helping the racket’s acceleration.
The hitting arm will begin to take over during a later step of the forehand swing. For an effortless forehand, the laws of physics will be your friend here, and this should be taken full advantage of.
Feel Tennis emphasizes how the word “drop” is simply a piece of terminology used in coaching, all too often, it is taken far too literally. It isn’tmerely a case of dropping down the racket, but rather it swings around the body, gets rotated back and forth.
Many professional players, including Roger Federer, drop the racket with the face pointing towards the ground. Still,it’s crucial to establish that this is an advanced method of accelerating the racket head. Therefore, it is highly probable that a loss of control over shots will result from attempting to adopt this.
Del Potro and a handful of other professional players, especially women, are very good examples of simpler forehand drop techniques that function effectively at a high tennis level.
The racket will begin to reach the acceleration phase post-preparation and post-drop, when gravity begins to take over.
The first part is that when the racket is beginning to accelerate and the arm is starting to move forward, there will be a slight lag.
At this point, the hips must begin to rotate first at a 90-degree angle. Simultaneously with the start of the drop of the arm. This is the fundamental stage of building the forehand.
In general, the hips will not rotate a great deal before contact with the ball, the movement must be exaggerated for the player to feel it.
If a relatively loose arm is kept whilst the hips are rotating, then it is only natural that the arm will lag. During this essential stage, it’s recommended that the player remains aware of the wrist lag, but not to spend too much time focusing on it, butletting it all happen as part of the natural movement.
This is why dropping the racket on the edge, as mentioned in the previous phase, is important because it ensures the wrist in the correct position.
The Swing Path
At this point, the racket should be accelerating forward, and it is essential to direct it into the correct swing path that will help effectively control the ball.
The swing path moves in a straight line both before and after contact with the ball. This is because it is virtually impossible to perfectly time the ball.
Swinging in a circular motion increases the likelihood of mistiming the forehand by a fraction second, which will cause the ball to be hit at a marginally different angle. Any little change in the angle at which the racket comes into contact with the ball will dramatically affect the location of the ball’s landing on the other side of the court.
Swinging in a straight line will ensure that the racket head is steering the ball towards the intended target even if contact is made a bit too early or too late.
It can be helpful to consider the straight swing as more of a bowling motion rather than a discus throw motion that typically characterizes a circular path.
A little exercise that can marry the idea of bowling with tennis is to take a couple of tennis balls and practice bowling them in the direction of a specific target. After repeating this exercise a few times over, take your racket and try recreating this sensation of bowling into your swing.
The basic forehand swing path that should be developed first is initially directed downwards, which can be a natural reaction when a relatively low ball is being received.
Conversely, when a higher ball is being received, this calls for an adjustment of the swing, which should be more horizontal and resemble more of a discus throw.
It must be kept in mind that that is a variation of the fundamental forehand swing that will only work well if the bowling motion has been mastered first.
Without a good idea of how to effectively drop the racket with gravity’s help and produce an effortless swing, then a more horizontal swing is likely to feel much stiffer and the forehand will not come out all too well.
Contact and Extension
It is now time to come into contact with the ball. To have real, genuine control over the ball, a little bit of spin should ideally be added.
Feel Tennis prefer to explain the spin as rolling the ball rather than brushing it, which is the terminology most often used by coaches.
The term brushing tends to conjure up an unsuitable mental image where, when approaching the ball with the racket, the contact is made only by brushing it in an upwards motion.
This technique does not apply any forward force to the ball, resulting in it ending up short, lacking pace.
Finding the optimal timing is crucial not only for the forehand stroke but also for the other basic strokes in a tennis match.
With this in mind, the best contact point with the ball is directly in front of the body. The distance from the ball mustn’t be too big or too small. All too often, tennis players struggle as they hit the ball too close to their body;therefore it is that little bit too late.
This makes it extremely difficult to produce a controlled forehand. Upon coming into contact with the ball, the racket head should be parallel to the net.
To add a topspin to the forehand, the ball must be hit with a slight upward movement, almost like a wipe, which gives the tennis ball a forward rotation. It is important to make sure that the ball is hit with the racket’s sweet spot, as this will give optimal power.
The compress & roll approach can be seen as a better alternative, which is a more exaggerated way of striking the ball.
Pressing & rolling creates a much more suitable mental image of hitting a topspin forehand.
To improve the shot’s accuracy, the swing should be done straight through the ball. This is usually explained as extending after the ball.
Although a seeming like more mechanical approach that only involves extending the arm in almost a robotic manner, the extension aims to guide the ball towards a certain target.
This extension will naturally occur if the player has set a clear intention and aims towards a specific target, and can directly affect the stroke technique and, ultimately, the player’s game.
The final stage to complete the forehand stroke is the follow-through. A helpful technique is to learn to catch the racket.
Feel Tennis recommends working on catching the racket with the left hand in the region above the shoulder.
This is because when catching the racket, the left arm and left shoulder will naturally move out of the way.
The most common error committed on a forehand follow-through is dropping the left arm, resulting in the right arm ending up alone in the follow-through.
Consequently, the shoulders twill end to block each other, disabling the hitting from easily swinging through the ball.
When catching the racket, the shoulders have the ability to move freely throughout the shot which, in turn, helps generate greater power and have much more efficient movements.
How to add power to the forehand
When observing a modern tennis forehand stroke, it will appear a complex move, as it’s difficult to notice the essential elements that create power and generate a forehand shot with a topspin.
Although it’s no secret that an advanced forehand contains various complex elements that work together, it is still possible to break it down into more straightforward elements.
The two main components that generate a powerful forehand shot in tennis are the rotation and extension of the arm.
The first part of a forward swing on a forehand shot is done with the whole body, including hips and shoulders, rotating by around 90 degrees.
The second part is achieved by guiding the arm forward through the zone of contact towards the target.
From this point onward, the hips don’t move a great deal, but it’s actually the arm that will need to extend forward.
The following video will give 4 excellent ways to help generate power on a forehand stroke:
How to add a topspin to the forehand
To add a topspin onto a tennis forehand, the racket must move upwards.
As the racket is held with the dominant arm, it is usually the shoulder joint used, which is also the strongest and thus used for more power.
The start of the upward racket head movement must begin with the legs.
Moving in a simple up and down movement, without using any other body parts, is a good indication of how to isolate the movement of the legs and move the racket.
Three joints can be found in the arm, and all three can be used to move the racket in an upwards direction.
The first is located on the shoulder, which is the main joint most club players usually tend to use. It is worth trying to isolate the shoulder’s movement to see how much the racket can be moved up.
Trying these forehand drills near the net or even near the back fence can help understand how much the racket moves upwards in relation to the background.
The next joint is the elbow, which acts as a level from which the forearm can be moved up and down.
When naturally moving the forearm in an upwards direction, it will soon begin to turn inward, towards the opposite side of the body, but this will occur after contact with the ball. Therefore, the racket can still move upwards at this point of contact.
The wrist can then also be used, as this will start turning the racket inward, but this again will occur after the point of contact.
Combining the legs, upper arm, forearm, and wrist to move the racket head upwards will make it extremely clear how these forces work together to help create a topspin on the forehand.
The ultimate goal is to fortify a smooth connection between all four parts, which can be achieved through continuous repetition.
A good exercise is to try hitting the net cord while combining all movements into one smooth, upwards movement. Adding the aspects that create the forward force, namely the arm’s rotation and forward movement, are the next step.
The final sequence is made up of the rotation and simultaneous movement of the arm both forward and upwards.
Eventually, it establishes the most comfortable preparation for the stroke and the most comfortable follow-through, which will result in hitting a forehand with good control, with minimal effort required.
Style vs Technique
There is often conflation between style and technique, but it is crucial to understand that there is a significant difference between the two and being aware of this difference can be the determining factor between a good and a great tennis player.
This style individual to the player and can include flairs like a loopy backswing, unusual off-hand movement, an alternative body posture, a unique stance or even how a player bounces the ball before serving.
This technique concerns the fundamental underlying biomechanical principles and body movements that take place during tennis stroke.
To show genuine improvement in tennis playing, it is primordial to see past the flairs of style and uncover the underlying biomechanics.
They are not usually exclusive; players can demonstrate a distinct, unique or quirky style to their tennis strokes whilst still proving a fundamentally good technique.
Additionally, it’s also possible to visually impress the court while still demonstrating flaws in technique.
Overall, it is not an issue to possess a style that is unique and individual, just as long as it doesn’t impact upon the biomechanics of the stroke.
With this in mind, there is no one size fits all approach that should be adopted by everyone, as there are always exceptions to these rules.
Nevertheless, using a technical perspective, a certain forehand arm position will always be superior to the other in virtually every way. The bent-arm forehand is almost always better than a straight-arm forehand.
To conclude, the forehand is the stroke that is well worth perfecting as a tennis player.
It is a fundamental move that is paramount to the success of any game, and certain techniques are required to master the stroke.
This article has summarized the 8 main steps that are needed throughout a forehand stroke, explaining the elements and importance of each.
Power and topspin are elements to be added once the basic technique has been established.
Mixing all of these together will help to create a beautiful forehand stroke that will serve as a basis from which to learn more advanced moves from.