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Forehand Return – 1000 fps
Backhand Return – 1000 fps
This clip was shot at 1000fps. Sam Stosur’s serve actually has quite a bit in common with her forehand. Watch how she coils her upper body and extends her left arm straight up in the air to hold in the coil – just like she does with her forehand. Then the legs push up and the shoulders rotate – just like in the forehand.
And finally, the butt cap of the racket leads the pull upward followed be a very similar torque applied from wrist, hand, and forearm, generating heavy slice on the ball.
In this serve, Stosur is hitting a slice serve, and one of the misconceptions about a slice serve is that you “carve around” the ball – like peeling around an orange. But here you can see Stosur’s hand and racket actually prontate outward so that the strings face the right side line in the follow through after contact.
The slice comes from the angle of the racket face on contact combined with the twisting motion outward.
Sam Stosur is known for having a huge forehand. And many have noted that her straight arm configuration is more commonly found on the ATP tour.
I was sitting right next to Sam as she was practicing, and it really felt (and sounded) like she was ripping the cover off the ball.
In this clip, notice how her wrist stretches backwards as she starts to pull forwards. This is the “stretch shortening cycle” that creates a rubber band effect on the wrist tendons. If you focus on the butt cap of her racket you can see how it dramatically changes direction, first in a neutral position pointing at her body when her arm is back and then, as she pulls forward, the wrist stretches backwards, pointing at the right net post. On contact, her arm is straight. And on her finish she is “checking the time” on her watch – a result of the pronation and torque from the hand and forearm.
Finally notice how she initiates the pull of the racket. First she coils her upper body (left hand pointing straight across her body) and sinks down with her legs. Then she uncoils her torso and lifts upwards from her legs to initiate the stroke – with the arm lagging behind and getting pulled forward. (click here for more on the uncoil/lift motion)
Play the clip below and your can hear how “heavy” this forehand is. The sound the ball makes coming off the strings is tremendous.
Bjorn Borg revolutionized tennis forever when he unleashed his massive topspin forehand on the world in 1972. He was completely unconventional in his technique, with a two-handed backhand and an unheard of (back then) western grip on his forehand. Even crazier was the way he used that grip to hit his forehand. Here is Borg on how he did it (taken from Bjorn Borg: My Life and Game, 1980):
So the topspin revolution was launched over 40 years ago in 1972. And even though Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal have taken Borg’s forehand to extremes that would have shocked even him, the teaching world largely ignores the fact, or is unaware of the fact, that topspin is the bedrock principle of modern tennis.
So imagine my delight when Phillip Hofmeyr contacted me many months ago. Phillip intuitively understood that topspin needed to be taught first – as the core principle around which everything else would develop.
But it’s not easy to “teach topspin”, right? It’s one thing to say to someone “brush low to high”, but it’s another to actually give your students a way to feel the movement. Especially when they are skeptical, thinking “how can brushing up the ball possibly make it go forward?” So, lucky for us, he invented a teaching device to do just that!
How cool is this?! The ball spins around a pin when you brush up the ball, but it also moves forward on a spring like mechanism so it teaches you to move forward as you quickly brush up the back of the ball. The screen is there as a visual aid to show how your racket face needs to stay on the same plane as it brushes upward.
Phillip originally contacted me because of some graphics I had created showing how the face of the racket goes right up the back of the ball, with the strings facing forward, through contact and well after contact. It was visual proof that his device teaches you to do what professional players are doing!
Phillip just launched a Kickstarter campaign to start shipping his Topspin Pro. Check out his kickstarter page, support Phillip’s incredible work and inventiveness, and get
one of these awesome devices for yourself. I have one coming in the mail right now and can’t wait for both of my kids (3 and 5) to use this device to teach them, from the get go, how topspin works. And it will be my go to device to teach anyone how modern tennis works.
I hope the Topspin Pro takes off and becomes a ubiquitous teaching aid – from kids starting out in tennis to adults who never were taught topspin as the key ingredient to mastering the modern game.
Continuing on with the importance of the wrist in modern tennis, take a look at some stills from high speed clips I shot of Grigor Dimitrov. He uses the exact same racket orientation in his serve, forehand, and backhand to add whip like rotation and forward movement of the wrist moments before contact.
The wrist can produce a burst of racket head speed very, very quickly, and really serves as the end of a whip of energy that starts in the lifting of the legs, the uncoiling of the shoulder, the pull of the arm and lag of the racket, and finally ends in a burst of rotation and forward movement of the wrist. When you lay your wrist backwards, 90 degrees to your forearm, and rotate your forearm backwards a bit, you should feel the tension in the wound up wrist. This tension is released moments before contact as the energy from the entire stroke passes into it.
I drew arrows indicating the direction the butt cap of the racket is facing moments before contact. The butt cap is pointed almost sideways on the backhand, and about 45 degrees away from the ball in the serve and forehand. The racket is at a 90 degree angle to the forearm for all three strokes.
In a burst of rotation and forward motion, the racket will end up close to neutral on contact. Completely in line with the forearm on the serve, and a few degrees backwards on the forehand and backhand.
In this serve clip, notice how the orientation of the butt cap of the racket, with the wrist laid back and rotated backwards (supinated), allows him to create a burst of rapid acceleration of the wrist as it rotates the racket into and even after contact (as the hand continues to rotate the racket outward).
The wrist. It’s the most controversial topic in tennis instruction. And the overwhelming consensus is to eliminate it, minimize it, and certainly not to do anything consciously with it. Companies are marketing products like “the wrist assist” to minimize wrist movement in order to “feel what the pros feel”.
If we actually listen to the pros, however, we get a very different story. Here is Borg on his forehand (taken from Bjorn Borg: My Life and Game, 1980):
Novak Djokovic gives a free lesson in this YouTube video. If you watch where he discusses the forehand, here is what he has to say:
I took the below stills from one of my favorite clips of Andy Murray (here is the link to the video) to show how he uses wrist extension and radial deviation to create racket head speed and torque on the ball.
In the first still notice how the butt cap of his racket is pointing almost sideways toward the net post and is angled downwards below his wrist. This creates a lot of distance for the wrist to rotate forward and upward, creating angular momentum as it “catches up” to the hitting arm in a rapid whip like movement. In the final still it looks as if Andy is “checking the time on his watch” due to the full rotation of the wrist.
All players use these wrist movements both into the ball and then through contact to create the windshield wiper forehand (see my post below on the windshield wiper forehand to see several examples).
Two players I didn’t include, however, are Nadal and Federer. And that’s because they take this technique ever farther. I will post in the future on how their straight arm configuration and massive wrist layback and pre-stretch create tremendous speed and torque on the ball that goes beyond what even what Djokovic and Murray are doing.
The Windshield Wiper Forehand
A common term used to describe the modern forehand is “the windshield wiper” forehand because the racket moves, from contact on, in a rainbow like path. It’s the same 180 degree path windshield wipers travel on a car.
I picked the clips in this video to show extreme examples of this “wiper” motion. Usually there is more drive and push on the ball with the arm and shoulder, but nonetheless, there is always this counter clock wise rotation of the hand and forearm.
In this post, I want to explain how the modern semi-western and western grips facilitate this rotation of the hand and forearm in a counter clockwise direction.
Here we see how Andy Roddick’s grip puts the palm of his hand under the handle (as opposed to behind the handle with the “shake hands” or Eastern grip). And in the second still, his forearm and hand have rotated into a position that looks like he is checking the time on his watch. The hand and forearm have rotated, rapidly, a full 180 degrees from contact to finish. And this turning/torquing motion is what creates the windshield wiper path of the racket.
This torque, driven by the rotating forearm and hand, is a very powerful and rapid motion. Try opening a can that has a very tight lid on it. It requires a tremendous amount of force from the hand and forearm to twist it open. It’s not a loose, wristy motion, but a powerful torque from the forearm. In the video above, focus on the forearm muscles of the players and you can see how they are working very hard in to create this torque.
The grip under the handle offers more than the ability to rotate the hand and forearm. There is also what I call a “boxing” component that resembles an upper cut punch in boxing. This upper cut like motion powerfully engages the entire arm – from hand to shoulder to create a heavy forehand. Even in the Roddick second still you can see how his upper arm has lifted upward and is parallel to the ground and his shoulder has rotated over. By having the palm of the hand more under the handle, it allows you to drive upward in a powerful motion.
The modern forehand is the stroke that has changed the most. We used to think of the stroke as a long, linear drive through the ball. But long linear motions rob us of two powerful motions – torque and upward drive. The modern semi-western and western grips have shifted, literally the direction of the forehand stroke. Instead of long forward finishes we are getting more explosive upward motions combined with torque from the forearm muscles. And the shifting of the grip towards the bottom of the handle has played an enormous role in this technical evolution.