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The Onehander, The Forehand, and the Slot

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The technique to get "in the slot" is very different for the forehand versus the backhand due to body orientation.

Getting "In the Slot" is Trickier for the Forehand

Getting "in the slot" is one of the biggest secrets of pro groundstrokes (and serves). By pulling the racket forward, parallel to the side fence, you prevent the racket from coming around too soon and are able to contact the ball in front of the body plane. Pulling the racket through the slot also prevents "swing" of the racket. The racket lags behind the body and on contact works with the body to powerfully push and lift the ball from a leveraged position.

Although common sense tells us (along with most experts) that the forehand is an easier stroke to learn, video shows us that at the pro level, pulling the racket through the slot on the forehand side involves much more specific and, quite frankly, surprising technical moves.

In Doug King's brilliant article How We Lost the Way (Part 2), Doug talks about how the body orients very differently for the forehand and backhand sides. While he discusses how the contrasting body/arm positions affect grip, take back, body coiling, and leverage, I'd like to simply focus on how these different body orientations affect getting "into the slot".

If you look at the still of Youzhny on the left hitting a one handed backhand compared to Chela hitting a forehand, you can see how easy it is for the racket to be "in the slot" on the backhand side. With the arm lowered and the racket close to the side, the racket will almost automatically be "in the slot". In fact, the only "trick" needed is cock your wrist upward so you create some leverage between the forearm and hand. If you do the same on the forehand side however - just lower your arm and grab a racket, the racket will not be anywhere close to being in the slot. It will be pointing, to some degree, towards the side fence.
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Pulling through the slot is easier for the one handed backhand.

The difference in technique needed due to the different body orientation is rather profound. For the one handed backhand, because the arm is stretched across the body, the only motion the arm can generate is a pulling motion forward. As Doug King so perceptively observes in his above mentioned article, the body is like a wall that prevents the arm from extending behind the body. Instead the hand gets tucked into the side of the body and the arm's only option is to pull forward. If you watch Youzhny pull the racket forward on his one hander, you can see how simple this motion is (although the body positioning of Youzhny here need to be taught explicity - it's not something one naturally does). This pulling motion on the one hander has been likened to a swordsman pulling a sword from his sheath - and I think that is the exact motion we see occuring here. The crucial motion here comes from the arm pulling the racket forward. We will see that on the forehand side, it's not nearly so simple.

I am going to do an article on Youzhny's beautiful one hander soon, but as a preview notice how his legs push upward as he pulls through the slot. Notice as well how his chin overlooks his shoulder in the first frame - an essential position of pro players that assures the body is properly coiled and the racket is pulled backwards. Also notice how his wrist is cocked upwards, creating a small "V" between the top of the hand and the forearm. To read more about this technique, click here.

The "Secret" to Getting in the Slot - Grip and Supination

In order to be "in the slot" on the forehand, the body must engage in some "tricks" or "secrets" that the best players in the world have discovered. The traditional forehand with the Eastern grip, racket back to the fence followed by the racket pointing to the target on follow through, prevents the racket from coming anywhere near getting in the slot position. Some serious modifications have to occur - and these modifications are what we now refer to as "the modern forehand."

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Getting "in the slot" on the foreahnd requires very specific body motions and orientations.

First let's focus on how the hand needs to orient to be in the slot for the backhand versus the forehand. For the one handed backhand, with the arm across the body and at the side of the hip all you have to to is cock your wrist upwards and your fingers will be facing the side fence and the top of your hand will be parallel to the ground. Stick a racket in your hand from this position and the racket will be in the slot - parallel to the ground with the strings facing the side fence.

On the forehand side, it's not so easy as "cock your wrist upward" and you're set. Because the arm remains on the same side as the body, in order to pull the racket forward and to get the racket in the slot, you have to be in a semi-western or western grip with the palm of the racket under the handle, as opposed to on top of the handle, for the onehanded backhand. With the modern grip in place, you have to twist the wrist and forearm backwards so that the palm side of the wrist faces the sky. In the animation on the left, I show how Marat Safin uses a semi-western grip, combined with supination of the wrist and forearm (the backwards rotation) to get his fingers to face the side fence and to pull the racket through the slot.

This supination of the wrist and forearm initially looks similar to the way a pitcher rotates the wrist and forearm upward when throwing sidearm. Gary Adelman explained this forearm rotation and its dynamics to me, and I am very grateful for his discovery. It is a crucial piece of the puzzle that I had missed entirely. You can read his description of this, along with my animations demonstrating it, by clicking here. Doug King further elaborates on this supination by observing that this supination "builds torque" in the forearm and "decelerates the racket". It is only recently that I realized how this supination is also crucial to getting the racket pulled through the slot.

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The modern grip with the palm under the handle combined with supination of the forearm and wrist allow
these players to pull the racket "through the slot"

Now that we've seen how the arm and grip must work on the forehand, as opposed to the one handed backhand, to pull the racket through the slot, let's consider the final, equally important difference. The torso. In the first picture of this article you can see how Youzhny and Chela are both in the slot. In addition to the very different arm and hand positions, you will also see the torso is oriented in completely different directions. For the one hander, Youzhny's torso faces the side while Chelas's torso is completely open with his shirt logo facing the net. In all of the above scrolling pictures, as well, you can see how the torso is close to parallel to the net in every example.

To get the racket through the slot and then to the ball, the one handed backhand and the modern forehand use the body differently. The one hander simply needs the arm to pull the racket through the slot and then lift upward to the ball. It's almost entirely arm based, with just a bit of torso rotation. The forehand is the opposite. The arm's main job is to supinate, while torso rotation is the major driving force - or engine - of the stroke. Arm lift, and arm pull, are, of course, critical components to the forehand, but they aren't the primary dynamic like with the one handed backhand. The rotating torso is.

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Pulling through the slot requires different technqiue for the forehand versus the one handed backhand. Supination and full torso rotation are unique to the forehand.

From this direct comparison between the modern forehand and the one handed backhand, we can really see how unique the body movements are to get the racket pulled through the slot on the modern forehand. There is no forearm supination on the one hander and there is just slight torso rotation - making this shot much simpler technically. Both strokes achieve the exact same effect - pulling the racket through the slot, but due to body orientation very different technique is involved. Let's look now from a rear angle at the modern forehand so we can really so how torso rotation is the "engine" that initates the stroke and gets the racket in the slot.

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Torso rotation is the "engine" that initiates the modern forehand. Torso rotation combined with arm supination gets the racket through the slot.

In the clip you can see how Lleyton Hewitt and Lindsay Lee Waters both use the same body movements to pull the racket through the slot. First, watch how their shoulders rotate. Both players start with their shoulders perpendicular to the net. By the time the racket is in the slot, the shoulders are almost parallel to the net. Notice as well how the supination of the arm, combined with the modern grip and the laid back wrist cause the racket to get pulled through the slot as the torso rotates.

The same effect for both strokes (pulling though the slot), but the body is positioned differently, and works differently to acheive it.

Let's look one more time at the final "slot" position for the forehand and the one handed backhand side by side. In both cases the butt cap of the racket is leading the stroke. In both cases the racket is parallel to the ground with the strings directly facing the side fence. But the way the arm and body are positioned result in very different technique needed to acheive the same effect. Safin's palm is under the handle while Acasuso's palm is on top of the handle. Safin's forearm is rotated, or twisted backwards while Acasuso's arm is naturally down by his side without any special twists or rotations. Safin's shoulders are almost parallel to the net while Acasuso's shoulders are perpendicular to the net.

All these technical differences result from the different arm/body orientations for each stroke. The modern forehand, in my opinion, can look quite strange. But the unique body positions and body movements we see at the pro level for this stroke are all in the service of pulling the racket through the slot - a feat that modern forehand technique achieves beautifully.