The very first time you swung at a tennis ball, chances are it was a forehand shot. Topspin or slice spin aside, the motion of the arm swing probably did not take much time to get used to.
The forehand stroke is performed in a low-to-high forward motion. Start in the ready position facing the net with your knees slightly bent. Turn your shoulders and hip sideways while bringing your racket back with the head positioned higher than the handle. Lower the racket and drop the head of the racket before initiating your swing. As you swing forward, rotate your hips and be sure to follow through fully.
Because the forehand is a more intuitive and natural stroke compared to other shots used in the game, it also very easy to develop bad habits early on.
It’s important to understand the fundamentals of the stroke early on. This will avoid developing habits that will become more difficult to adjust down the road.
If you are an absolute beginner looking to get started, consider playing on a shortened court with a practice partner. Rather than playing full-court, use the service box area to practice your forehand.
While it might be tempting to play full-court, playing within a more confined area can help you develop the different aspects of the stroke more quickly.
More importantly, you are less likely to become frustrated that you are not making contact. Getting the ball over consistently should be your objective at this point, not hitting hard.
Focus on the ball as you swing through. Make sure you clear the net on a regular basis and get comfortable positioning the ball where you intend it to go.
Your swing will naturally be shortened due to the shortened court, that’s fine for now. Don’t worry about topspin at this point, you don’t need it on a shortened court.
You should practice this way for a period of time. Gradually move further back until you are at a point where you are hitting consistently from the baseline.
The Forehand Grip
Hand placement on the grip should be the first thing you get down. The grip you select can play an important role in your forehand form.
Ideally, you want a grip that will enable you to hit effectively without placing too much stress on your arm, i.e., the wrist, the forearm, etc.
The eastern forehand or semi-western grips are probably the best positions for beginning players to start with. They allow for adequate topspin without being too extreme, which would only make the shot more difficult to execute.
The Eastern forehand, in particular, is a very natural grip for the forehand. The reason is that the palm of the hand is parallel to the net and direction of swing. This means less stress on your arm and a more natural swinging motion.
The semi-western grip will provide more topspin, however. As you progress in the game and want to experiment with even greater topspin you can try out the western grip. But that should not be your focus when starting out.
The western grip takes a lot of practice to master, and while it can generate a significant amount of topspin, it sacrifices power to an extent. Ideally, you want a balance of the two, something the eastern and semi-western grips provide.
For more information on the techniques, see the article on how to grip a tennis racket. Here you’ll get an overview of the different types of grips available to you and the advantages/disadvantages of each.
Here is a great video that teaches how to easily grip the racket and the beginner forehand technique:
1. Start In the Ready Position
The forehand starts with proper initial positioning. You should be in the ready position facing the net with your racket in front of you.
Hold the throat of the racket with your non-hitting hand so that the head of the racket is perpendicular to the ground. Bend your knees slightly and lean forward with your weight on the balls of your feet so you can quickly adjust.
Next, you want to turn and position yourself with your non-hitting shoulder and hip turned towards the net or oncoming ball. Turn your shoulders simultaneously to the side of the oncoming ball. Do this as soon as possible to set up for the swing.
The stroke should be performed with your body turned sideways or facing towards the net post rather than perpendicular to the net. This will allow you to generate adequate power on the swing.
An exception to this is the open stance, which will be discussed later. If you chose to use an open stance, you should still point your toes towards the corner post.
2. Turn Your Body Early
The sooner you turn your body in the direction of the oncoming ball, the better. By setting up early you give your body more time to react and you have more time to prepare your shot.
Waiting until the last minute to turn your body results in having to make last-minute adjustments and just getting the ball over rather than hitting a more strategic shot.
If you’ve started in the ready position with the racket head held high and in front of you, you will already be set up with a natural bend of the wrist as you bring your racket back.
This way when you turn sideways and initiate the backswing, the head of the racket will be higher than the handle. Your wrist will also be bent back setting you up for a powerful forehand shot.
Rotation should be around your torso. Move your upper body as a unit as you turn sideways. At this point, you will be set up in what is referred to as the power position with your non-hitting arm extended in front of you.
3. Drop the Racket When Initiating Your Swing
There are two ways you can initiate the backswing. The first is to just bring the racket back. While this is perfectly fine in terms of technique, you can add power to your shot by “dropping” the racket first.
The dropping motion is an initial step prior to fully swinging through the ball. Rather than bringing the racket straight back, you bring it back higher with your hitting arm at about chest height.
Following this initial setup, and as you initiate your swing, drop the racket down quickly to a low position so that you can then follow through in a low to high motion forward.
The first three frames of the image below show how the drop swing works. First, the racket is positioned high and behind the body. Then in frames 2 and 3, you can see the racket drop a couple of feet before the forward upswing begins.
The drop swing will help you generate greater power. Using a dropping motion will add extra speed to your shot compared to bringing the racket straight back. It will also initiate the momentum needed to execute the low-to-high swing to follow.
4. Racket Lag
The moment you begin your arm swing forward to strike the ball, just after dropping your racket lower, is when racket lag should occur. Keep your wrist relaxed as you begin to move your arm forward.
This will create a natural bend in the wrist with the bottom of the racket handle facing forward, towards the ball. This is what is referred to as racket lag. It allows you to generate greater power and added topspin on the ball.
Image 3 below shows what racket lag looks like. The wrist is bent back with the bottom of the handle pointing towards the ball, just after the racket drop and at the start of the forward swing.
5. Use a Low to High Swing
While the forehand can be executed either as a flat shot, a backspin shot, or a topspin shot, the most commonly used technique today is the topspin shot. This is because it allows you to fully swing at the ball while keeping it in play.
In order to generate topspin, the forehand swing is executed from a low-high motion. As mentioned earlier, you should set up with the racket head high, drop the racket first, and then swing through from low to high.
Bend your knees and lean your torso toward the side you will be striking the ball from. You can see in the images above how the knees are bent in the first two frames and then as the forward swing begins, the body rises through contact.
When starting the swing, make sure your elbow is elevated and away from your body. Extend your arm through the point of contact.
It’s also important that you follow through fully on the arm swing. This is particularly important if you are hitting with topspin or a lot of pace.
One tendency players have is to slow down or even stop their swing after making contact with the ball. This will limit the power and topspin on the shot. Be sure to fully follow through.
6. Use Your Legs and Hips for Power
It’s important to remember that the forehand is generated as much from your arm movement as it is from your legs, shoulder blades, and your hips, and torso.
We’ve discussed the follow-through, these elements will play a pivotal role in completing your stroke. By using your legs and rotating your hips, you can add power to your stroke.
The forehand stroke starts by bending low, usually at about the time the ball bounces. Then as you perform the swing, you want to push up with your legs while the ball is rising towards you.
Simultaneously with this motion, you want to rotate your hips and torso to complete the swing. Your upper body should rotate as a unit around your torso.
7. The Stance
There are various stances used when performing the forehand swing. For most beginning players, the neutral stance is probably the best option.
In this stance, you will be turned sideways with your body perpendicular to the net. Your back foot should be roughly parallel to the net while your front foot should point towards the net post.
The closed stance is a more traditional method where the front foot and back foot are parallel to the net, requiring added rotation to complete the motion. While this is a perfectly sound way of playing the forehand, it is less used today.
The open stance, where the body is more parallel to the net, has gained popularity among professional-level players in recent years. It is an advanced stance that requires greater body control to execute, however.
The open stance can sometimes be used in games on very wide shots where the player may not have enough time to position themselves with their body turned sideways. It can also work for baseline hitters who rarely if ever approach the net.
8. Keep Your Upper Body Relaxed
While it may not seem initially intuitive, make sure that your upper body is completely relaxed. You want to generate most of your power from your legs, hips, and torso.
Your arm will, of course, provide some of the power on the swing. However, players often emphasize the arm swing far too much and do not use their legs and hips or their body weight to their advantage.
As you swing through, your hips should rotate. Your upper body should move as a unit with your non-hitting arm in front used for balance and orientation. If your upper body is relaxed, the rotation around the torso will come naturally.
9. The Forehand Finish
The final step in the forehand stroke is the finish. From the contact point, you want to make sure you finish all the way across your body.
Some players prefer to finish all the way above their shoulder. Others finish at an intermediate level at about shoulder height. Some finish below shoulder level.
Any of these approaches are fine. It all depends on what the circumstances of the shot call for (high ball vs. low ball, etc.) and what feels most natural to you as a player.
As you finish off your swing, make a mental note of where your elbow ends up. Ideally, your elbow should be pointing forward by the time you complete the stroke.
10. Recover as Soon As Possible
Remember that as soon as you complete your stroke, your opponent will be setting up for their next shot. You need to get back in a ready position as soon as possible so you can answer back.
If you play the shot with a neutral stance and weight forward you can either approach the net, taking advantage of the momentum, or step back off your front foot and adjust to the side as needed.
If you play with a more open stance, you will likely sidestep towards the center of the court after completing your shot. This does allow you to position yourself more quickly but at the cost of having to stay back at the baseline.
So far, we’ve broken down the mechanics of executing a forehand shot. Try to remember that at the end of the day, you are playing the ball. Regardless of what your opponent is doing on the court, you should be fully focused on the ball.
Think aggressively as you play the ball. Go after the ball. Don’t wait for it to come to you. By doing so you will shorten the amount of time your opponent has to recover and you will be able to generate more power on your shots.
Remember as well that the ball doesn’t care if you are using an open stance or a neutral stance. If the mechanics of your swing and execution are sound, you will get good results. But it all starts with good eye contact with the ball.
Keep your eyes locked on the ball from the time you initiate your swing to just after you make contact. It’s important that you keep your head down and in the direction of the oncoming ball. Don’t raise your head until after you’ve made contact.
If you raise your head too early, you will lose eye contact and will likely mishit the ball. At best, you might hit your shot outside the sweet spot. Good eye contact may very well be the most important factor in the proper execution of your forehand.
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