Here are the answers to 10 common questions relating to the forehand groundstroke.
- Are there right or wrong grips? There are not right or wrong grips but there are better grips depending on what you want to do with the ball and the type of ball you are responding to. The Continental grip is a better choice when hitting with underspin and sidespin. A Semi-Western grip is a better choice when hitting for topspin or responding to higher bouncing balls. The Eastern grip is a great starting grip and is a good versatile choice for a player who wants to maintain the same grip for all forehands.
- What is the function of the wrist? The wrist should be laid back positioning the racquet at a 90 degree angle to the forearm (particularly when hitting for power and/or topspin) but the wrist should be firm at the point of contact and through the hitting zone. The wrist can break or bend in the relaxation phase of the finish of the stroke but should not bend or whip at the point of contact. The exceptions are ulnar flexion of the wrist as you drop the racquet head at lowest point of the stroke pattern and radial flexion of the wrist when generating topspin with a windshield wiper stroke pattern. Radial flexion of the wrist is often more prevalent when contacting the ball late.
- What is a radial flexion of the wrist? Radial flexion is when you draw your thumb up and inward on the same plane as your forearm. The opposite is ulnar flexion. The classic example of radial flexion is Nadal when he whips his racquet up over his left shoulder. The windshield wiper stroke pattern also incorporates a radial flexion of the wrist.
- What is a windshield wiper stroke pattern? With the windshield wiper forehand, the racquets swings vertically up and then across the body with the racquet strings facing out to the target throughout the hitting phase and finish. The stroke pattern requires a lower racquet head finish down by the side of your body. With a more classic stroke pattern, the racquet stays on edge with the tip of the racquet pointing out to the target before the racquet head turns over and finishes above or near the shoulder.
- How does the upper body rotate? The kinetic chain for the forehand includes a coiling and uncoiling action beginning with the legs and driving up into the hips. The upper body rotates to a point but then it’s important to lock the hips (and decelerate the upper body rotation) to allow the arm and lagging hand and racquet to catch up and accelerate through the contact phase. Any further rotation of the hips occurs past the hitting phase of the stroke.
- What is a unit turn? To properly prepare the racquet to the set position, it’s important to turn your hips, shoulder and arms as a unit. Bringing the racquet back first and then rotating the hips and shoulders disrupts the continuous flow of the swing pattern and tends to lead to over rotation and a backswing that is too big and difficult to bring through on a timely basis.
- Why is important to extend the racquet out through the hitting zone? Extending the racquet out through the hitting zone ensures more accuracy and precision with the groundstrokes. Extension and length on the groundstrokes provides the hitter with multiple opportunities for the ball to make contact with the racquet face aligned to the intended target.
- What are the control variables for the forehand groundstroke? The primary areas of focus and the variables controlled by the hitter are direction (cross-court or down-the-line), depth (as defined by proximity to the baseline), height over the net or net clearance, spin (topspin, underspin and sidespin) and the degree of spin, pace, trajectory and to a lesser extent court positioning at the point of contact (where on the court the hitter takes the ball on the bounce).
- In terms of mechanics, what are the influences that dictate the quality and characteristics of the shot? To keep it simple, there are three basic influences. First is the path of the swing (i.e. low to high), second is the angle of the racquet face at the point of contact and third is the speed of the racquet face at the point of contact.
- How do you hit an underspin (or slice) forehand groundstroke? In reference to the three influences mentioned above, one, the path of the swing is from low to high and outside-in (versus low to high and inside-out for topspin). Two, the angle of the racquet face is open at the point of contact. The degree to which the racquet face is open at the point of contact determines the degree of spin. Three, as with the topspin forehand, the racquet face should be accelerating through the hitting zone. Acceleration of the racquet face adds extra bite and spin making the stroke more difficult handle.
There you have it, the answers to ten of your most pressing questions on the forehand groundstroke.