The modern forehand at the professional level, especially on the men’s side of the game, is typified by parabolic swing shapes, leg explosion and hip rotation, mid-air ball striking, lower, reversed and inverted finishes—and most of all—elasticity.
Looking back at the evolution of tennis technique over the past 30-40 years, the dramatic change is striking. In the 1970’s and 1980’s for example, the typical forehand technique was mostly linear, grounded and relatively rigid, with an emphasis on weight shift, firm wrist and extension out to a high finish in front or around the neck.
What’s remarkable is that even with the enormous change at the top level of the game, coaches still teach the outdated forehand mechanics of the 1970’s and 80’s to young children, and then try to sell it to players and parents as “Learning solid fundamentals.”
This is a joke.
If your kid is stuck with a coach or club that insists on teaching technique from a bygone era, don’t just walk away—run—and find a teaching environment that emphasizes modern technique and builds players for the future of the game.
While it’s possible to learn an old fashioned stiff technique and then later on morph it into a modern, elastic stroke, why risk it? And why put yourself or your child through such an inefficient learning process?
It’s much faster and better to learn an elastic and whippy forehand based on the modern model from day one. Ingrain one motor program in the player, a motor engram that doesn’t have to be upgraded or changed later.
In Spain, there are still coaches in the old guard—even legends like Luis Bruguera and Toni Nadal—who stress the “old school” fundamentals first, but many in the younger generation of coaches are embracing a more modern style of technical development.
In my school and at my summer camp, we try to focus on building the forehand foundation in this modern Spanish way, using special exercises from Spain—but wasting as little time as possible—and preparing the technique to allow a powerful and massive RPM shot in the future. This continues the classic Spanish philosophy of making the heavy topspin forehand the primary weapon of the player—but uses a more efficient method than has been traditionally used in Spain.
Toni Nadal calls the forehand “the most important shot in the game.” I agree that it is important—maybe not the most important shot—but critical. However, I want to develop the essential motor program from day one, rather than build one motor program and then wait for a second one to replace the first.
Back here in the United States, I see so many kids under 10-years-old who have been taught stiff, linear forehands, closed stances and follow-throughs to the ear or neck—often from mediocre Red-Orange-Green U10 programs. This style of teaching ruins more forehands than it helps. Most players end up scarred for life with outdated form, overly flat shots and difficulty generating a heavy ball.
Sometimes, hitting flat and hard can work on the indoor hard courts of New York and New England, but players are in for a rude surprise if they ever aspire to play well on outdoor slow hard or clay courts, or on the red dirt in Europe.
Next time you are taking a class or watching a kids’ class, observe if the technique being taught reflects the modern game or if it’s from the old school textbook. You should look for the following keys:
►Open and semi-open stances taught early alongside closed stances
►Parabolic swing path with pronounced arm pronation and rotation (windshield wiper movement) in the forearm after contact
►Controlled explosions with players allowed to leave the ground
►Good hip rotation creating lag in the racquet and a whipping effect in the forward swing
►A loose, elastic arm
►Inverted finish (racquet tip pointing down) with the racquet frequently wrapping around the side of shoulder, waist or even the hip
►Significant topspin generated
Make sure your coach understands modern biomechanics and can teach the modern forehand clearly and efficiently.
You or your player will improve faster with this approach rather than learning outdated fundamentals first.
Chris Lewit, a former number one for Cornell and pro circuit player, coaches in the New York City area and also runs a high-performance boarding summer camp in Southern Vermont. He specializes in training aspiring junior tournament players using progressive Spanish and European training methods. His best-selling book, Secrets of Spanish Tennis, has helped coaches and players worldwide learn how to train the Spanish way. He may be reached by phone at (914) 462-2912, e-mail ChrisLewit@gmail.com or visit ChrisLewit.com.