from the Tennis expert space

currently moderated by Richard Manson-Hing/Tennis Player

My not so short description of how to hit the modern tennis forehand like the top pros


How I teach the tennis forehand stroke (right-handed player) - Richard Manson-Hing, part-time amateur tennis coach


The modern game is faster, employing more power, depth and topspin whilst achieving unprecedented levels of consistency.

In order to absorb this increased pace, especially in the men's game, and then return the ball with more power and consistency, players on the pro tour have had to adapt their stroke technique.

I teach what is increasingly being referred to as the "Modern Professional ATP Style Forehand". This stroke style has a shorter swing path than previous generation forehand techniques yet produces greater racket head speed. Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal all employ this forehand technique to great effect.

It is my opinion that the pros on tour (as opposed to the coaches) determine how the modern forehand is hit. The pros evolve the game and the coaches analyze and teach the very best of the techniques the pros use.

There are many variations on how to hit the tennis forehand and as many descriptions on how to do it. The particular style I chose to teach is the result of listening to some of the best coaches in the world analyze the forehands of players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. In addition, to ensure that the description below represents as accurately as possible the strokes of the top pro players, I've matched it against many videos of their strokes found on the web. I have also relied heavily on the expert teachings of some of the best players and coaches in the game.

Whilst reading the following description it may help to remember the 5 sources of power in the tennis forehand - shoulder & hip rotation, forward momentum & weight transfer, loading, leverage from making contact out in front and racket speed.

1.  THE GRIP. First, I recommend a semi-western grip. This grip allows you to generate topspin while at the same time giving you the ability to hit higher bouncing balls at shoulder level. Less extreme grips will give you more drive but you get less topspin and ability to hit high bouncing balls. More extreme grips generates lots of topspin but suffers from the inability to create drive and handle low bouncing balls.

2.  READY POSITION. Racket at ready position. 90 degree bend at the wrist, elbow raised to keep elbow away from body. Racket points upwards towards sky or slightly towards left side of body to make it easier to raise the elbow. Non-hitting hand lightly grasping the throat of the racket.

3.  SPLIT STEP AND EARLY PREPARATION. Initiate split step just before the opponent strikes the ball. Your feet should return to the ground the moment opponent strikes the ball. Unit turn begins immediately after split step.

4.  DURING UNIT TURN - RACKET & FEET. After split step turn shoulders and hips to the right without changing the orientation of the racket. Do this whilst pivoting on your outside foot (the right foot) and moving your weight onto that foot. Racket continues to point vertically upwards or slanted slightly towards left side of body. It is important to note that the racket is taken back because of the body rotation during the unit turn. The arm does not swing the racket back independently of the shoulders during the unit turn - racket, arm and shoulders turn together as a unit. It is also important to note that the right elbow must be kept up and away from the body. It may help to use the non-hitting hand to "push" the racket (and thus the right arm/elbow) away from your body during the unit turn (think of "nudging" a friend who is standing next to you with your elbow). During the turn, the non-hitting hand which is grasping the throat of the racket is kept more or less at shoulder level. This ensures that you will be able to keep the racket pointed vertically upwards with a 90 degree bend at the wrist. Lowering the non-hitting hand will cause the angle at the wrist to straighten out resulting in a sub-optimal racket orientation at the pat-the-dog position. Less racket head speed would likely be the result. In addition, by keeping the non-hitting hand at shoulder level during the unit turn, we can ensure we get a small amount of racket drop at the far end of the backswing just before the racket needs to pull forward.. The small but not insignificant racket drop will create some additional racket head speed. With respect to the slight slant towards the left side of the body during the turn, if you do this my advice is not to angle the racket too much towards the net. Doing this will make it difficult to execute the "pull" to the contact point.

5.  Racket at end of unit turn. The end of the unit turn occurs when the non-hitting hand which is holding the throat of the racket gets in line with the right hip. Chest pointing towards side fence. Racket 90 degree bend at the wrist, points upwards towards sky or pointing slightly towards left of body. Hitting surface of string bed pointing towards the side fence. Elbow up, away from body and pointing back (towards the back fence) in chicken wing configuration (as if you're going to nudge your friend standing next to you with your elbow). Keeping the elbow up and pointing back  in this fashion helps keep the racket, elbow and wrist from going behind the body. Not going behind the body keeps the arc of the backswing short.

6.  At end of unit turn, non-hitting hand lets go of racket immediately (not before the unit turn is fully completed). Non-hitting hand extends out fully parallel to the net to help ensure that the shoulders stay turned longer and does not "open up" too soon. Left shoulder points towards target, chest pointing towards side fence.

7. At the same time position the racket diagonally at a 45 degree angle out to the side of body. Racket and string bed faced down and parallel to the ground. The racket head placed in relation to the wrist like this facilitates the "flip" of the racket described later below. Palm of hand and racket string bed pointing downwards as if placing the racket on the top of a table or "patting the head of a dog". The forearm points inward towards body and elbow is positioned elevated and away from the body. There may be a slight bend in the elbow. It is important to note that the wrist, and elbow never swings behind the body. Wrist and elbow always stays in front of the body or at most in line with the body. This signifies the end of the racket take back. A long looping type of racket take back is not necessary with this style of stroke. A distinguishing feature of this stroke is that the arc of the backswing is short as the elbow and wrist does not swing back behind the body and any looping in the swing path can be smaller than with previous generation forehand styles. Note that swinging the racket to the inside (behind your back) makes it very difficult to keep the racket face pointing downwards making it difficult to produce the "flip" spoken of below. Another point to note is that this swing path does facilitate "getting below the ball" as will be seen below.

8. During unit turn pivot (or step out) on outside foot and position feet in open stance configuration (for majority of baseline drives). Transfer weight onto outside foot (right foot).

9.  Loading outside foot. Weight at end of unit turn loaded onto outside foot (right foot for right-handed players).

10.  Body posture before pull forward - eyes on ball, chest high, hips up (belly button out), weight loaded onto outside foot, knee bent (like you are sitting), non-hitting hand extended out parallel to baseline, hitting hand at "pat the dog position"

11.  Racket pull forward - the flip. With the palm of the hand and racket string bed still pointing downwards, initiate the racket pull by beginning to rotate shoulders (and hips) towards the ball while pushing off from toes of loaded outside foot. Pull the butt cap of the racket towards the ball. Pulling the butt cap feels like pulling a rope or garden hose. The act of pulling the butt cap towards the ball will cause the wrist to pronate. The head of the racket will drop back and down under the ball. The racket head does a kind of "flip". This "flip" action is where most of the incredible racket head speed of this style of stroke is generated. This is the other distinguishing feature of this style of stroke - the racket head moves faster. Maintaining a slightly loose wrist and hold on the racket allows this flip to occur more efficiently and produces a quicker "flip" thus creating greater racket head speed leading to more power. It is important to note that prior to the pull forward you must not turn the racket and wrist up to point the string bed towards the oncoming ball. Also, you must keep the racket head above the wrist. Turning up the racket head and/or dropping the racket head will not result in an optimal "flip" of the racket head, thus robbing you of racket head speed. Another point to note is that you will not be swinging the racket head towards the ball - you will be pulling the butt cap and rotating while keeping an approx. 90 degree angle at the wrist. At contact, the string bed will be oriented correctly to hit the ball automatically as a result of the racket pull and body rotation.

12.  Position of elbow during racket pull forward - the elbow must be kept away from the body and must not come in towards the hip. I prefer the elbow to straighten out on the pull-forward so that the arm is fully extended (Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal does this but Novak Djokovic employs a slight bend at the elbow throughout the stroke). Note that the entire racket take back and pull forward to contact occurs with the wrist and elbow out in front of the body (otherwise known as the "outside") and never rotates back behind the body thus ensuring that the racket travels along a short arc. You will also notice that the racket head travels back then forward along a straight line. This is great for improved timing, power and consistency.

13. Rotate forward to contact. Raise heel of outside foot and push off from toes. At same time straighten outside leg like you are standing from a sitting position. The fulcrum of rotation is the toes of the outside foot. Rotate/push right hip towards target. I find it sometimes useful to think of pushing my belly button up and out  towards the target. This helps prevent bending over at the waist which is a rotation killer and also helps transfer the power generated from my loaded outside foot into my torso and then into my hitting arm. Prior to pulling forward keep the non-hitting arm extended out parallel to the baseline as long as possible to prevent "opening up" too soon. Bring non-hitting arm in towards the body as you rotate forward to contact.

14.  RETRACTION OF NON-HITTING ARM. When attempting to bring the non-hitting arm in towards the body, make sure it is retracted somewhat at shoulder level. To get a feel for what this movement is like, follow through at shoulder level and catch the racket with the non-hitting hand. It is important to not just let the arm drop down to the side of your body. Oftentimes this motion will inhibit the shoulder and hips from rotating freely around during the pull forward. Regarding the timing of the retraction, start retracting the arm the moment the racket pull forward is initiated.

15.  Body posture during pull forward and rotation to contact point - head still, eyes on ball, chest high, hips up (belly button up and out), toes of outside foot pushing off from ground, heel of outside foot raised off the ground, leaning into the ball. The way you setup your the feet and body position is important for this phase of the stroke. Body weight needs to move in the direction where you want to hit the ball. It is important not to "pull off the ball" by falling off onto the left foot which will rob the ball of forward power. For an "open stance" stroke this will take practice!

16.  Ball contact.  Contact is way out in front of body with arm fully extended and elbow straightened. Elbow up and away from the body, forearm pointing in towards the body. It is ok to employ a slight bend at elbow during this phase (like the way Novak Djokovic does it). Extend through the contact point straight out to the target before swinging around to follow through with a windshield-like swing path. The 90 degree bend at the wrist starts to release and straighten out as contact is made and the stroke enters the follow-through phase. It is important to extend the arm fully - this style of forehand stroke benefits greatly from full arm extension and hitting way out in front of the body. It is important to note that allowing the wrist to straighten out at contact and come over the ball in a windshield-like fashion will produce the optimum racket head speed and topspin. This straightening out of the wrist in a windshield-like swing path is made possible by the way the racket was taken back with racket face down and racket/wrist/elbow staying on the "outside" of the body (in front of the body and not swinging behind your back).

17.  Position of head and eyes during swing through contact point - head and eyes are focused on point of contact. Look over right shoulder at point of contact as body rotates through contact and follow through.

18.  Chest position at contact. At contact, chest is fully facing the net/target.

19.  Racket string bed orientation at contact. Racket string bed faces slightly angled down from vertical position (maybe 5-10 degrees). This small downward angle is known to be instrumental in producing optimal topspin.

20.  Follow through phase. You can now begin to release the 90 degree bend at the wrist as you enter the follow through phase of the stroke (sometimes called finishing the stroke). Continue rotating and decelerating the racket after contact. After contact, the wrist turns over (supernates) and wrist angle releases causing the racket to follow a windshield wiper-like path.

21.  Position of the racket at end of follow through - racket head points towards back of the fence, butt cap, elbow and right shoulder points towards target. Racket ends up anywhere from just above the waist to above the head. Typically the racket ends up at shoulder height.

22.  Position of head at end of follow through - head is still and eyes looking over right shoulder and focused on contact point.

23.  Continuous swing motion. Note that ideally, from the moment the non-hitting hand is released from the throat of the racket at the end of the unit turn to the end of the follow through the racket does not stop moving. It is important to note though that trying to "time the ball" too perfectly can cause the stroke to be "late" resulting in loss of power and consistency. The rule of thumb I use is that the racket should be fully back the moment the ball bounces on the court. My advice is that it is better to be too early with the backswing than too late! The right timing will take lots of practice to achieve!

24.  Position of the feet - open, neutral and closed stances. Which stance to use in any given situation varies player to player, the particular situation on the court and the particular footwork pattern the player is attempting to execute. For example, some footwork patterns require the player to "step in" with the left foot and employ forward weight transfer to drive the ball. Notwithstanding where you choose to place your left foot, in most instances, I teach players to load their weight onto their outside foot (the right foot for right-handed players), and drive the stroke off that foot. It is easier to rotate your hips and shoulders through the stroke if you are pivoting on the right foot. Once rotation is no longer needed, players can "fall" onto their left foot to recover or to finish their forward weight transfer. Note that "falling off" onto the left foot too early in the stroke will rob the stroke of forward power and consistency will also suffer. I have also noticed that players find it easier to build consistency by hitting primarily off the outside foot. It is important to note that employing an open stance tends to "open up" the right side of the body too soon. Therefore it is imperative that a full unit turn is achieved and the non-hitting hand is left extended out parallel to the net until the very last minute. Also open stances can make it a little awkward to move your body weight in the direction of the shot which is absolutely necessary to achieve the optimum power and consistency. Make sure to raise your heel to allow your hips to rotate forward and your weight to move into the ball. It takes practice!

25.  Personal experience. I learned to play tennis in the mid 60's. My personal experience learning and teaching this style of stroke is that it is easier to learn and easier to produce power with. In addition, it seems much easier to time this stroke making it easier to develop consistency.

26.  I get my inspiration for this style of forehand stroke from pros on tour like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. And tennis coaches like Nick Bolletieri and Rick Macci. You can find several YouTube examples of this type of stroke in the Bookmarks section of my tennis persona page -

27.  For forehand fundamentals see my favorite tennis instruction site:

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