Relax for a Powerful In “Relax for Power and Control” in the June issue of TL, Daryl D. Fisher said, “The most overlooked and under-taught factors for tennis players trying to achieve their full potential is relaxing their hands and watching or tracking the ball.” The following article on topspin forehands is the first in a three-part instructional series that explains how to add power to your ground strokes and serves through relaxation.
all speed comes from racket head speed. And racket head speed is best generated from a relaxed arm and hands—not the vice-like death grip that I see all too often at the recreational level of play. Use the following relaxation checkpoints to help you execute a powerful topspin forehand.
Checkpoint #1: Ready Position In the ready position, your non-racket hand is the key to relaxation. Generally speaking, advanced tennis players simply rest their racket hand on the grip in the topspin forehand position. However, the nonracket hand is supporting the full weight of the racket. Some players (like Roger Federer) are so relaxed that they even twirl their rackets in this position. However, while I agree that twirling your racket as you wait to return serve can help you relax, I do not recommend that you habitually twirl your racket in the middle of points between each shot.
Checkpoint #2: Set-Up
Checkpoint #1: Ready Position
Checkpoint #2: Set-Up The set-up takes place once you’ve identified the incoming ball will be a forehand shot. Keep in mind that, generally speaking, the set-up should be completed before the opponent’s ball crosses the net. The main issue is to perform your set-up primarily with your non-racket hand. And, yes, once again, keep your racket hand as relaxed as possible. There are multiple set-up positions that are absolutely fine and fully functional (just look at the compact set-up of Andre Agassi as compared to the large looping set-up of Fernando Gonzalez). Remember: the two purposes of the set-up are to turn your shoulders to be able to freely and quickly move into position and to consistently set your racket into a position that will become the start of what I like to call the “drop and swing.”
Checkpoint #3: Drop and Swing While many players who grew up playing on clay take large and long backswings, most coaches would probably agree that a fairly compact swing has many advantages—not the least of which is a better chance at developing a solid return of serve and the ability to better handle hard-hit balls. The size of your racket’s drop depends primarily on your desired spin. A flatter ball needs less of a drop, since more of a drop allows for increased brushing and a corresponding increase in topspin.
Checkpoint #3: Drop and Swing
Topspin Forehand Note: While there will usually be some sort of pause in the set-up position, the “drop” position has absolutely no pause. The photo for Checkpoint #3 shows the “double bend” in the hitting arm. For those unfamiliar with this term, it simply describes when the hitting arm’s elbow is bent and the wrist of the hitting arm is in the laid back position. However, the motion from the set-up through the contact and to the follow-through is 100 percent continuous. In fact, at the most advanced levels, it is not only continuous but also the racket head continues to accelerate well past the point of contact. Try thinking of it as dropping the racket to get more “pop” on the ball. In short, “Drop and pop.”
Checkpoint #4: Contact In the past, firming up at contact was the gold standard of coaching tips. Today, even mainstay instruction like this is being challenged. I interviewed about a dozen former touring pros and coaches of competitive players, and asked the question about relaxation at three different stages of the topspin forehand groundstroke. Generally speaking, all were in agreement that the ideal is full relaxation prior to contact and after contact. Whether to relax fully at the point of contact or to firm up slightly or moderately is the only point of contention. The best advice came from John Yandell, founder of tennisplayer.net as well as a world-class videographer and tennis researcher. Yandell advised, “Keep
By Joe Dinoffer
the grip as relaxed as possible to generate maximum swing speed while still controlling the ball.”
Checkpoint #5: Finish If you watch slow-motion forehands of the top ten men and women tennis players in the world, you’ll see numerous finish positions or follow-throughs. The question that begs to be asked is: “Which follow-through is the best?” The answer—which is that it depends on how much spin is being imparted on the ball, the arc of the ball and also the player’s grip—dismays those seeking a single specific response. However, there is one point of agreement: Be as relaxed as possible with little to no grip tension at all. So the next time you’re on the court, relax your upper body and hands. You’ll end up with more “pop” on your shots. Your opponents may not like your new power, but it can make tennis more enjoyable (and successful) than ever for you. Joe Dinoffer is a Master Professional in both the PTR and USPTA, a distinction awarded to only a handful in the tennis industry. He has published numerous books and videotapes, and is a frequent speaker at tennis conferences around the world. For more information, visit www.oncourtoffcourt.com.
Checkpoint #4: Contact
Checkpoint #5: Finish