Waking up to the facts and myths of winning tennis.
Does Good Form Guarantee Powerful Shots?
JULY 2 0 1 1
In “Cup of Joe,” we want to evaluate accepted methods of how tennis should be played and coached in the context of the modern game. Some readers may conclude that many of the accepted ways of thinking are now obsolete; other readers may feel their importance is reinforced. Either way, we want to hear from you—about this current topic and on other topics you’d like us to address. Email me at email@example.com and we will try to publish your comments in future columns.
By Joe Dinoffer
USPTA and PTR Master Professional
layers invest long hours of practice over many years at great expense to develop good form. After all, we all want to look our best on the court. However, part of “looking good” also is to be able to hit with some power. Hitting the ball hard is fun as well as effective since it robs opponents of the time they need to prepare, keeps them off balance and forces errors. In fact, tennis players are so concerned with ball speed and power that one of the first and most long-lasting innovations in pro tennis has been the use of radar to measure serve speed, and even the speed of various other shots. Television commentators use power and speed as a discussion topic all the time. The purpose of this column is to discuss form in relationship to power and to see if looking good is all it’s cracked up to be. In other words, do picture-perfect strokes automatically evolve into fast racquet-head speed and power? Sadly, the answer is no. If you want to know the missing ingredient, read on.
Q: On video the pro I work with says my forehand looks picture-perfect and that I have good form. He even showed me the video of my forehand next to a top ATP touring pro and they looked about the same. But I still can’t hit with power. What’s missing? A:
If you’re using a regular video camera, you may have a hard time seeing the subtle differences in your swing and the swing of a top ATP touring pro. The missing element that is present in their strokes is a high degree of swing speed. What does a swing look like that has a big potential for swing speed? One of the elements that shows up in photos and on slow-motion video is the “lay back” of the wrist in the backswing. The pros hold the racquet grip very loose and the wrist acts like a hinge that swings back (see photo above) and then whips forward. This little whiplike action can generate racquet-head speeds of 60 to 70 miles per hour.
Q: I thought just the loop and drop of the C-shape forehand swing is sufficient to get power.
A: It can be, but only in conjunction with the
wrist action we just described. And, of course, the entire arm needs to be loose as well since the three “hinges” or joints in the arm (shoulder, elbow and wrist) need to work in concert with one another for maximum efficiency. So, developing good swing shape, such as a loop or C-shaped swing on your forehand, is just the start. However, if your strokes are relatively tight and you end up with a slow swing speed, you will not hit with the pop that a loose grip and arm can generate. The good news is that, like the strokes that you’ve developed, the whiplike action of the powerful strokes of pro tennis players can also be learned, even though they are seldom taught.
‘In the old days, wood racquets had a small head and a relatively small sweetspot. The slightest off-center hit caused the racquet to twist in a player’s hand.’ allow for the racquet acceleration needed to take all players, juniors and adults alike, to the next level.
For powerful and more effortless shots, loosen up for a more whiplike action on your shots, as long as they are grounded in solid fundamentals. Racquet speed comes from a combination of sources, the most essential being
the relaxed hand and arm to create a slightly whippy yet controlled swing. If you can swing with a loose arm, you’ll get much of the racquet speed needed for more powerful tennis. 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.
Q: But I have been told not to hit with a lot of wrist. Isn’t this correct? A: Yes and no. In the old days, wood racquets had a small head and a relatively small sweetspot. The slightest off-center hit caused the racquet to twist in a player’s hand. The natural coaching instruction was to squeeze the grip of the racquet firmly at contact to stabilize this torque or twisting of the racquet. The problem today is that this instruction still prevails, even if it is outdated, since the racquets of today are much more stable and are also lighter than ever before. Q: So, if the racquet is lighter, that makes it easier to swing fast, right? A: Yes, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Wood racquets were heavier, and the extra mass converted into more power transferred to the ball. To get similar power, players need to swing these lighter racquets faster. The problem arises when players are taught to grip the racquet too firmly, effectively slowing down the racquet-head speed instead of speeding it up. Q: If a relaxed grip combined with a controlled yet whippy swing is essential to generate faster racquet-head speeds, why haven’t I been taught this skill? A: Certified tennis teachers in the U.S. are
in an awkward position. In the U.S., the vast majority of players play recreationally and most recreational adult players compete in doubles leagues. Consistency and ball control are the top priorities for these types of players, their primary customers. The downside of this approach is that players can plateau with a fairly high level of control and placement, but they will never master the ability to compete at higher levels that require more powerful shots. After all, whatever habits we have today will generally determine the player we will become tomorrow. The best would be a healthy combination of both—a consistent, sound swing that also is relaxed enough to www.tennislife.com
Tennis Life Magazine article from July 2011