4 Steps to Stroke Production

All strokes in tennis, and I mean all strokes, share 4 key elements. While the specifics of implementation vary for each stroke, at a fundamental level, high quality ball striking requires four things things.

You must be able to:

  1. Generate force
  2. In a direction
  3. Through a point in space
  4. While maintaining your string angle

That’s it. Mastering any tennis stroke – forehand, backhand, serve, it doesn’t matter – is simply a matter of mastering these four skills.

1. Generate Force

Often, in my lower level adult classes, a player will receive a floater which lands well inside the service box and bounces up above their shoulders, and they… can’t put it away. They aren’t even close to being able to put it away.

Tomas Machac slapping away a short forehand to hold serve against Casper Ruud in the 1st round of AO 2023. The jumping forehand is a great litmus test for a player’s athletic understanding of forehand force production.

The issue – they simply cannot generate enough force. To a person who’s just watched tennis on TV, it looks like an easy shot, but in reality, it isn’t. Generating force is difficult. It doesn’t matter how “easy” a shot is, there still exists the fundamental challenge of coordinating your body to swing the racket fast enough to hit the ball hard.

So that’s our first step: learn to actually generate force.

My favorite tool for learning force production is the weighted shadow swing. By adding weight to your swing, you force your body to recruit its strongest muscles to perform the movement. Once you’ve primed yourself by swinging something heavy, go back to your racket. It’ll feel light and whippy, because you’re now accelerating it in an efficient way. Swing something heavy frequently enough, and that way of swinging, the way that generates a lot of force, will become habit.

2. In a direction

It’s not enough to just generate force; we need to generate that force in a direction.

What if I want to aim my shot, instead of hitting it randomly? What if I want to play high over the net on one shot, then flatten out the next?

These tasks require not just force, but directed force.

Iga Swiatek striking a cross-court winner against Julie Niemeier en route to winning her 1st round of AO 2023. She is able to generate immense force, diagonally up and right-to-left, while moving to her right, without the time to step into the court.

Once you’re capable of getting something heavy to swing quickly, the next step is to pick a vector through space and swing the weight along that vector. As an example – a right handed player trying to improve their cross-court rally forehand will pick a vector that has a right-to-left angle to it, and is diagonally up, because that’s the direction of maximal force when producing a high-margin cross-court shot.

Practice every direction you’ll use. Swing straight, swing diagonally up, swing diagonally down. Swing right-to-left, swing left-to-right.

Practicing force production in every direction will craft your stroke into a truly flexible one. Some players hit very hard cross-court, but can’t coordinate their kinetic chain when hitting down-the-line. Others can easily hit high, heavy, deep forehands, but have no ability to flatten it out to attack a short ball.

The more vectors through which you can generate force, the more versatile your game will be, and vice versa.

3. Through a point in space

This next piece of the stroke production puzzle is what transforms a merely good stroke into an elite one. Can you generate force, in a direction, through a specific point in space?

The next step on our shadow swings is to practice swinging along every vector, through different points. Can you generate force, in every direction, when the contact point is a little too close to you? Can you generate force, in every direction, when the contact point is a little too far away? What about if it’s low, down at your knees? Waist height? Shoulder height?

When Sonnwoo Kwon blasts this forehand winner past Jack Draper to take the first set of the second Adelaide International this year (en route to winning the match, and the title), he falls away from the ball, raising his left foot. He is directing his force based on what he’s seeing, which tells him to lean away from the ball to produce his desired strike.

Just like producing force in any direction increases your versatility, the ability to do so through a wide array of points further increases it.

Probably the most under-discussed part of elite tennis is the role vision plays in this step. While we’re actually playing, we need to use our eyes to send that force in a direction through a specific point in space – the ball.

Your tracking informs you:

  1. Where the ball is
  2. How it’s moving

Once you’ve mastered generating force in a direction, it is your vision that informs you where that force in a direction needs to be created. Practice swinging hard through every contact point imaginable. That way, no matter what you see as the ball comes off the ground, you’ll be able to rip it.

4. While Maintaining Your String Angle

There’s one caveat to the previous three steps – on non-overhead shots, we need to take our swing in such a way that, as the racket is flying through contact (including the brief moments before and after), the angle of the strings barely changes. This creates fault tolerance – if we miss execute the stroke by a little bit, it’ll still succeed.

Tennis is difficult. On almost every shot, a small fault will occur. You’ll be a little early, or a little late. You’ll misidentify the contact point by an inch or two, or misread the ball’s speed slightly. World class strokes do not fail when only a small fault occurs. Any stroke that fails if execution is only slightly off is not match usable.

Novak Djokovic contacts the ball in the middle frame, but were he to mis-time this ball, striking it instead from his position in the left or right frame, it would still go in. The shot would be lower quality – left frame contact would send the ball wide right and low, while the right frame contact would send it wide left and high, but both would likely go into the court, since his string angle barely changes through the three frames.

So how do we manage this string angle maintenance?

When learning to swing hard, throw the racket out in front of you, and pay attention to the way your hand is rotating. Maintain a loose grip, 3-5/10 grip tension, with slight wrist extension. That’s pretty much it – just experiment until you find it. There will be a part of the swing, out away from your body, where the racket will be whipping through the air fastest, and the hand will rotate in such a way that the string angle doesn’t change. That’s your contact zone. Adjust the way you hold the racket if necessary – it’s better to alter your grip to fit your swing, than your swing to fit your grip.

Memorize where, in relation to your body, this high velocity flick, through which the string angle remains constant, is happening. Swing your racket again, and again, and again. Get familiar with this location in space, because, ultimately, this is the part of your swing you will use to strike the ball.

This is the part of the swing you need to be able to transpose along any vector. Practice getting this flick to happen right-to-left, left-to-right, low-to-high, high-to-low, etc, and make sure you can do all of those through a wide array of points in space.


  1. Pat Flynn
    January 23, 2023

    Welcome back!
    Another great article with lots of practical tips. Looking forward to trying them out.

  2. Ruggero Sale
    February 3, 2023

    Great article!

    Will shadow swing right away 🙂

    Have you considered to do short videos to supplement some articles?
    I’m sure it would add another dimension.

    Keep up the great work.

    1. Johnny (FTF)
      February 4, 2023

      Yes! I have considered it, and it would definitely enhance the articles. I currently don’t have the time, but that is in the site’s future.

  3. Matthew Day
    January 25, 2024

    My favourite tennis website by far! Please consider writing an article on the sequencing of body movements and a fault tolerant backhand contact point video:-)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *