There’s one defining aspects of Carlos Alcaraz’s world class forehand that often gets overlooked – generous use of gravity. Carlos’s unique mechanics are precisely the result of this technical decision, so let’s dive in and analyze.
The High Elbow Follow-Through
Ever notice that Carlos Alcaraz has higher elbow than most while following-through?
That high elbow gives us a clue as to what’s happening during his forward swing. Recall from The Fault Tolerant Forehand that the follow-through is a diagnostic tool for tennis players and coaches; it doesn’t matter in-and-of itself:
As far as contact itself is concerned, the follow-through physically, literally doesn’t matter, because it transpires after the ball is already gone. We only discuss it and evaluate it at all because it can give us useful information as to what happened during the hitting phase. But, again, the follow-through itself doesn’t affect the swing. It’s merely a diagnostic tool at our disposal.The Fault Tolerant Forehand. “A Brief Comment on Follow-Through.” Page 107.
So what does the high elbow indicate about Carlos’s forward swing?
While he’s exploding forward, Carlos Alcaraz allows gravity to pull his racket down far more than most players do. The high elbow follow-through is the result of that exaggerated downward hand movement. Because he lets his racket drop lower than most during his forward swing, his racket flicks up higher than most during his follow-through.
Carlos Alcaraz vs Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic has one of the most fault tolerant forehands in the world, and though he does employ some gravity on the shot, he doesn’t utilize it nearly as aggressively as Carlos does.
Below is a comparison of Carlos and Novak each hitting a chest height forehand. Their final preparation positions, pictured below, look pretty similar – they each prepare their hand at a similar height with respect to the expected contact point.
Once the forward explosion starts, though, the significant difference in gravity usage shines through. Pictured next is the lowest the hand gets at any point during the forward swing, and we can see that Carlos’s hand gets significantly lower than Novak’s.
Carlos barely resists gravity at all during his forward swing. He allows the racket to fall down a generous amount, and then lets it bounce off the bottom and flick back up through his target. Novak, on the other hand, drives the racket primarily forward during his swing, resisting most (but not all) of the gravity, and creating a much more diagonally straight, rather than down-then-up, swing trajectory.
Remember that both are playing nearly identical contact points here. It’s surprising when looking at the mid-swing hand positions, but both swings finish right at chest height – Carlos’s racket just travels a much longer down-then-up trajectory to get there.
Should I Use Gravity?
Carlos Alcaraz has one of the best forehands in the world, and Carlos Alcaraz aggressively harnesses gravity during that stroke.
Novak Djokovic also has one of the best forehands in the world, and Novak Djokovic is much more conservative with his gravity usage (as is Roger Federer).
The answer, like the answer all questions in this class, is to experiment. There are hundreds of world class players that each employ gravity to their own degree. Figure out what works for you.
You’ll notice that there’s nothing core to the forehand that Carlos and Novak do differently from each other. Both prepare early, create generous elbow space, place their hand off to the side, and wind their hips and core away from the target. Both then explosively rotate their hips and core back towards the target while relaxing their hand, they allow the forearm to supinate and the wrist to lag back, and keep their gaze still through contact.
The only difference is that Carlos lets his hand drop farther, bounce more off the bottom of that drop, and then flick up higher during his follow-through, than Novak does.
There’s no “right” and “wrong,” in tennis. In some cases, there is certainly “more efficient” or “less efficient,” but, often, certain mechanics are merely tradeoffs, rather than objectively better or worse. Gravity usage is one such tradeoff, and you should experiment with it as such.
May 7, 2022
Dont you think Carlos is just applying more topspin on this shot? I am pretty sure there are pictures of Novak, Roger etc. where they go as low as Carlos. When they want to hit with more spin. Interesting comparison would be with rafa or tsitsipas who also hits his forehand with a good amount of spin usally.
May 8, 2022
The increased verticality of the swing does tend to apply more topspin, and yes, other players will utilize more gravity than they normally do in different situations.
However, each player has their default, the one they tend to go to. Players like Carlos and Thiem use it a lot, almost always, whereas players like Novak and Roger typically don’t.
May 10, 2022
I am a bit confused. It looks to me as if Carlos has already externally rotated his shoulder, and Novak has not yet done so, in that comparison photo where Carlos’ racquet head is below the ball.
May 13, 2022
That image is the lowest point that either player’s hand gets at any point in the swing. From that point forward in Novak’s, his arm externally rotates, and his hand remains at a constant height before rising. It doesn’t go lower as he externally rotates. External rotation and the use of gravity don’t have to be done together. Much of Carlos’s drop is before his external rotation, where as, Novak’s arm undergoes all its external rotation without dropping (on this shot).
June 1, 2022
Ok thanks Johnny for the explanation. I am very curious about Fognini’s forehand technique, that appears so compact and powerful. I would really like your take on it if possible.
June 4, 2022
I’ll put it on the list!
Fognini has some of the best pectoral engagement out there. To find it yourself, imagine driving the racket forward forward forward out towards your target at the end of your swing. Pause Fognini’s stroke right before his follow-through, and look how far in front of his body his elbow is. That’s your goal.
Often, especially on running forehands, he doesn’t even engage his hips. He turns away from the ball with his upper body only, turns back towards it and flings the racket forward, using almost exclusively his ridiculously strong core and chest to drive it.
June 7, 2022
Thanks so much. Your insights really are helpful.