There are many ways to hit the wide forehand, but Emma Raducanu’s way is the best way.
At Fault Tolerant Tennis, we believe in finding the optimal biomechanics for a particular swing, and then adjusting our preparation so that we can utilize those same mechanics out of a variety of situations. The wide forehand is one of such situations.
The biomechanical alignment in question here, the alignment that Emma takes advantage of on her elite wide forehand, is having both the hips and the chest square to the target on contact.
The modern forehand is performed by turning the hips and the chest away from the ball during preparation, and then explosively unwinding that turn during the forward swing. Rotation of the hips and chest powers the racket. The arm simply acts as a lever, and the wrist acts as a hinge, the function of both being to transfer the force generated by the core into the racket.
Further, the hips-and-chest-square body position is the most flexible position for last minute adjustment. This is further explained in The Fault Tolerant Forehand:
When the hips and chest are correctly square to the target at contact, the hand, and thereby the racket, is very free. It can move up and down easily, and it can move side to side easily. This allows for a wide range of contact points at which correct, fault tolerant contact can be made. Further, because the racket is so free in this position, your brain can use the visual information it gets while tracking the ball to subconsciously adjust your swing in real time. As we discussed earlier, we often see players on the tour suddenly and successfully adjust to bad bounces – the reason they can do so is that they’re using a body orientation which provides enough freedom for said adjustment.The Fault Tolerant Forehand. “Square to The Target at Contact.” Page 29-30.
Emma’s Elite Wide Forehand
On the wide forehand, Emma utilizes the exact same biomechanics that she does on a routine forehand. This allows her to get in and out of her forehand corner quickly, and while doing so produce a shot of almost identical quality to what she can on a trivial ball.
As Emma runs into the forehand corner, her goal isn’t merely to get to the ball, but to whip her body around as she gets there. As early as the second frame above, you can see Emma loading her front leg. Even while moving to her right, Emma drives off of this front leg, thereby rotating her body back to her left as she arrives at the ball. This results in the ideal contact position we seen in the last frame: Emma’s hips and chest are aligned directly at her cross-court target.
Emma’s explosive lower rotation allows her to recruit the legs and hips into her wide forehand swing. This is especially important in girls tennis – whereas the typical male athlete’s natural upper body strength might let them get away with using solely their abdominal, that’s much more difficult for a female player. By fully recruiting her leg musculature in addition to her abs, Emma generates the same heavy, fast, deep balls out of her forehand corner as she does from the middle of the court.
A Less Optimized Stroke
To further illustrate the point, we can contrast Emma’s technique to that of Elina Svitolina (Leylah Ferndandez‘s quarter-final opponent).
Despite the screaming, Elina is actually leaving a lot of power on the table when she strikes a wide forehand, because she leaves both her hips and her chest under-rotated. Due to that, she gets far less contribution from both her legs and her abs than Emma does.
It’ll also be more difficult for Elina to execute last minute improvisation from this contact position. Since her hips and chest aren’t square with where she’s aiming, she’s sacrificing some of her fault tolerance. On this particular shot, Elina’s contact is earlier than her hips-chest would indicate, meaning that if she were to mistime this ball by striking it too early, she’d probably miss.
Since Emma strikes the ball right as her hips and chest are square to her to her target, even if she strikes the ball too early, her strings will likely still be at the correct angle, and her shot will go in.
Wide Forehand vs Very Wide Forehand
Many players don’t attempt Emma’s full body rotation on their wide forehand, and are instead content to leave their core under-rotated. This severely dampens both their stroke’s fault tolerance and its power. I suspect this is because they see great players, like Roger Federer, often leave their hips closed while striking wide forehands, not realizing that these players only leave their hips closed on very widest of those shots.
Leaving the hips closed is only necessary when you are still on the dead run while hitting the ball.
Even in cases where the hips must remain closed, the chest should still unwind as it normally does. The forehand is a kinetic chain. If you’re forced to forgo the hips’ involvement in that chain, it doesn’t mean you have to forgo the rest. Just engage as much as you can, and you’ll probably produce a pretty decent shot.
Emma’s Stroke Naturally Initiates Her Recovery
Check out Emma Raducanu’s recovery position immediately after striking a wide forehand. Her hips are oriented towards the center of the court. This is precisely the lower body alignment we want if our next action is sprinting back towards the center.
By rotating into the wide forehand as she strikes it, Emma not only strikes a better ball, but also ends in a lower body alignment that is perfect for recovering.
Most players (like Elina Svitolina, who we discussed above) don’t reach this position during their stroke follow-through, because the stroke didn’t include enough rotation to get here. So not only does Emma’s well executed rotation increase both her stroke’s power and its fault tolerance, but it also gives her a 2-3 step advantage when recovering after the shot.