Jennifer Brady hits her forehand like a man. And that’s a really good thing.
Not just in the sense that Jen Brady’s forehand is awesome, and the forehands on the ATP tour are also awesome. It’s more than that. Jen Brady employs on her forehand specific, efficient, explosive biomechanics that are mostly unique to the male tour.
We’re going to go through and explain these efficient biomechanics as we analyze her beautiful, effective stroke. In doing so, hopefully you’ll be able to implement some of the things she does into your own game.
We’ll also dispel the myth that “female athletes aren’t strong enough” to use these mechanics. As of writing this, Jen Brady is ranked 28 in the world and is about to play in her first major final in the 2021 Australian Open against (3) Naomi Osaka. Win or lose, she’ll be top 20 after the tournament.
Jen Brady completely shatters any stereotype about the typical female forehand or female swing. She’s athletic, explosive, and strong. When she gets a short ball on the backhand side, she doesn’t hesitate to run around it and crush a forehand instead, the same way we see Federer doing every tournament.
With her modern game, she crushed college tennis in the United States, and now in this latest Australian Open, she’s on top of the WTA, too. All with a forehand that looks more like Rafael Nadal’s than Serena Williams’s.
So let’s dive in.
Jen’s Abbreviated but Powerful Backswing
One of the keys to the modern forehand’s fault tolerance is its abbreviated backswing. Power in the modern forehand comes from hip and trunk rotation, and it doesn’t take a huge backswing in order to transfer the force generated from the hips and trunk into the racket.
The shoulders and hips need to turn away from the target, and then the hitting elbow needs to separate from the trunk, pushing the racket away from the body and preparing for a forward explosion.
Any extra movement of the arm back behind the back, or the racket back behind the back, is extraneous. It’s not necessary to generate power with the hips and trunk.
Extra backswing of the arm or racket hinders fault tolerance, because it increases the time between the initiation of the forward explosion and contact, making it more difficult to time the ball correctly.
Jen Brady’s backswing is quick and compact, but she still gets a beautiful turn of the hips and shoulders away from the target, giving the racket plenty of space to accelerate to blinding speeds through contact. Additionally, by turning her shoulders farther than she turns her hips, she further winds up her rotational kinetic chain, storing even more energy which she’ll unleash as she rotates back during the forward swing.
Importantly, she does this all without adding in additional, extraneous movement of the racket, wrist, or arm – movement which contributes very little to power or spin production, but necessarily decreases the swing’s consistency.
Jen’s Hyper Relaxed Wrist
The wrist acts as a hinge in the modern forehand – it doesn’t generate any force on its own, it merely transfers the force generated by the hips and trunk into the racket. When the rest of the swing is performed correctly, the racket will naturally whip around a relaxed wrist as the trunk rotation flings it around the body.
To unlock this whipping action, it’s essential that the wrist stay relaxed. Jen keeps her wrist completely relaxed, and as a result the racket head stays on the hitting side of the chest during her preparation. Then, as she explosively twists her hips forward to begin the swing, the racket naturally and automatically lags behind her hand.
She never volitionally pulls her racket into the position we see it in here – all leftward motion by the racket head is caused solely by inertia as her hand is pulled forward, while the racket head, which was at rest during the backswing, attempts to remain at rest and therefore lags behind it.
By the time the racket tip is no longer pointing away from Jen’s body, and is instead pointing at the back wall, Jen has already begun her forward explosion. This position is a dynamic position for her. She’s already forcibly pulling her left arm around and rotating her hips and trunk back towards the target. The new racket position is an automatic result of the beginning of the forward explosion, not a volitionally entered, static position.
The Traditional WTA Backswing
This setup and execution falls in stark contrast to the common technique used on the WTA tour, for example, by Maria Sharapova. Unlike in Jen’s loose-wristed stroke, Maria pre-loads the “wrist lag” position, instead of entering it dynamically as a result of inertia. The racket is being actively pulled back to the non-hitting side of her body in the static position at the end of the backswing, before the forward explosion pulls the hand forward.
Instead of keeping the racket head on the hitting side of the chest and entering the wrist lag position as an automatic result of the forces generated by the trunk rotation, Maria’s racket starts in that position, because she puts it there during her backswing. This adds unnecessary tension to the wrist and prevents the inertia driven lag and snap from occurring.
This difference in preparation is one of the primary reasons why Jen Brady’s stroke can generate so much topspin, while Maria Sharapova’s cannot. Jen’s wrist functions as a hinge that transfers the force generated by her trunk into the racket, whipping it around her hand.
Maria’s wrist, on the other hand, does not function as a hinge. Since she locks it in place during the backswing, rather than keeping it completely relaxed, there’s very little of the inertial racket lag and snap action that Jen’s racket performs.
Maria Sharapova, still hits really, really hard, because her hip rotation is still explosive. Additionally, her swings are still relatively fault tolerant, because she does adhere to the fundamental theorem of tennis, but she’ll never be able to create the upward racket trajectory through the ball necessary to rip a 3500rpm winner the way Jen can, because doing so requires allowing the racket to whip around a loose, relaxed wrist through contact.
Jen’s Explosive Hip Rotation
To be fair to the other women on tour, they all get this part right. All women on tour use their hips to generate a substantial amount of power on their forehand. However, the timing of that powerful hip twist differs between women.
Though all elite forehands use explosive hip rotation to generate racket head speed, for Jen Brady the hips are even more essential, because she isn’t using any sort of extended backswing or pendulum effect to create power. She’s focusing solely on her prime movers to generate force – the hips and trunk.
By the time her racket is being pulled forward into the forward swing, she’s already unloaded all of the potential energy stored in her hips into it. Her rotational explosion is essentially complete, and all that’s left is for her racket, which is now screaming forward and flicking around her relaxed wrist at a blistering place, to smack through the ball and then decelerate.
This, again, falls in contrast to a traditional WTA forehand, during which the arm is pulled forward first by the chest, while the hips remain turned away from the target. Speed from hip rotation is injected later in the swing, (it is eventually injected, as it must be to produce an elite forehand), but there’s a stark difference in the way the rotational kinetic chain is being harnessed. For Maria, the racket is already coming forward as the hips just being to unlock, whereas for Jen, the racket is driven forward by that hip rotation, and by the time her arm reaches the position depicted above, her rotational acceleration is essentially complete – her hips and trunk have been fully twisted back towards the net.
Jen’s Extension Through Contact
By contact, Jen has already whipped her hips and chest around, unloading all the force that was previously loaded into her core during her unit turn. Her left hand has been forcibly pulled out and back to the left side of her body, helping her twist her chest around.
Her racket is whipping through the ball well in front of her body, and we can see that her elbow is separated from and in front of her chest. This space between the elbow and chest allows the arm to whip around the trunk unimpeded as it rotates.
The forward extension through the shot is the final ingredient Jen uses to create fault tolerance in her modern stroke. It signifies a successful transition from the rotational force of the hips and trunk, into the front-back transnational force that will ultimately drive the ball back over the net. Extending through the contact point like this creates a long hitting zone; it gives the player marginally more time during which correct, clean contact with the ball can be made.
On this particular short forehand, she’s employed a footwork pattern very often used on approach shots by the great Roger Federer, where she drives so hard off of her hitting foot that it comes up off the ground and then naturally kicks back behind her other leg to counter-balance her vigorous upper body rotation.
Like all great forehand strikers, male or female, Jen’s head is stable and her eyes are glued to the contact point, where they’ll remain until the ball has left the strings.
Jen’s Racket-Over Follow-Through
Jen’s racket naturally turns over as part of her follow-through because of the way she swings through contact. This follow-through is NOT volitional, and a player should NEVER consciously try to turn their racket over as they swing. This turn happens naturally as a result of the relaxed wrist and body rotation during the forward explosion.
The follow through doesn’t actually matter, per se, because it transpires after the ball is already gone. We discuss it and evaluate it only because it gives us clues as to what happened during the hitting phase.
Jen’s follow-through displays great forward extension of the arm away from the body, indicating that she’s successfully transferred the rotational force from her trunk into front-back transnational force through the ball.
We also see that her strings have turned over, which is the natural way that the racket decelerates itself after whipping around the wrist through the hitting zone (though the string angle is constant during that whip). This indicates that she is correctly relaxing her wrist and allowing it to be thrown out to the ball as she rotates.
The Common WTA Follow-Through
Again, Jen’s follow-through position is very different from that of a traditional WTA forehand user like Maria Sharapova. Because the racket whips around Jen’s hand during her swing, it naturally turns over as the swing completes.
Since Maria’s racket, on the other hand, does not whip around her wrist at all, at the completion of her swing the racket-wrist angle is almost the same as it was at the back of the backswing. The racket doesn’t turn over, because there’s no momentum encouraging it to.
It’s important to point out here that if Maria wanted to imitate Jen’s stroke in an attempt to generate the topspin that Jen generates, consciously trying to turn her racket over in her follow-through would NOT work and would be wholly and completely counterproductive. Rather, if Maria wanted to hit a heavy ball by utilizing a whipping wrist action like Jen, she would have to load her racket differently – taking the racket back on the hitting side of the body with the wrist totally relaxed, and then allowing the wrist to lag and flip as she leads her swing with her hip and trunk rotation, rather than by pulling with her arm.
The Next Generation of WTA Forehands
We’re already seeing Jennifer Brady’s “male” forehand mechanics taking over the women’s tour. To start, Justin Henin and Sam Stosur proved that women could take advantage of all the same biomechanical advantages that the men could. They proved that an abbreviated backswing with a relaxed, whipping wrist was just as effective for the girls as for the boys, and since their innovation, many more young female players have followed suit.
Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, and Iga Swiatek are just a couple of young, dominant players who have significantly shorter backswings and more relaxed wrists than their older, more traditional counterparts.
As a result, topspin and fault tolerant strokes are taking over the WTA. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch Jen Brady forgo playing a neutral, rally backhand out of her backhand corner, and instead sprint around a floaty ball to her left and crush a 3500rpm inside-out forehand to win the point.