The following is the introduction to The Fault Tolerant Forehand, available in eBook and paperback formats on Amazon.
When performed correctly, the forehand is a stroke with a very large margin for error. Proper forehand mechanics ensure that the swing is fault tolerant – when things go wrong, the swing still succeeds.
Mechanically unsound forehands are not fault tolerant. Any small inaccuracy in timing, string angle, setup, etc, will cause a miss. Most forehand inconsistency is not proximally caused by those small preparation or execution inaccuracies, but rather by a swing which lacks the fault tolerance to handle them. Once proper mechanics are mastered, the forehand is actually very difficult to miss.
Understanding this point is essential to evaluating your own forehand. If, as you set up for the ball, your mind feels nervous and shaky – like the smallest mistake will send the ball flying into the back fence or spiraling down into the bottom of the net, that is because you are performing the forehand fundamentally wrong.
Small Mistakes Shouldn’t Cause Misses
During a correctly executed forehand, you can non-trivially mismanage your swing and still hit the ball in. You’ll notice that professional players, when they get a bad bounce (often near the baseline of a chewed up grass court), are still able to more often than not hit the ball back into play. Usually, this takes the form of an awkward, jerky, arm reach in front of them where they kind of swat the ball back over, but we’ll get into the specifics of exactly what’s happening there later. Here’s what’s important: good players consistently succeed in continuing the rally even in cases when the ball’s position changes so suddenly.
This is not merely natural, improvisational talent. Rather, this sudden adjustment is made possible by the forehand’s exceptionally large margin for error. The quick swat or flick that they execute is the player cashing in on this margin. This ability to adjust is built in to the forehand once each body part is doing roughly what it’s supposed to be doing, and slowly disappears as mechanical flaws are introduced.
Strong Fundamentals Create Fault Tolerance
With weak fundamentals, any non-perfectly executed stroke is likely to fail, whereas with strong fundamentals, each individual stroke can be imperfect and still produce an adequate result. You can be a little early, or a little late. Your racket tilt can be off by four or five degrees. You can set up a little too close to the ball, or a little too far from it. The ball will still go in. It is precisely due to this flexibility that when a professional player is faced with a bad bounce, a bounce which suddenly requires the ball to be struck 6-12 inches away from the expected contact point the player had prepared for, they are able to quickly, often subconsciously, adjust and still hit the ball in. It’s not going to be a great shot, but it will go in, and that’s what’s important.
The forehand fundamentals responsible for producing this exceptionally large margin for error are the subject of this book. Many recreational players are never told that it’s a fully attainable goal to set up for a forehand knowing you won’t miss, and the things they’re told instead often cause more harm than good.