The final phase of forehand preparation is a waiting period. The forehand swing is not a single, continuous motion. There isn’t a uniform, rhythmic flow from from preparation to forward swing. Instead, preparation and forward swing are two distinct steps, preparation happening as soon as possible, and forward swing happening once the ball reaches a certain point.
Take Grigor Dimitrov’s winner, the preparation for which is depicted below, for proof of this fact.
In the image, the ball has only just crossed the net, and yet Grigor is already fully prepared for the shot. His entire kinetic chain is wound, and his racket is ready. Obviously, were he to swing now, he would miss the ball, so the final step before Grigor initiates his forward swing is to wait until the ball reaches the proper contact zone.
What’s so demonstrative about this shot, specifically, is that Grigor actually doesn’t take a single step towards the ball while preparing: after Fernando’s shot is struck, Grigor quickly realizes that the ball is already traveling directly to his contact point, and so there’s no need to move his body. Since he’s already standing on the baseline, if he executes his shot from this location, he’ll be way ahead in the point.
So instead of moving, Grigor simply:
- Loads his hips, turning them away from the ball
- Loads his abs, coiling his torso away from the ball
- Prepares his hand, placing it behind him
Once he does that, he waits. He waits until he sees the ball into the perfect hitting zone, and then he uncorks and strikes the winner.
Success in the Absence of Rhythm
Despite all the stoppages and walking around that occurs during a tennis match, pros almost never miss. Despite their opponent’s doing everything they can to change pace, change spins, and change directions, pros almost never miss.
Because they understand how to wait between preparation and forward swing. This waiting period allows them to succeed in the absence of rhythm. Each stroke is a little different, and that’s okay. Instead of one, fluid motion, the stroke is two parts: prepare for the strike, then execute the strike.
I’ll leave you with a passage from The Fault Tolerant Forehand, which explains this concept in detail.
Waiting is also a critical piece of forehand preparation that is often overlooked. Not every shot will occur in perfect rhythm. In fact, the better your opponent, the less rhythm you’ll have to work with on your forehands. Forehand preparation is not one, fluid, continuous motion that occurs the same way every time. Far from it. Instead, as we keep mentioning, it is a means to an end.
Proper preparation constitutes getting the body in position, turning away from the ball, preparing the hand, and then waiting until the ball is in the proper place to initiate the forward swing. This waiting doesn’t have to be completely static – the “preparing the hand” phase can be done more quickly or more slowly in order to time the incoming ball – but, fundamentally, the last step of preparation is a short waiting period between body preparation and swing initiation.
On balls that come extremely quickly, this waiting period may be zero. On balls that come extremely slowly, this waiting period may be long. Your cue for when to initiate the forward swing is not that a fixed amount of time has passed since you started your forehand preparation. Rather, it is a visual cue. You are visually tracking the ball during your preparation, and once the ball gets to a certain location, you initiate your swing.The Fault Tolerant Forehand. “Success in the Absence of Rhythm.” Page 75.