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.
July 3, 2021
It’s just a matter of definition. What is preparation ? If you take into account the racket path, there’s the highest position , the rearmost position, the lowest position, the position at contact and the most forward position.
The highest position has to be reached early and I call it the early preparation phase (power position with body weight mainly on the back leg). From this position you time the rest of the preparation phase to reach the rearmost position in relation with the start of the kinetic chain (leg drive).
Good work 👍
July 21, 2021
That’s a very good point. Let me be specific: I like to encourage players to get to the lowest part of of their hand preparation earlier. Many players take the racket back on time by turning away from the ball early, but they fail to lower their hand early enough, and as a result they’re late on the subsequent forward swing.
July 23, 2021
I can attest to the challenge of preparing the hand on time and then getting jammed or rushed and unable to generate racket head speed and clean contact.
I’ve seen a video of Federer with the racket removed in slow mo and it seems his hand never stops moving in the backswing however clearly there are players who pause. Moving the hand into position is definitely a proprioception challenge when your trying to rebuild your stroke into a Fault Tolerant FH. Are there any tips for overcoming this fault?
July 23, 2021
Again, I believe most players are not conscious of what their hand is doing during the prepare the hand stage. Some players take a big loop, some take a small loop, some completely pause, and some change it up on every shot. The important thing, as I stress over and over again in the book, is just that you visualize the contact you want to create, and then, as early as possible, get the hand into a position such that all that’s left in order to create said contact is to explosively twist forward.
I’m fairly certain you don’t need specific proprioceptive awareness of exactly what your hand is doing during “prepare the hand”, but rather just a sense of the swing path you’re going to try to create, and the rough starting point of that swing path.
August 22, 2021
Thanks for this followup, sorry I didn’t respond earlier. Good points regarding the unconscious prep of the hand and the visualization process. There’s the old saying “paralysis by analysis” and it’s an easy trap to fall into, and unfortunately some coaches unwittingly set up this trap for their students.
Similar to baseball, it’s unlikely MLB or elite players think about their bat position when they’re at the plate. They already know which side of their body the ball will pass so their prep is done when they step into the batters box. The only job is to track and explode rotationally into contact they have visualized. Everything is happing too fast to think about what the bat is doing in the backswing and transition into the forward swing. In training the forehand, and other swinging strokes, perhaps their are lessons we can learn from baseball.
August 23, 2021
Yep. Paralysis by analysis is hard to avoid when coaching a complex shot.
Also, the kinetic chain on a baseball swing is remarkably similar to the tennis forehand. The hips, abs, visual tracking, and maintenance of a still head during the entire motion are almost identical.