The following is an excerpt from the book The Fault Tolerant Forehand, which will be released on April 15th!
Stance is similar to grip – it doesn’t matter that much. With an open, semi-open, or neutral stance, a player can correctly turn away from the ball, prepare the hand, and then explosively rotate back towards the ball during the forward swing.
Many players will use different stances on different forehands throughout the match. It’s mostly a matter of personal preference; each player should determine what feels best for their particular body. That said, there are still some pitfalls to avoid when it comes to forehand stance.
Get the Hips Back Around
The fault tolerance of forehand contact is maximized when the hips square to the target. That means that if you initiate your swing from something like a neutral stance, in which your hips are pointed sideways during preparation, you need to ensure you get them rotated all the way back around by contact.
This is totally fine, of course – that hip rotation will generate lots of racket head speed. But always understand that the reason to use this neutral stance is so that you can perform that explosive hip rotation. If you have a habit of not rotating your hips as you swing, then if you prepare using a neutral stance, your hips will end up still sideways at contact, which greatly hampers the stroke’s fault tolerance. The best solution for this, of course, is to train yourself to lead your swing with hip rotation, but a good stop gap would be to temporarily switch to a fully open stance. With a fully open stance, when you don’t rotate your hips during the swing, your hips point at your target at contact.
Using Many Stances
Preparation exists to prepare for the forward swing. The forward swing you’ll want to attempt will vary based on the situation. You’ll want to use varying degrees of hip rotation on varying shots, and thus you should begin with varying stances.
The important point here is that the feet are not what’s critical – what’s critical is where the hips are aligned. The hips have freedom to turn while the feet remain planted, but only so far. You can utilize hip rotation out of any stance, and you can fail to utilize hip rotation out of any stance. Stance, like grip, ultimately is a matter of personal comfort. Just ensure that whatever stance you choose, your hips are square to your target by the time you reach contact.
A Warning About the Closed Stance
Earlier, I mentioned that the open, semi-open, and neutral stances are all fine when it comes to forehand stance preparation. What I didn’t include was the closed stance. That’s because it’s quite difficult to get the hips all the way around from a closed stance. It’s doable – if you drive hard off of your hitting leg’s glute and allow that hitting leg to follow-through around your body, you can get your hips around, but this isn’t a very natural feeling motion and, for most players, should be avoided.
Most players who play the forehand with a closed stance don’t do it because they want extra space to whip their hips around; instead, they just leave their hips under-rotated during contact and thereby destroy their stroke’s fault tolerance. Instead of trying to coach these students to use their hips more, it’s probably better to start by having them play the forehand from a neutral stance instead.
One area in which the closed stance does excel is balance – it’s a stance from which it’s very natural to sit low and remain stable. This makes it a viable option on low forehands, but, again, ensure that the hips get back around to the net by contact. Your back foot’s follow-through provides a good indicator of how well you’re rotating your hips out of a closed stance – if it follows-through around your body after the stroke, resulting in you ending in an open stance, you’re probably getting sufficient rotation on your swing.