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JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

The Essential Forehand and Backhand: Core Fundamentals

March 2021

Whether you're a top spinner, a flat baller, utilize underspin at times or exclusively, or all of the above, you'll need rock solid core fundamentals to support and maximize the mechanics that you currently feature in your style of play.

These absolute "musts" start with immediate incoming shot recognition —

right off an opponent's impact - in order to initiate early racket preparation as you pivot ("unit turn") into your response. An unhurried, soft - low grip tension, compact prep, versus ones accomplished at the very last moment, well after an incoming ball has bounced, will pay big dividends and also provide an important calming inner sense of having time to take your time.

Exactly where you place your racket in its fully loaded position can vary widely from player to player

depending on grips and how you're going to play the ball: when it's cooperatively low and descending right into your knee to thigh high wheelhouse, or high bouncers struck right around its apex off the bounce, or classically on the rise, preferably also down low to keep the strike point in front, just after the bounce out of necessity when an opponent has challenged you with a fast approaching deep, and heavy in the court placement.

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Some bring the racket relatively straight back old school. Others utilize some version of the C-loop first popularized by Bjorn Borg. Still others feature idiosyncratic take backs that work for them. In any event, it ought to be minimally ready, fully loaded, by the time the approaching ball bounces. And, it ought to be one motion without any time wasting awkward big hitches – double take backs - if you're going to be able to get through impact smoothly with a gradually decelerating, silky follow through.

Grip tension should be relatively relaxed and low beginning in the ready position since you'll naturally elevate that tension at impact.

Those tight "death grips" will minimize the racket's inherent power, disrupt timing, and probably, eventually, ruin your elbow or some other body part. By the way, the dirty, greasy grips that players leave on their rackets for weeks and even months on end actually contribute to poor ball striking due to over gripping those slippery, low friction surfaces, and also make players far more susceptible to a lack of fluidity.

Change your over grip often.

The white ones are preferred since they show the grime versus black ones that do not. (Why on Earth do some actually insist on telling me they do not like the white ones because they do show the grime? Wow!). This is simply maintaining your tools. Failure to do so is at your own game peril.

What about footwork?

Is tennis an eye-hand sport, or an eye-foot sport? It's both, with the eye-foot component being surprisingly, for everyone, heavily linked to shot making timing.

Quote from Albert Einstein: The greatest thing about big ideas is being able to share them!As a young club pro, way back in the 70s tennis boom, I would wrongly – from today's vantage point - use a popular cue of the day: "Get set." Bad advice. "Set-up" would have been more apropos. We, thankfully, did at least utilize the now ancient "transfer your weight into the shot," which was more akin to what I would advise today for a more functional eye-hand, eye-foot fusion: "Step and strike."

Footwork in doubles, when playing forehands or backhands in the back court, can be more demanding than in singles.

With more ground to cover in singles, well timed positioning through longer strides is more athletically natural. In doubles you're comparatively jammed in one side covering a smaller portion of the court resulting in more balls crowding you and making you uncomfortable. Footwork now becomes more challenging since you're working in a smaller space. Think Tom Brady in a relatively small passing pocket, under duress, looking for an open receiver while constantly shifting his feet slightly until locating a target and then letting the pass go.

Stutter steps in small spaces to line up that final footwork step.

All of this for naught if you're a sketchy ball tracker. Most club players are sketchy ball trackers. Can you hit your shots without tracking the ball really well? Sure, but they'll be off the sweet spot and won't be clean. Tracking means following the ball 100% to the best of your visual ability, all the way from your opponent's ball on racket impact to your own, and then, without looking up prematurely – think Roger Federer with his longer than anyone still head down on this – recapturing it, and only it, in its outgoing path all the way to your opponents next shot impact.

Only the ball! You'll see everything else that you need to see through your periphery where situational information is being unconsciously transmitted to your muscle memory internal hard drive.

Recognizing the difference between direct tracking and mere peripheral sighting is crucial!

Back to the human Swiss timing piece, RF, what does he claim to be his greatest skill on the tennis court? Would you believe "seeing my shot faster than anyone else." That's shot visualization in a flash, a micro second after recognizing the opponent's incoming ball. Call it imagery, imagining your shot in your mind's eye. Or thinking in pictures if you will.

The more specific your intentions are, versus over there somewhere, the better you'll play.

In the end, bet you didn't know that ole Al Einstein was far more than E=mc2. In his "Three Rules of Work" he zeroed in on an accompanying state of mind perfect for all tennis players embracing all the above aforementioned components: 1) Out of clutter, find simplicity. 2) From discord, find harmony. 3) In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

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Past Essays

  • December 2023 - The Forgotten Stop Volley
    [read more]
  • November 2023 - "You're Only as Good as Your Second Serve"
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  • October 2023 - good misses vs bad misses
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  • September 2023 - Why good players are good players!
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  • August 2023 - On poaching and fake poaching: Becoming a Force at the Net in Doubles
    [read more]
  • July 2023 - The Beautiful Game is Getting Ugly
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  • June 2023 - The Approach Dropper: Lob Killer
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  • May 2023 - Why club players don't practice
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  • April 2023 - DON'T FIGHT TIGHT
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  • March 2023 - Classic finish line failure
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  • February 2023 - Defending the lob over your net partner - The "Switch"
    [read more]

Essay Archives

Click a year to view more essays


  • December 2022 - E. I. D. - Extended Impact Duration
    [read more]
  • November 2022 - Movement Enhancement to Stay Better In-Point Connected
    [read more]
  • September 2022 - Advanced Visualization 301
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  • August 2022 - Tennis' uniqueness: warming-up the enemy
    [read more]
  • July 2022 - Extracting Double Faults Through Receiving Positions... and more
    [read more]
  • June 2022 - Consider Serve and Volley
    [read more]
  • May 2022 - How the Toss Primes the Serve Relaxation Pump
    [read more]
  • April 2022 - Ball Watching and Science
    [read more]
  • March 2022 - Caving
    [read more]
  • February 2022 - Kenny G and Emmo
    [read more]
  • January 2022 - The Knees
    [read more]


  • December 2021 - The Match is with You
    [read more]
  • November 2021 - The Backup Racket in Your Bag
    [read more]
  • October 2021 - Every Tennis Player Can and Should Have a Weapon
    [read more]
  • September 2021 - LEARNING NEW SKILLS: First the Process, Then the Results
    [read more]
  • August 2021 - The Challenge of Visualizing… For Some
    [read more]
  • July 2021 - Playing with both your feet and your hands
    [read more]
  • June 2021 - Finding the Range
    [read more]
  • May 2021 - The Focus
    [read more]
  • April 2021 - About Your Butt Cap
    [read more]
  • March 2021 - The Essential Forehand and Backhand
    [read more]
  • February 2021 - On Being a Doubles All-Courter
    [read more]
  • January 2021 - Same Grip Volleying Myths
    [read more]


  • December 2020 - On mechanics and style
    [read more]
  • November 2020 - THE BIG 3: The Glue That Keeps Your Best Game Together
    [read more]
  • September 2020 - Protocol and Game Tradition Revisited
    [read more]
  • August 2020 - As Good as Your 2nd Serve
    [read more]
  • July 2020 - Shot Shaping
    [read more]
  • June 2020 - Getting a Point in Jeopardy Back to Neutral
    [read more]
  • May 2020 - A Positive Mind-Set: On and Off the Court in Today's C-19 Reality
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  • April 2020 - The Zombie Tennis Creed – Top Ten
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  • March 2020 - A Roadmap Into "The Zone"
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  • February 2020 - The service toss: myths and realities
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  • January 2020 - Shot Gazing
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  • December 2019 - The Dreaded High Bouncing Moonball Dilemma
    [read more]
  • November 2019 - Chalk Flew: Troublesome Line Calling without Hawkeye in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2019 - In the Spirit of Don't Drink and Drive… Don't Think and Hit [read more]
  • September 2019 - Old School vs New School [read more]
  • August 2019 - Getting the Ball Where You Want It [read more]
  • July 2019 - Taking Points Off…What? [read more]
  • June 2019 - Confidence Is Confidence: Take It Wherever You Can Get It [read more]
  • May 2019 - TENNIS INNOVATION IMPLODES [read more]
  • April 2019 - Defending the Court with Older Bones: A Club Player's Guide to Saying "Nice Shot" Less [read more]
  • March 2019 - Do You Have Doubles Rally Tolerance? [read more]
  • February 2019 - I Knew Jimy Van Alen: A Historical Look Back [read more]
  • January 2019 - The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Mental Toughness Skills [read more]


  • December 2018 - Less Bling is the Thing [read more]
  • November 2018 - Anatomy of a Doubles Serve Return…from the Inside Out [read more]
  • October 2018 - Older Dogs and New Tricks: Still Improving at Any Age [read more]
  • September 2018 - The All-Important Dynamic of Gripping [read more]
  • August 2018 - The Cinemascope Syndrome: Undermining Your Ball Watching [read more]
  • June 2018 - Serving and Returning Better with a Quiet Eye [read more]
  • May 2018 - The Man Who Breathed for Two [read more]
  • January 2018 - Rituals Anyone? [read more]


  • December 2017 - Why Serving is so Difficult in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2017 - Managing your body and mind in tennis space [read more]
  • August 2017 - Why Bother Breathing to Improve Your Game [read more]
  • May 2017 - The "Maintaining" One's Game as One Ages Fallacy [read more]
  • February 2017 - Punta Gorda Tennis Clubs: Setting the Bar [read more]
  • January 2017 - State of the Club Game: The Growing Death of Sportsmanship [read more]

Check back often for more essays.