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JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

Every Tennis Player Can and Should Have a Weapon

October 2021

Since the forehand is the most easily acquired shot for most, in time it can also be elevated to weapon status if motivated. Developing even a simply reliable backhand – one or two-handed – takes more time, especially the one-hander. That's why, unlike why pro players are utilizing it, there's the "runaround" out of necessity for many in Clubland.

Bjorn Borg, the Father of today's topspin forehand.

Bjorn Borg, the Father of today's topspin forehand.

The serve, particularly the spin serve – sadly never achieved by so many clubbers - takes even longer to own. And, being good around the net, including taking ball in the air from anywhere on the court when necessary, is always a work in progress, even for experienced players.

So, whether you're a weekend or weekday warrior, and even those we admire on the pro tours, these realities hold true, albeit to varying degrees.

Roger Federer's follow through with heavy wrist action.

Roger Federer's follow through with heavy wrist action.

Of course the topspin forehand is the coin of the realm in today's pro game. The degree of topspin varies from player to player at any level. As shared in a previous essay, Rafa Nadal's reported 50 RPS (that's revolutions per second – why on Earth do "they" continually reference this as RPMinute when per second is far more applicable to tennis' dynamic ?) is among the most extreme, if not the most extreme, in the tour game causing lots of problem for opponents who do not normally experience the off the charts degree of the Spaniard's last moment, explosive, steep ascent off the bounce with that extra "gas."

Nonetheless, other pros choose to "flatten-out" their shots – often accompanied by gushing kudos from the announcing team (?) - reducing spin and margins and increasing difficulty, at least in theory, in order to get their ball through the court quicker, preferring to take time away.

Vica Azarenka dropping back shoulder.

Vica Azarenka dropping back shoulder.

Younger pros once used to ask me, because of my Jimmy Connors connection way back (Jimmy Connors Tennis Center Pro and ultimately Director at the Sanibel Harbour Resort), why Jimmy hit mostly flat. I always deadpanned, "Because he could."

My own forehand version, my own weapon of choice too, albeit with a not so radical so-called "modern" grip position, is a product of an earlier epoch. Yet, it has nonetheless evolved over the years to be less one dimensional mostly due to the far more advanced equipment that's both more forgiving and powerful, versus the attributes of the heavy war club Jack Kramer Autograph I cut my teeth on.

In vogue lately, more than one ESPN tennis commentator has pointedly addressed the two positional versions of forehands:

Novak Djokovic in the open stance.

Novak Djokovic in the open stance.

1) The classic closed stance with its "front foot power" potential (left footed last step footwork for a righty) in a more sideways to the net alignment that can readily capitalize on short balls with its typically somewhat flatter ball;

2) the open stance (now driving off the back right leg) while partially facing the net, is anatomically better suited for generating more topspin, plus also more adaptable when defending on-the-stretch, or versus deep penetrating shots that result in a more challenging contact point that's not going to be so comfortably in front, as in the closed stance opportunities.

Since both approaches should ideally be in your back pocket. Players should read an opponent's shot right as it's coming off their racket, determine its pace, trajectory, spin and depth to instantly commit to a best suited closed or open shot making position.

Pro player demonstrating "flying elbow."

Pro player demonstrating "flying elbow."

You might need to enlist a coach to help with a transition to a bona fide topspin forehand from a relatively flat one, especially if you're trying to go big. In the meantime here are a few cues (not necessarily literal) that I have found players respond well to in first learning the shot, and then improving it, which you can experiment with on your own:

  • Visualize a rainbow like, looping trajectory over the net… a shot "flight plan."
  • Closed racket face in both ready position and in early C-loop prep (grip adjustment?).
  • In initiating the stroke dip racket below the projected contact point…drop back shoulder.
  • Brush up the backside of the ball.
  • Roll over the top of the ball with a loose wrist action and a "flying" elevated elbow.
  • Allow a decelerating follow through to seek its own natural finishing path

Remember, trial and correction. There are no overnight sensations.

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  • December 2020 - On mechanics and style
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  • August 2020 - As Good as Your 2nd Serve
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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
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  • May 2019 - TENNIS INNOVATION IMPLODES [read more]
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  • 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]
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  • December 2017 - Why Serving is so Difficult in Clubland [read more]
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  • August 2017 - Why Bother Breathing to Improve Your Game [read more]
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