The Art and Science of Victory
Classical Forehand

This stroke is the foundation of all ground strokes. It is often the first stroke taught to beginners. It has been used by champions of the past but has strangely disappeared from pro tennis.The reason is simple - not enough topspin.
Unlike the millennium forehand, the harder you hit the classic forehand, the more likely the ball will miss the court. This can result in the infamous rubber elbow - a rather horrible consequence of trying to avoid hitting errors by hitting softer - and dribbling the ball into the net.

Of course the classic forehand is more flexible - it actually lets you hit the ball with deft and touch - but in the slam-bang world of pro tennis those qualities are considered a bit ...squishy.

Guile, touch and placement are hard to perfect, but hard to defeat - they beat mindless power every time. The classic forehand is the basis for consistent and deadly stroke that is as capable of a lob or drop shot as it is a drive or passing shot. It is unexcelled in hitting the approach shot because it allows you to hit the ball low over the net with consistency.

Overview

Classic forehand - 'sideways' stance to catch the weight of the body in the long follow through. Straight elbow from the point of contact to the end of the follow through.

The keys to the classic forehand:

  • Eastern or continental forehand grip - it also works with a semi-western grip (ala Jimmy Connors).
  • "Sideways" stance - slightly open.
  • Short, straight 'flashlight' back swing (laid-back wrist) slightly below the level of the ball.
  • Keep your arms in the zone of experience (don't back swing too far back).
  • Elbow straight at point of contact.
  • Long follow through ending in "thumb sighting" pose
  • Power from the legs, control from the shoulder, and consistency from the wrist - don't swing your arm!

 

Flashlight Back Swing

Flashlight Back swing - the classic forehand back swing pauses at a point where, if the handle of the racquet was a flashlight, it would be pointing at the ball.

The classic forehand does not lack power. Pound for pound (of your effort) it can deliver more pace and penetration than the millennium forehand ever could. In fact several pros have devolved their millennium forehands towards something that looks more like the classic (see the Federer forehand).

To achieve power with this stroke you must have a fairly long back swing. This is because you need time to accelerate into the ball. If you try to swing as hard as you can from time zero, the inertia of the racquet will 'break' your wrist and the ball will fly over the back fence.

The back swing is simpler than the millennium forehand - it is just straight back and down. No loops makes it easier to time. You just lay the face of the racquet back so that if your racquet handle was a flashlight it would shine on the approaching ball.

Get the racquet back early and wait for the ball - there is no continuous 'circle' in the backswing.

The Zone of Experience

Zone of experience - shown in green represents the zone in which hand-eye co-ordination 'works'. One must not let the right hand stray into the red area.

This is the zone in front of the body wherein hand-eye co-ordination works. From the time you are a child, your brain is collecting and collating information between the your hands (wrists, elbows and shoulders) and our eyes. See and touch...see and touch...hundreds or thousands of times every day. You have very little experience when your hands go behind your body. Basically they get lost back there. If you back swing with too much 'arm' instead of rotating your hips and shoulders or if you backswing with your arm your brain will loose track of where the racquet is. How, then, can it reliably bring it into contact with the ball? Always keep your arms within the zone of experience. For a larger backwing, rotate your hips and waist.

Thumb-Sighting Follow Through

Thumb-sighting follow through - end the stroke looking through your racquet handle at the target.

At the end of the follow through you 'sight down the racquet handle' with a high, straight arm. This accomplishes several functions:

  • reminds you to follow through away from the body.
  • promotes pronation for power.
  • Prevents over-swinging.
  • assures that the wrist is laid back (extended) through the stroke
Control from the Shoulder

Control from the Shoulder -external rotation of the shoulder in the middle of the classic forehand keeps the racquet pointing at the target for a long time. The result is improved consistency because the stroke is robust in the face of your lousy timing.

The millennium forehand is hit with a lot of 'arm'. Elbow bent, the hitting wing flails around like a one-winged chicken.

In the classic forehand, the shoulder moves very little - you do not recruit your shoulder to the task of increasing power or topspin. Instead, the shoulder acts to keep the racquet face parallel to the net for as long as possible. Thisis good because if you mistimed the stroke and make contact with the ball a little early or late, the racquet is still pointing at the target. The shoulder accomplishes this by slowly externally rotating in the middle of the stroke. The result is unreal consistency (remember Chris Everett).

For this to work the elbow must be straight, otherwise the shoulder rotation will result in the racquet face turning up and the ball sailing over the backstop. Also the wrist must be locked and laid back.