The ATP Forehand: Modern v Classic

The tennis game has evolved dramatically over the past 50 years or so. Commercialisation of the game, equipment technology and sports science have taken tennis to a whole new level. In particular, the forehand on the men’s side has become a major weapon and necessity of any top ATP player.

So what have been the major changes over time, between the classic forehand and the modern day forehand you see being executed by Djokovic, Nadal and co.?

Classic Forehand

In the past, tennis was a much more linear game with strike zones being at waist level probably 90% of the time. This was significantly due to the lower bouncing/faster courts of the past. Coupled with the rackets and balls the game was played with. Players had to plant their feet strongly and use their upper body strength most of the time, playing through the line of the ball. The key points of the classic forehand:

  • Continental Grip
  • Shots hit at waist level
  • Very small separation if any between hips and shoulders during preparation
  • Feet planted in close stance (hips facing side fence)
  • More upper body strength
  • No pronation of the hand at contact point, creating more of a flat shot
  • Racket continues with no turning of the wrist during follow through

Modern Forehand

A major part of today’s tennis is power. And to play tennis with aggression, players have to have great technique, both in their lower and upper bodies. The ball is now bouncing higher with less speed due to the courts and the balls the game is played with, so generating power from the lower body is crucial. The loading of power comes from the ground up (Kinetic chain), where players are pushing into the ground then rotating their upper body. They are using every inch of their body weight to go through the ball. In certain situations, players load so much that their feet come off the ground as they are hitting. Key points of the modern forehand:

  • Semi-Western/Western grip
  • Wrist is very loose throughout stroke
  • Larger separation angle of hips and shoulders during preparation
  • More open stance footwork allowing more vertical elevation through shot
  • Pronation of the hand at contact point, palm turns outwards facing forward after contact
  • After palm pronation, racket continues to wrap around body, high or low (dependent upon shot selection)

Reasons for the changes

Tennis technology continues to evolve. Rackets are made from different materials and have bigger heads, different weights and frame thickness. Strings have evolved to give more power, control or even both which in turn can modify the tensions players use.

Many of these changes have been brought about from the constant changing of surface that tennis at the highest level is played. In the past tennis was played mainly on fast grass or indoor hard courts, which then evolved to more outdoor hard courts. These hard courts then evolved to become very slow. There have always been clay courts that play slow, but up until the last 15/20 years or the majority of top players in the world came from the fast court style. Most courts now play very slow and players do not receive much help in terms of speed/power from the court. They now have to produce everything themselves. The balls have also become heavier/bigger over time, which adds further to the force players need to produce themselves to generate power on the ball.

 

On the ATP circuit the forehand is usually the biggest weapon for most players because they can dictate and win many points with it. Because of this it is very important to have the correct technique that suits the modern environment the game is now played in.  Because of the change of surface, balls and equipment over the years, the technique of tennis shots has also had to evolve, with the forehand being no different. Developing a classic style technique on your forehand will no longer allow you to go to the higher levels of the game.

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