You may have heard about the racquet path of a forehand or backhand groundstroke in tennis and how the head of the racquet needs to move through the contact zone.
But with just verbal instruction, you may have difficulty understanding and experiencing what that means.
Seeing the path of the racquet head on the forehand, for example, is much better, but feeling a correct forehand racquet path is even better!
The video above shows you a simple drill that you can use to “clean up” your racquet path on groundstrokes.
This will allow you to hit the ball much cleaner and therefore have better control on your forehand and backhand groundtrokes.
As I mentioned in the video, you first need to play with two hands, to get a good feel for the racquet path.
Holding the racquet with two hands actually forces you to move the racquet properly through the contact zone.
It also »wakes« up your legs as you have to drive up from the ground in order to get some energy into the ball.
After practising with two hands on your racquet try and recreate the racquet path with one hand – on the forehand and on the backhand side.
You first need to make your swing quite stiff as you don’t want any backswing and you don’t want any follow-through.
That’s the key point of this exercise: you need to be totally clear about and aware of how the racquet moves only through the contact zone.
Do the exercise slowly, and focus on the racquet, not on the ball! The stroke will feel stiff, but that is not a problem as this is only an exercise.
Once you’re totally clear in your mind about the racquet path, try to move the racquet in exactly the same way with one hand.
Once you can do both a forehand and a backhand well with one hand, add some energy before the contact (just rotate and lower yourself) and add some follow-through after passing through the contact zone, keeping in mind the path of the racquet head.
Follow-through is just a form of release in which you simply let the inertia of your movement take care of the follow-through.
We don’t DO a follow-through; it simply happens when we release the tension in our muscles after the racquet contacts the ball.
Then, simply try to repeat these steps while looking for greater comfort and less tension.
VERY IMPORTANT: while at first, you’re actually physically moving your arms through the racquet path very slowly, once you start hitting with swing and follow-through (and looking for comfort), the racquet path MUST NOT be achieved through concious movement along the correct racquet path.
If you persist in trying to find the optimal racquet path by consciously moving your body, you will break down the fluidity of your movement.
Therefore, it is critically important that once you transition into a full stroke that the racquet path is only a MENTAL IMAGE in your mind.
You need to allow your body and arms to unwind freely through the contact zone without you slowing your arms and the racquet down.
Also, do not try to perfect this racquet path movement the first time you try this drill. The more times you do the exercise (and sleep on it), the cleaner you’ll be able to make your swing.
Your mind and body need time to coordinate, and time is needed »to drill« this new program into your subconscious, which is why you need to give this process time.
Here’s a quick summary of how to practice this racquet path drill for both the forehand and the backhand strokes:
1. Move the racquet with both hands; push the ball forward first and then also roll the ball.
2. Move the racquet with only one hand (the forehand or backhand), recreating the racquet path through the contact zone without a backswing or follow-through.
3. Add the backswing by rotating and loading the legs, still consciously moving the racquet through the contact zone (it will feel stiff) and letting go into a follow-through.
4. CHANGE from consciously moving your arms through the contact zone to ONLY A MENTAL IMAGE of how the racquet moves.
(Remember the slow motion clips of Nalbandian and Haas in the video above.) This step is very important!
5. Look for more comfort and a feeling of effortlessness while performing the stroke and remember to keep in mind only the mental image of the racquet path .
6. You can eventually combine the mental image with the compress and roll concept .