Feeling The Correct Racquet Path On The Forehand And Backhand Strokes

Jul 30

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Racquet path on the forehand in tennis

The racquet is not changing angles shortly before and after the contact

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 following video 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.

Tips on the Racquet Path Drill to Keep in Mind

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.

A forehand drill for developing optimal racquet path

Be aware of the racquet and not of the ball in this drill

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.

How to Practice

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 .

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38 comments

  1. Steve /

    This is FANTASTIC! When I play with my wife and try to hit as slow as possible, I very rarely miss. When I try to add just a tiny bit more pace, I start to miss. I never thought of it in these terms, but it is now clear to me that when I try to hit extremely soft, I am doing exactly as you show in this video. When I try to add a bit more pace, I start to swing and I don’t think I stay with this concept. I’m going to try to focus on playing with a bit more pace while still focusing on this concept.

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Steve,

      What usually happens when you try to add pace to the ball is that the wrist activates and you start to move the racquet head in a more circular way around – and so it doesn’t stabilize at the point of contact.

      That’s why it’s so important to look for sources of power in the ground and body rotation so you don’t need to hit with the “racquet head” swinging around…

      • Chris /

        One of the best pieces of advice I ever received on my forehand was to have a short backswing… way too many people take the raquet back way to far and with a big loop…. It just isn’t necessary to generate pace and power and your consistency will go through the roof !

  2. Kerry /

    I really like the direction the drills on this site are going in. I’m excited to try this stroke drill with my wife. I like your emphasis on a mental image of what we need to do instead of conscious though about what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I really like how your stuff fits seamlessly where Oscar Wegner stops…

    • Tomaz /

      Thanks! I like to teach in a way someone actually plays eventually. When a professional tennis player (or even coach) plays, they don’t think about the follow through or anything similar.

      All that’s in the mind is the trajectory and how they want the ball to behave. The “technique” you see is a consequence of that – and not the cause.

    • Larry Buhrman /

      Kerry,

      I was thinking the same thing that you made note of regarding Oscar and Tomaz, my two favorite tennis teachers. Both of these great coaches teach what is natural and ultimately what is important from start to finish.

      In this lesson from Tomaz, I remember Oscar teaching to first find the ball and feel the ball. Tomaz is making another point about the face of the racket at contact, which Oscar has stressed as critical in how you direct the ball to your target. When Tomaz does this drill, I see him finding the ball and feeling it on his strings as well as experimenting and feeling what his swing following contact has to be to hit the ball where he wants to. It emphasizes the contact and feel-what happens in front of the body, not the backswing which comes first in the sequence of a stroke.

      We can only focus on one thing at a time so Tomaz and Oscar not only teach all the right stuff, but they put it all in the most natural and important sequence, that which is the easiest. quickest, best way to learn it to play like the pros.

      I thought I knew how to play and teach tennis before Tomaz and Oscar, the old classic American way as I was taught, but I have to give credit to both two men for helping me so much in my understanding of tennis and taking me to an entirely different level as both a player and teacher.

  3. ed dannenhoffer /

    Amazing I have just been trying to add topspin to my game, and I was thinking entirely of doing it by rolling my wrist. thanks

  4. Wonderful advice Tomaz!! I played at State level in my youth. I still played at a high level in middle age then stopped playing for many years until returning to tennis a few years ago. Im now in my 70s and I not only ‘forgot’ precisely where the ‘hit zone’ was and I now realise Ive been using my wrist in the follow through. Im sure this will get me back on track. Thanks again.

  5. Thomaz,

    Great video! My good friend Oscar Wegner and I have always preached “Feel” and “Finding” the ball. Oscar is a big believer in the “open stance” and I notice that in your first drill where you are holding the racquet with 2 hands that your feet are pointing straight ahead. This is great because the emphasis is not on the feet but on “finding” and “feeling” the ball. Great stuff, keep up the good work!

    John Frausto
    Topspin Tennis.Com

    • Tomaz /

      Thanks for sharing, John.

      With beginners I prefer to actually use the foam ball and immediately start to rally with them – like you can see me doing with my nephew in the “How to hit a tennis ball” clip.

      Most will naturally use open stance and eventually get the feel for both main stances.

      I believe beginners’ main problem is ball judgment, coordination of feet/body/arms and timing – and not technique. So we need to start developing those three immediately rather than telling them how to move their arms. ;)

    • Larry Buhrman /

      John,

      I was thinking the same thing-Oscar and you teaching me about finding and feeling the ball, as well as Tomaz in an open stance.

      I just gave credit to Oscar and Tomaz for teaching me so much, my two favorite tennis coaches. I owe you a lot of thanks as well. I watched your videos on “Topspin Tennis” over and over and still can visualize those terrific lessons. You gave all the credit to Oscar for your great teaching techniques, but your videos had some excellent ways of teaching what you learned from him that I will never forget. You are responsible for me getting out Oscar’s book and rereading it. I bought his book a couple years before I saw your videos. I initially thought his book was nonsense, having been taught the old classic American techniques. It was only after seeing your results and the results of your students, that turned me back on to studying Oscar’s book and videos.

      I have learned so much from Tomaz as well with his emphasis on learning naturally and playing with focus on feel at contact.

      Thanks for the impact you made on me with your great teaching videos.

      Larry Buhrman

  6. Great advice Tomaz! I really enjoy your fresh and original approach to teaching the game of tennis. Keep up the good work ;)

  7. Tunde /

    Tomaz, Why do coaches and tennis instructors all over the world focus more on takebacks and finishes. This is counter productive. What happen at the contact point is always ignored. I have over the years tried to improve on short ball from from forehand with no luck(wrist rotation problem). This changed recently when I studied what actually happens at contact (push and lift) and now my forehand has turn to a great weapon. i have over the years been wrongly taught to concentrate on takeback and follow thru with full finish(Wiper, classic and buggy) ignoring the contact phase. I taught my daughters the important of contact, the tranpoline effect of strings on ball, and that balls are pushed not hit brought a magical result. Teach begginners first this racket movement on contact, process of learning tennis will be very easy

    • Tomaz /

      Tunde, I agree that the key to playing tennis with control is what ones does with the racquet (strings!) to the ball – which what happens at contact.

      I also agree with your idea of “push & lift” – which is a very good explanation of how we control the ball.

      I used to teach the backswing (preparation) and the follow-through in my early days of teaching tennis because everywhere I looked another “expert” explained and analyzed some minute details about the preparation or the follow-through and that was the teaching “mantra”.

      Only when you teach a lot of people and realize that something is not right, then you start thinking on your own. Or you conclude that your tennis pupil is not “talented”. Since “you as a coach are never wrong…”

      There is a place for teaching preparation and the follow-through but they need to be explained differently than mechanical movements that one needs to perform in order to hit the ball like Federer.

  8. maurizio mango /

    my dear Tomaz i am not able to create in my mind the imagine of compress and roll the ball : do you think that it may be similar to push and lift of our friend tunde ? can you give me some advice …
    i am so greatful to you

    • ed dannenhoffer /

      Maurizio
      I had a chance to practice the “compress and roll” by myself this morning. I found that it worked very well when I used the advice to ” swing softer but hit it harder “. By not rushing my swing and just accelerating at the last moment it worked very well.

    • Robert /

      Maurizio, it helped me a lot to find a photo of the ball flattening against the strings at contact during a forehand shot. This is the ‘compression’ part. I think there are some on this site. When you look at the photo, try to imagine what is going on with the ball during the period when it is in contact with the strings — how did it get in that shape? And then imagine the path of the racket and the strings in contact with the ball, digging into the felt and recoiling as the ball leaves and what effect they are having on the ball as a result.

  9. ed dannenhoffer /

    ps Golf was the only sort that I never got really good at, and the problem was the same: I could not resist the urge to swing hard at the ball from the getgo , so I never developed a really good, consistent swing.

  10. William José Pwa /

    Dear Teacher Tomaz,

    Thank you so much for your lessons!

    Col Pwa
    Brazilian Army

  11. Wow, that is so true about the 2 hands on the racquet. I had a 1-H BH for the first 4 years I played, and because I didn’t have the power I wanted, I went to 2-H. After using 2-H for 6 months when I went to hit the 1-H for a ball slightly out of reach, I was AMAZED to see how the path of my 1-H BH had been “fixed” by using the 2-H BH for a while. GREAT TIP ! I’m going to try that on my FH now !

  12. Awessome ! Great tip, am going to try using this.
    Any tips on correcting late swing? Especially for very young players like 7-8 year olds ?

    • Tomaz /

      Late swing happens because of poor ball judgment skills and not attempting to time the ball. I’ll try and explain more with future videos but for now tell kids to be loaded and ready when the ball is on the ground on their side. From that position they must feel that they will only have to move forward.

      • Right – the loaded and ready makes sense ! Will look forward to video demos too…keep the great tips coming. Many thanks.

        • We have been following this tip for some time now, and I had to tell you that it has stuck with the kids so well. Loading before the bounce has gone down very easily and they are timing the ball better and better now. That along with other non-tennis ball drills. Thanks :)

  13. Larry Buhrman /

    Tomaz,

    I have learned so much about what is really important to be a better player and a better teacher from you and Oscar Wegner, my two favorite teachers.

    I was giving a good club player a lesson on his forehand. I could only make him understand how to improve his stroke when I had him start his swing at the contact point.

    Thanks for helping me to break away from my old classic American way of playing and teaching tennis. I will forever be grateful to you and Oscar.

    Larry

  14. Michael /

    Hi Tomez,

    This is very good stuff. When I was learning tennis at young age, I was taught that there is a arm pronation involved in the forehand topspin. Through years of playing, I became quite comfortable playing like that and developed a very powerful forehand drive although there are some occasional unforced mis-hit. After seeing this video instruction, I have experimented without the pronation and found my forehand more accurate and consistent, my unforced error greatly reduced with little difference in power (although it feels kind of unnatural due to old habit). I suspect that the pronation is actually the main season of my inconsistency. Would it be possible? Should I break the old “pronation” habit?

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Michael,

      The way I understand your pronation with the forehand is that the forearm changes angle during the hitting phase. If that’s true then the racquet head angled changes every split second – so it’s hard to control the ball. Are you using a continental grip? Keeping the racquet head steady through the hitting zone helps you control more shots.

      • Michael /

        I use a semi-western grip. In my case, I think the pronation happens at impact, somewhat like a serve. I always thought that this will add more power. I also find it more natural on the follow through as I relax my bent wrist after the impact. When I consciously keep my wrist steady, I find the accuracy improves when practicing with a ball machine, but in a match play, I find it hard to keep up with the dynamics since I am doing this consciously. You bring up a very interesting question, that is, how to serve with accuracy(which I also have trouble with) as my arm is also pronating at impact?

        • Tomaz /

          Michael, you most likely need to hit 5000-20000 more balls in controlled situation before your stroke becomes automatic. When you’re receiving the ball from the ball machine they are all the same. In match play you need adaption to each ball – but you don’t have enough repetitions yet. The serve is easier to control despite the pronation because the ball is almost not moving – and it’s always the same.

  15. Tomaz, another excellent video. I love your approach to teaching tennis and ‘cleaning up’ the stroke. If my stroke is starting to be inconsistent I like the idea of coming back to the mental image of push and roll, practicing a few swing paths without the release and then naturally releasing. Loved it. Thank you.

  16. Lubos L /

    Tomaz, do you think that this “old school” follow through (over shoulder) is ok to teach when “modern school” teaches to finish with racquet in the hip.

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Lubos,

      Yes, teaching the follow-through over the shoulder while also catching the racquet with the other hand is the way I teach the forehand at the beginning to all players.

      It is the fundamental swing that connects the body and arms in proper biomechanics. The “modern” forehand is just an adjustment that happens later because of a semi-western or western grip and applying more topspin to the ball.

      But if you watch top pros warm up, you’ll see very often that they use their fundamental technique. Go to youtube and type Roger Federer forehand or Agassi forehand and pick some videos where they warm up and you’ll see a “classical” follow-through over the shoulder.

  17. Acharan Jain /

    Hi Tomaz,

    I must tell u that you are a brilliant tutor……and someone should feel lucky getting trained under you.

    I have been reading your posts constantly and now I have become a fan of yours……. And reading and implementing these I have been able to accomplish my goals.

    Now, I have got a problem that when I play forehand shots I am not able to lock my wrist and eventually my shots goes inside out instead of going down the line many a times….

    I use semi-western grip with windshield wiper follow through….
    please do tell me any correction regarding my shot.
    waiting for your reply.

    • Tomaz /

      Thanks for the kind words, Acharan.

      I suggest you play some mini tennis where you choke up on the grip. Play 5-10 min. mini tennis then progress to mid-court and play from there but still have the same grip – very high on the handle.

      Alley rally also helps to keep the racquet head more stable through the contact point – meaning that you try to keep the ball between the singles and doubles sidelines.

      Let me know how it goes – you can also send me a video of your forehand.

      • Lubos L /

        Tomaz,

        is it correct to consciously lock the wrist? When I do it my arm is tight so I do not have power.

        Sometimes I have similar problem like Acharan but often I “flick” the ball with my wrist (to late stroke?)

        Lubos

  18. Tomaz, I have to say – after reviewing many modules of your site – you penetrating, simple and clear instruction is an inspiration. If you ever get to NYC, please shoot me a note…!

    For example, when I first saw ‘two handed’ instruction technique I thought “you have got to be kidding me”; but it is such rock solid instruction; I have used it over and over again – and, on top of it, the more you do it/reinforce idea of plane of racquet – the better you hit the ball.

    It’s the mental image…!

    Thank you…!

  19. vignesh /

    excellent videos very practical training

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