Have you noticed that tennis pros use two different forehand drop & wrist lag techniques when they’re about to hit a forehand?
Some pros drop the racket with the edge pointing down (Del Potro, Halep) and others (Federer, Stosur) with the face (strings) pointing down.
If you’re unsure of the pros and cons of each forehand drop technique and are curious about which one I recommend for recreational tennis players, then read on.
Special thanks to Jorge Capestany for letting me use the videos and images from his video collection of the pros in slow motion which you can find on Jorge’s Youtube Channel!
Before I explain the different types of drop techniques and wrist actions on the forehand, I want to explain one concept that I call a stable wrist.
A wrist is stable when it is in the full extension – so it’s fully laid back.
This stable / fully laid back position of the wrist – which is at around 90 degrees angle in relation to the forearm – happens at some point in the forward swing and it stays there until the contact.
To let a player experience what a stable wrist does for them, I have the player extend their arm forward while holding their racket with the forehand grip. Then I push the racket, holding it on both ends towards the player.
Next I ask the player to open their fingers, and I push the racket again into their palm.
They realize and feel that their wrist is stable and “strong” and that they don’t have to squeeze the racket or contract their hand and wrist muscles in order to stabilize the racket – which is what they have probably been doing all the time.
If the player’s wrist doesn’t reach full extension, meaning it doesn’t reach the end of its movement and end up fully laid back, then the player has to actively stabilize the wrist by tightening the grip and wrist muscles to keep the wrist and the racket stable at impact.
The negative consequence of that is that the player then loses the feel in their hand and the flexibility of the wrist which can still move around its axis.
With this loss of the wrist flexibility the player also loses the ability to precisely spin the ball and to adjust with the hand if last-minute adjustments are necessary.
All those are not possible with a very tight and “locked” wrist.
Keep in mind that you can have a fully laid back wrist only if you hit the ball well in front where your forearm and wrist form a roughly 90 degree angle (or a letter L for an easier mental image).
When that happens, it means that the wrist has reached a very stable position and cannot move any more backwards – because of the way the arm and hand bones and tendons are structured.
Once that happens, almost no more tension is required to keep the wrist and therefore the racket in place.
That natural looseness and flexibility of the wrist can then be used to work on the ball with much more feel and control.
When players learn about the fully laid back wrist while taking lessons or observing the pros in slow motion, the biggest mistake they make is that they try to copy exactly what they see.
If you immediately lay back your wrist fully while preparing your forehand stroke, you will lose on the stretch-and-release effect that happens when we lag the racket (and therefore the wrist) behind.
Now, what’s important to know is that, whatever drop technique you’re using, the wrist must fall into the laid-back position by itself. We must allow it.
One way I show this to players is by standing behind them and holding their forearm only.
I ask the player to have a loose wrist, and then I move their arm slowly back and then quickly forward.
Not only that, but we also stand next to the net so that, once they swing forward, they hit the net at their ideal contact point with a laid-back wrist.
That’s how the player experiences how their wrist falls back into a stable position by itself simply because of the racket’s weight and change of direction that I create.
They also feel with how much power they hit the net although they haven’t tightened their muscles or worked very hard.
The trickiest part of this laid-back wrist process is to relax your wrist enough that it lays back itself as far as it goes and then it will stop moving and stabilize itself.
Another tricky part is to do it just when you’re about to swing forward.
Most recreational tennis players do exactly the opposite!
As they are about to swing forward, they start to TENSE UP their arm and wrist muscles in order to “strongly” hit the ball. In the process, they prevent the wrist from laying back fully.
That prevents them from relaxing their arm more, which also means that they cannot move their wrist upwards to spin the ball well, they cannot adjust well in the last second to challenging balls and they don’t really feel the power from the wrist lag which causes the forearm muscle to stretch and then snap back.
The solution to this problem is very counter-intuitive, and that’s why most players never figure it out.
Instead of trying to do MORE (using more of your muscles to get more power), you have to do LESS – meaning you need to relax your wrist muscles more when you’re about to swing forward.
When you do less, the lag will happen and the wrist will fall back into a stable position.
You will start to feel that you don’t have to squeeze the racket so tight while still feeling a very stable wrist and good control of the racket head.
From this position when the wrist is laid back, your forearm muscle will also stretch and then snap back, which will give you that extra power to your shots.
This mechanism of the stretch and snap of the forearm muscles happens only if we allow the wrist to lag.
We must allow the wrist to fall back into the laid-back position and not try to “do it” by ourselves.
You can learn very practical and feel based exercises on how to create a wrist lag, how to engage more of your body into the forehand and how to clean up your technique from any flaws in my Effortless Forehand video course.
Now that you’re familiar with the concept of a stable wrist, let’s take a look at those two main types of dropping the racket head and what the differences are.
Note that the appearance of dropping the racket on the edge happens only when you hold an eastern or a semi-western forehand grip (just a bit more closed).
But, if you hold a western forehand grip, then your racket will always go with the face down into the drop.
So, when we drop the racket on the edge, then the wrist reaches a very stable position very early in the stroke.
When the racket is parallel to the baseline, then the wrist is almost in a completely stable position. It doesn’t move much any more, and it falls into a fully laid back position when the player rotates the hips forward.
That gives us a very good feel of a stable racket face; therefore, we feel we can control the shot well.
The racket is also aligned almost at the same angle as it will be when we hit the ball at the contact point.
This helps us feel in control of our forehand stroke.
And since the racket’s angle is already correct for hitting the ball over the net, we have quite a big margin of error when it comes to the contact point and timing.
If we hit the ball a bit too late (which happens all the time at the recreational level), we already have the racket at the correct angle with a stable wrist, so we still hit quite a good shot.
When we drop the racket on the face like Roger Federer does, then the wrist is not in a stable position and the racket face is not aligned properly to hit the ball over the net.
As we continue going forward in the swing, the wrist starts to fall back. At the same time, it starts to turn slightly, which makes the racket face start to turn away from a completely closed position.
For about half of the forward swing, the wrist is not stable and the racket face is not aligned correctly!
Eventually, the wrist does reach a stable position. In this example of analyzing Roger Federer’s forehand, it happens at around 0.08 seconds before contact.
The reason I am noting the times is that you can see how difficult tennis is and how accurate the timings and moves in the stroke have to be to hit the ball at exactly the right time with a correctly positioned racket face.
Start a stopwatch (you can do it even on your smartphone) and tap as quickly as possible to start and stop it to see if you can make it in less than 0.10 seconds.
That’s how late in the stroke Roger Federer finds a stable wrist.
I personally can demonstrate this forehand drop technique on the face and hit a forehand, but I can distinctly feel how difficult that is for me – and that’s because I feel that the racket positions correctly for the shot very late in the stroke and that my wrist feels a bit wobbly and unstable because I had to keep it very loose when dropping the forehand in this manner.
The benefit of this forehand drop technique is that it allows the player to accelerate the racket head faster since the wrist is looser.
But, while you do get more power with this technique, you also have a much smaller margin of error.
That’s very obvious if we play Federer’s forehand stroke for a few more frames forward and see what point his racket actually aligns correctly to hit the ball.
I see it almost perpendicular at only around 0.02 seconds before contact, but it may be even a few frames later.
So, if Roger was late with this stroke by just 0.02 seconds, his forehand would have hit the ball into the net.
That’s because, for most of this forehand swing, the racket face is closed and it starts to open and position itself perpendicularly just before the contact.
If you’re been trying this forehand drop technique on your own and have found yourself playing very inconsistently, you now know why.
By mis-timing your shot by just 0.02 seconds, your racket face was not positioned correctly.
If we now compare the forehand drop technique from Simona Halep, who drops it more on the edge, we can see that her wrist is stable already 0.13 seconds before contact and her racket face is also aligned correctly at that time.
While she gets a bit less power with that drop technique, she gains much more control and has a much larger margin of error.
One analogy I like to use is the powerful car analogy.
If you were to try driving a Formula 1 car with massive power, you would very likely crash in a matter of seconds. There would simply be too much power and speed for you to control it.
You are used to controlling the car perhaps up to 80 miles per hour, and the Formula 1 car can easily reach 200 miles per hour.
If you wanted to learn how to control such a fast car, you would need to gradually increase the speed from your 80 miles per hour. You would need to practice for months and probably years in order to control the Formula 1 car at 200 miles per hour.
The same goes for this modern forehand drop technique employed by Federer, Dimitrov, Stosur and many other pros.
Since they’ve been drilling their forehands since childhood, they have gotten so good at it that they can control that extra power and keep the ball in the court.
What I want to show you here with the Halep vs Federer forehand technique comparison is how much simpler the dropping on the edge technique is and how much larger the margin of error is.
The dropping on the face technique has to be executed to perfection in an extremely short time frame, and it’s unlikely that you can play well without much practice.
But, if you are using this technique and it works for you, then keep it and don’t worry about it.
Your brain has obviously been able to calculate all the complex timings of this type of stroke, and you can just stay with it.
If you want to add just a bit more stability to the stroke, then consider laying back your wrist a bit while you’re dropping the racket.
That means that the racket will not be parallel to the ground just before you swing forward, but it will be slightly pointing up with the tip.
That might help you keep your wrist from swinging too wildly by the time you hit the ball.
We can take a look at one more variation of the forehand drop technique. Roger Federer also uses it, but it’s most obvious in the case of Jack Sock.
In this case, the tip of the racket is pointing forward for a long time in the backswing until the last moment, when it flips completely for around 180 degrees while it also drops, usually in the face-down racket position.
Jason Frausto explains this very clearly in the video below and also compares Jack Sock’s forehand swing to Roger Federer’s forehand.
This extreme “flipping” of the racket head stretches the forearm muscles even more than usual. This creates an extreme stretch-and-snap effect of the forearm, and the wrist and the racket head are basically shot out at very high speed.
Roger Federer uses this technique when he is receiving a very slow ball, and he really wants to hit it fast.
If he is receiving a faster ball and is not positioned well, then he will not attempt to accelerate the racket head so much and will look for more control.
This forehand drop technique is even more challenging, and I would not recommend it to any recreational tennis player.
In summary, I hope this comparison between dropping the racket on the edge and dropping it on the face gives you a better understanding of how this process works in terms of physics and biomechanics as well as the pros and cons of each technique.
I know you are all bombarded with information and videos on “How to play like the pros”, “How to hit a forehand like Roger Federer” and “How to hit forehands with more power”, but you must use your common sense and consider whether we, as recreational hobby tennis players, can actually use such advanced techniques as the pros do without spending as much time training as they do.
If we could actually do that just based on some video on YouTube, then it would be a little bit unfair, don’t you think?
The pros had to train for 3-4 hours per day for 10 years, so it seems unlikely that the only thing you need is that secret information derived from super-smart analysis of what Roger Federer is doing to shave off 9 and a half years of practice.
Wouldn’t it be a bit unfair if just a few weeks of practicing this secret modern forehand drop technique would let you crush all your opponents in your club? 😉