Learning Strokes From The Pros And What Can Go Wrong

Mar 27

In your quest to improve your tennis game, you very likely look at the pros and try to imitate their strokes.

While that’s good on one hand as most of us learn tennis technique best visually, it may also be a double-edged sword as you may try to copy some parts of the stroke that the pro doesn’t actually do; they simply happen.

What We Do And What Happens

Tennis strokes, especially groundstrokes and serves, resemble throwing a lot.

We can use the throwing analogy to experience and better understand the idea behind “what we do and what happens”.

If you throw a ball, your arm moves in a certain path but you don’t really exert force throughout the whole path.

You accelerate your arm until you release the ball, and then you relax somewhat and your arm continues to move because of the inertia.

forehand resembles a throw

Do you “do” the follow-through when you throw a ball?

Exactly the same principle applies to tennis strokes.

After the pro has made contact with the ball, he is not “doing” the stroke any more. The rest simply happens.

For this particular topic, I can speak only from my experience…

What I feel is that while it’s true that I don’t relax a millisecond after contact and I do exert some force or guidance to the ball even when the ball is gone, that doesn’t last long.

federer forehand follow-through

Should you copy this follow-through?

The simplest way of saying it is to say that I exert the force forward after the ball, but after that, I am not doing anything.

The arm and the racquet move after that “drive” part because of inertia.

I don’t “do” the follow-through of any stroke. They all happen because of inertia.

So, that’s all I wanted to share with you in this post.

Think about it, throw a few balls with throws that resemble your strokes (forehands, backhands, serves), and feel what happens.

How does that feel with your strokes?

Keep that in mind the next time you observe the stroke technique of a pro so that you don’t fall into the trap of “doing” something that actually just happens.

Leave a Comment:

(24) comments

Paul March 27, 2015

Hi Tomaz,

Good to point out that the follow through happens. Are there other parts in groundstrokes or serve where things just have to happen? You once made a great video about the momentums in a serve. Is this kind of the same principle?

Kind regards,
Paul

Reply
    Tomaz March 28, 2015

    Hi Paul,

    The backswing of the serve is a good example where we “swing” the weight (racquet) rather than “do” it.

    The drop of all groundstrokes should just happen. We let the racquet drop from the preparation and then pull it forward.

    It’s tricky to find because you need to get the right timing of letting go and then start doing something when you pull forward.

    More videos on that in the future…

    Reply
JonC March 27, 2015

Good one Tomaz – so many people concentrate on follow-through (guiding their racquet after contact), it’s a mantra of the tennis teaching world. I had a coach tell me to end with the elbow pointing at the other side of the court which is terrible advice – that stuff happens by itself.

Reply
    Scott March 27, 2015

    I heard the same advice about the elbow. While I was preparing for the shot I’m thinking about finishing with my elbow pointing towards the other side of the net. I’m thinking about the finish before ever getting started. Tomaz’s philosophy is much more appropriate. Think about what’s important and the rest occurs naturally.

    Reply
      Tomaz March 28, 2015

      Yes, we need to be really careful about teaching the follow-through. It is needed for a certain stage of tennis but I find that it is emphasized for too long or too much.

      Just get it going and then focus on the ball and other elements of tennis that are important for a good shot (rhythm, contact point, balance, seeing the ball, etc.)

      Reply
Jay Blumenstein March 27, 2015

Tomaz – this is extremely insightful. I think it extends to other things, say footwork (sliding on clay, e.g.) that just happen…in general we can only focus on 1 or 2 things, so your message simplifies refining a stroke. Of course the important first step is to identify what aspect is “conscious” vs “unconscious”.

Finally, this idea reminds me a bit of Galloway’s “Self 1” vs “Self 2” in the Inner Game of Tennis.

Thanks for the lesson.
Jay

Reply
    Tomaz March 28, 2015

    I agree, Jay, we can also let the footwork happen if we loosen up a little bit and feel light on our feet.

    Reply
Slimane March 27, 2015

So, so good. Thanks for pointing that out. What is interesting is to try and find the commonalities among the pros’ strokes. There’s a basic form that works (it’s physics) and narrowing our focus down to it only will help. The rest is just “fluff” and style, or even random movement. Forcing everything leads to stiffness and maybe injuries. However, I also like your self-awareness exercise to develop our own style that works best. It may not be enough but it’s a great drill.

Very much impressed with your incisive observations once again. You’re the best out there!

Reply
    Tomaz March 28, 2015

    Good point, Slimane. Yes, there are certain common elements of strokes and then there’s personal style.

    Reply
Dan March 27, 2015

Tomaz,

Im 39 and am pretty much still a beginner as I have only really been focused on learning tennis for about a year. The conceptual approach that you (and guys like Jim McLennan) teach is very valuable, Thank you. My subscriptions to your lessons have been as valuable as the private lessons I take on my home court. My tennis has improved drastically since I have started to actively relax and simply think about basic mechanics rather than trying to exactly copy a “correct” stroke. Not only that, but my frustration level has gone down hence making it a lot more fun.

Best,

Dan
Costa Rica

Reply
    Tomaz March 28, 2015

    Thanks for the kind feedback, Dan, stay in touch!

    Reply
vic d'obrenan March 27, 2015

Tomaz I took your advice on your serve lesson to do with momentum. Wow. What a difference!!! I have been trying to copy what I saw but as you indicated in the lesson my serve was locked as a result and not using the momentum generated by impulses of energy from my core. I am excited to learn more. A real breakthrough for me. Thanks a lot!

Reply
    Tomaz March 28, 2015

    Much appreciated, Vic! Yes, we should try and make the most of the laws of physics when we play…

    Reply
Glenn March 28, 2015

Helpful advice to consider what the mechanics of the body are doing during the ground stroke and service work.
Thanks.

Reply
tomi March 28, 2015

a great post once again tomaz. several years ago my forehand was choppy, i stopped the racquet immediately after contact – that’s where ‘doing’ the finish really helped because i knew i had to get there one way or the other. with time i learned to relax and speed up the racquet so the follow through happens by itself now. still i look at the ‘doing-the-follow-through phase’ as something that really worked for me.

Reply
    Tomaz March 28, 2015

    Hey Tomi,

    Yes, there is a stage for sticking with the follow-through especially if you don’t hit through the ball automatically.

    The danger I point out is that thinking about it for too long is distracting you from paying attention to the ball flight, timing and other important elements of the game.

    Reply
Emanuele March 28, 2015

Great video,
Your tips are always really useful and interesting.
I would be curious to know your opinion about witch percentage of technique should be explained by coaches and what percentage simply is learned by playing and by watching. I see out there there are coaches that explain everything all the time and coaches that never say a word. I guess the best would be something in between?
I played with people who never got a tennis lesson on their life but had access to tennis courts as teenagers and I was confused about how good and effective they can be in a match. Even Federer does a lot of wristy stuffs that are not exactly in the books… I’m sure you would have an interesting point of view on this.

Thanks for your videos they’re great!

Reply
    Tomaz March 29, 2015

    Thanks Emanuele,

    In my view, technique is a skeleton, like a rough blueprint on which we lay more advanced skills.

    Technique can be taught mechanically quite a lot, I’d say up to 90% in some cases.

    So 90% of the eventual stroke technique can be taught very mechanically.

    BUT – technique doesn’t make us play well in the same way as a good car doesn’t make us a good driver.

    Improving technique is like boosting your car’s horsepower and improving aerodynamics and braking and so on.

    But you need to a good driver to get the maximum of that car.

    People who never got a lesson in their life (that’s me too!) have developed good playing / driving skills through other sports as well as develop good coordination, balance, ball judgement and other sports skills.

    Copying a tennis swing is not such a big deal then and playing skills are already there.

    So in my view, tennis technique does not have to be perfect to play tennis well – as you’ve surely noticed.

    “Good enough” is something to aim for and then through drills, games and competition you improve your other skills that are the key to playing the game well.

    Reply
luiz March 29, 2015

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for more one enlightening post.

Following this one and your previous posts on effortless strokes, I tried many variations on the stroke. Maybe, because I am physicist I did it systematically, taking notes, recording videos and repeating many times.

And I have realized that relaxing the arm as much as possible immediately before the ball touch the strings, it is the best to impart spin to the ball, and power too. Does it make sense? Should we relax the arm before or after the contact?

Luiz

Reply
    Tomaz March 29, 2015

    Hi Luiz,

    We relax the the arm some time before the contact because we want the racquet to lag. Then we “pull” forward.

    For most strokes I hold my wrist fairly steady through the contact…

    The easier and slower ball you receive, the more you can let go as timing is easy.

    But if you receive a heavy top spin ball bouncing close to you, then relaxing your arm will probably result in a mishit…

    Reply
      Scott March 30, 2015

      Tomaz…….wrist position and whether it is firm or not at impact would make a wonderful topic for a future video. So many misconceptions out there, and there appears to be a school of thought that you need to “flip” or “snap” your wrist in order to drive the ball or impart more spin – both of which I believe are wrong. Like you, I maintain a firm (but not tight) wrist, and by doing so, I minimize the number of moving parts that can go wrong at impact.

      Reply
        Tomaz March 31, 2015

        Thanks for the suggestion, Scott, I’ll keep that in mind for future videos.

        Reply
Hui March 30, 2015

hi Tomas, I am your big fan from Surrey, BC, Canada. One thing I’ve noticed is the video analysis on your blog. Can you share which brand of VideoCam you are using and what’s the analysis software? I am trying to record a few videos and do some analysis.

Thanks

Hui

Reply
    Tomaz March 31, 2015

    Hi Hui,

    I use Panasonic HDC-SD900 camcorder and do my editing on Cyberlink Powerdirector 12. Both are high quality, good value and easy to use once you play with them for a while…

    Reply
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