Tennis coaches commonly instruct their students to have a long follow-through on their forehand or backhand.
They might also say something like “extend after the ball” or “imagine hitting four balls in a row” or “guide the ball”.
While there are many useless tennis tips that don’t really work – like swing low-to-high – this one actually does help.
But, how can a long follow-through help with our stroke when the ball has already left our racket?
If you’ve watched the video above, you saw that I demonstrated how I can also play with short follow-throughs.
I can rally with my friend quite consistently (although not very accurately) hitting forehands, backhands and backhand slice strokes with short follow-throughs.
I focus just on a short “jab” into the ball and can still keep the ball in play.
So, because players can keep the ball in play even with short follow-throughs, they don’t realize that something is not right and that they could play better.
Typically, players question their strokes only when they make mistakes but not when they are able to rally.
Sometimes I jokingly say that “unfortunately the ball always bounces off the racket no matter how incorrect your stroke is”. 😉
Therefore, you think what you’re doing is okay since the ball did cross the net and land in the court.
But, what I have unconsciously developed through years of coaching and playing are very long follow-throughs.
When I had to hit the ball very accurately to my students who were beginners or intermediate players, I kept extending my swing after the ball as I felt it helped me play more accurately.
I also felt that I still maintained some firmness in my arms and wrist even after the ball had left my racket as that improved my control and accuracy.
So, how is it possible to remote control, so to speak, the ball with our follow-through even though the ball has long left the racket and we cannot really affect its flight anymore?
The reason we can affect the ball flight with our follow-through is that, when we focus on extending after the contact, we will start that process just before and at contact.
We may not feel it or be aware of it because contact lasts only around 0.005 seconds, but the follow-through can last 0.5 seconds.
That’s why we can correct the way we hit the ball by focusing on a long follow-through and using certain cues that help us achieve it like “stay with the ball”, “keep the ball longer on the strings” and others that I already mentioned above.
If you think that these tips are just common coaching tips for amateurs, think again.
I’ve watched online courses from Serena Williams (click to see the course on Masterclass.com) and Andre Agassi (click to see the course on Udemy.com), and they both have very similar advice for how to hit the ball.
Serena says that it’s really important for her to have a long follow-through, which we can easily see if we carefully observe her groundstrokes.
This long follow-through helps her with control, depth and accuracy.
Andre Agassi, on the other hand, uses a different mental image which he calls “The 12 Inch Rule”.
He says that this is possibly the most important information you can have if you have to focus on only one thing while playing.
The 12 Inch Rule says that you should try and drive the racket straight through the ball starting 6 inches before the ball and extend 6 inches after the contact.
Andre also uses cues like “extend as long as possible after the ball” and “keep the ball on the strings as long as possible”, too.
So, as you can see, the idea of a long contact zone and long follow-through is really not some coaching gimmick but something that you should try to implement in your strokes
You may not feel immediately why you should extend after the ball or why you should imagine that you are keeping the ball long on the strings, but I am sure that, if you stick with this advice for a while, you will realize and feel how this helps you play with more control.
My personal feel at my level of play is that I want to “stay with the ball” as long as possible, which means that I don’t want to steer away the face of the racket from the direction in which I am hitting.
I want to keep my racket moving in the direction of where I want to hit the ball through the contact zone, which is what Andre Agassi suggests, too.
One last tip: you MUST KNOW exactly where you want to play the ball if the tips from above are to work.
If you don’t have a clear intention of where you want to play the ball, then you cannot extend in the direction of your shots since you haven’t “defined” it in your mind’s eye.
If you just want to hit the ball over the net “somewhere there”, then your stroke technique will reflect that and you’ll swing swing in a sloppy way across the ball.
But, once you have a laser-like clear intention of where you want to hit the ball, then it’s very likely that your strokes will have longer follow-throughs and look more elegant, too.