The following tennis lesson helps you develop the modern forehand technique, which allows you to hit forehands with effortless power while maintaining high consistency of your shots.
Most tennis players struggle with forehands when they have to finish short balls or when they try to dictate the rallies from the baseline because they don’t know how to engage the right muscles and in what sequence to hit powerful forehands.
This step-by-step instruction guide gives you the fundamentals of the forehand technique that will allow you to quickly improve your forehand.
If you want to take it even further, then check out the Effortless Forehand video course which goes much more in depth on:
If you would like to have a handy Forehand Technique checklist of all the steps described in this article so you can use it on your smartphone as a reminder on the court, then share this guide with your friends and get access to the checklist.
Forehand Technique Checklist – (Right-click and select “Save As…” to download)
How you grip the racket is very important for your forehand because the grip translates the feel from the racket strings that interact with the ball to your hand. Therefore, you feel what’s going on with the ball, and you know how to manipulate it.
If something is not right with the grip, then your forehands will not have good control regardless of how your other external technique looks.
While you may know how to hold a semi-western grip – which is what I recommend for a stable and reliable forehand stroke – you may still hold the handle incorrectly.
The most common mistake is that the hand is perpendicular to the handle. When players holds the racket like that, they are not supporting the racket well because the index finger is not spread out.
That makes the racket head feel very heavy. To control it, you’ll have to tense up your wrist muscles, which will cause you to lose feel of the racket head and consequently have trouble playing accurately.
The correct grip would be when we spread the fingers a little bit so that you see the index finger under the racket (see picture).
The reason we want the index finger there is that it helps us push the racket head up.
When we are swinging towards the ball and applying topspin, this finger helps us turn the wrist and drive the racket upwards.
It gives us very good support under the racket, and the racket rests nicely.
So, check how your current forehand grip looks and make sure you add this little index finger technique in there so that your racket will be more stable in your hand.
Now that we’ve set the grip right, we need to get in a ready position. I often see players in a ready position, but they’re not in a ready state because they’re just standing.
They’re waiting to see the ball go in a certain direction and only then do they start playing. That’s a ready position but not a ready state.
In a ready state, you are moving. You feel like you’re dancing.
You can be dancing from foot to foot, or you can be doing something like mini split steps, but you have to do something.
Whenever the ball is in play, we never stand, not even for a split second. We are always moving.
There are two main reasons you want to keep moving:
Now even though I am explaining the modern forehand tennis technique, I still wanted to include the ready position and state because they are so important for your ability to play good tennis.
Remember: if you’re not moving and if you’re not doing a split step, you’re not really playing tennis.
Make sure that you add this to your game because, otherwise, you will never play well. It’s impossible to play tennis well if you’re just standing and if you don’t split step.
The first thing you do when you see the ball coming to your forehand side is that you turn to the side.
The most common mistake is to use your arm a lot to go back; instead, you should turn to the side, and you should prepare the racket mostly with your off-hand.
When you’re turning to the side, your right hand is basically resting on the racket and your left arm is doing all the work preparing.
Another common mistake you might make in this preparation phase is that you might think too much about preparing the racket “back”.
So, don’t imagine it like that. Just think that you will prepare to the side.
The rest will just happen during the stroke as you step towards the ball and turn the body more.
When you prepare correctly holding the semi-western grip, then the racket face and your non-dominant hand are pointing to the side.
The wrist of your hitting hand is just below the height of your shoulder, and your arm is slightly bent.
From the preparation phase, you should let the racket drop so that gravity can assist you with accelerating the racket. In a later stage of the forward swing, you will start to take over with your hitting arm.
Remember: if you want to hit an effortless and efficient forehand, then you want to use laws of physics to your advantage and make the best of them.
One of them is gravity, and you can use it only if you let go. Instead of “doing” everything yourself with your arm, you let gravity help you accelerate the racket initially.
What I teach and recommend in this phase where you are building the fundamentals of the forehand technique is that you DON’T copy the tennis pros and how they drop the racket.
Most of them drop the racket with the face pointing down where they completely relax the wrist before accelerating forward.
This is an advanced method of accelerating the racket head. While you can learn it, it is very unlikely that you will be able to control your shots.
You will most likely be late on the forehand and hit most of them very inaccurately.
That’s because the racket head will flip close to 180 degrees in a very short time, just a few hundredths of a second before you make contact.
If you make the slightest mistake in timing, your forehands will be very inconsistent.
While I can demonstrate this forehand flip technique, I find it very difficult to control my shots.
I am probably a 5.5 NTRP level, yet I don’t use that technique. Rather, my forehand technique is much simpler, which allows me more margin of error and gives me much higher consistency and accuracy.
The key to this technique is that you drop the racket in the direction of the back edge.
(Image credit: Both images from above have been taken from the videos of the Tennis Unleashed Youtube channel which I highly recommend if you’re into slow motion videos of the pros and expert advice of coach Jason Frausto.)
In other words, you simply let your wrist turn backwards, almost like you are waving.
When you do that, your wrist will be almost laid back (it will fully lay back in the next step!) and it will fall into the exact position in relation to the forearm that it has to be when you make contact with the ball.
Therefore, you don’t have to “find” this laid-back wrist position just a split second before contact – and possibly miss it. Your wrist will get into a very stable position early in the swing and simplify the stroke for you.
The important part in this drop-on-the-edge technique is that, as soon as your wrist starts turning, you let the racket drop fully and then you gradually take over and accelerate it.
If you have a hitch or a pause in your drop where the wrist will stay still for a split second, then you won’t feel the real benefit of this technique because it works only if the whole forehand stroke is executed in a continuous manner.
Once you master this technique of dropping the racket on the edge and hitting consistent forehands, your forehand technique may simply evolve through repetition – and not through conscious mechanical teaching – into a flip technique that the pros use.
Again, I have played for 30 years at quite a high recreational level, yet my forehand has never evolved into that technique. As such, I have strong reservations about the pro technique used by recreational tennis players.
We should use simple and effective techniques because that’s what we are capable of doing based on the amount of training we invest into our tennis game.
Del Potro and many other pros (especially women) are examples of how a more simple forehand drop technique still works at the high level of tennis and therefore it can work for you too.
You’ve gone through the preparation and the tipping point, and you’ve released the racket on the edge.
Now gravity is taking over. It’s starting to accelerate the racket.
We come to the next phase where the acceleration of the racket starts.
The way the racket starts to accelerate or your arm starts to move forward is that it first has to lag a little bit.
What needs to happen here is that your hips need to start to rotate first, when your arm is starting to drop.
Simply imagine your hips turning 90 degrees for now in this fundamental stage of building the forehand.
In most cases, your hips won’t rotate that much before contact, but you need to exaggerate the movement for you to feel it.
If, while your hips are rotating, you keep a relatively loose arm (since you are just letting it fall in the drop using gravity), then your arm will lag a bit.
In this fundamental phase, I don’t recommend you focus on lagging the arm much.
However, I do recommend that you become aware of the wrist lag.
That creates a certain stretch effect in the forearm which helps us accelerate the racket head into the ball very effortlessly.
It’s very important to understand that, when the racket head lags and the wrist is fully laid back, this happens by itself.
We don’t “do” that by taking the racket back and flexing our wrist. It happens because we have a relatively loose wrist and we are rotating our body towards the ball; therefore, the racket falls behind – it lags.
That’s why I teach dropping the racket on the edge (in the previous step).
It prepares the wrist in the right position so that, when the body starts to turn forward, the wrist will fall exactly into the right position for the contact of the ball in relation to the forearm.
The result is that you will not be confused intellectually or feel-wise about how the wrist must be.
It will simply fall into place exactly how it should be to give you power (through the stretch effect) and control (through being stable as it’s fully laid back).
Now that the racket is accelerating forward, we need to steer it into the correct swing path that will help us control the ball well.
The swing path is a straight line before and after contact.
The reason we need to swing in a straight line for a part of our swing is that we cannot perfectly time the ball.
If we keep swinging in a circular motion and we mistime the forehand by just a few hundredths of a second, we will hit the ball with a slightly different racket angle.
And just a small change in the racket angle at contact creates a very big change in where the ball will land on the other side of the court.
By swinging in a straight line, we ensure that the racket head is directing the ball towards our intended target even if we hit the ball slightly too early or slightly too late.
One way to describe this swing path is to imagine more of a bowling motion rather than a discus throw motion that typically happens when you imagine a circular path.
To get the feel for the bowling motion, you can simply take a few tennis balls and bowl them towards a target.
After 20 or so repetitions, take your racket and see if you can implement this feeling of bowling into your swing.
Important: The bowling motion is the fundamental swing path of the forehand as it helps us feel the effect of the gravity that helped us accelerate the racket and it allows us to play consistently and accurately.
It also happens quite naturally when we are receiving a relatively low ball where we can swing in a more downwards motion.
But when you receive a higher ball, you will have to adjust your swing, which will be more horizontal and actually closer to a discus throw.
Keep in mind that that is a variation of the fundamental forehand swing and that it will work well only if you have mastered the “bowling” swing path first.
If you don’t have a good feel of how to drop the racket with the help of gravity and swing it effortlessly, then this more horizontal swing will feel very stiff and pushy and your forehands won’t be hit effortlessly and with good pace.
We’ve now reached the ball in our swing and have to contact the ball. If we want to apply some control to the ball, we want to spin it a little bit.
To teach the spin, I prefer to explain it as rolling the ball rather than brushing the ball, which is most commonly used.
“Brushing” tends to create an incorrect mental image where you’re approaching the ball with your racket, but then you only brush it with an upwards motion. The ball doesn’t get any forward force, so it ends up short and with no pace.
I prefer the compress & roll approach first, which of course is an exaggerated way of hitting the ball. You can quickly get the gist of it and accelerate that movement into the actual swing speed that you’ll use to hit the ball.
I have explained in detail how to learn the compress & roll topspin technique of the forehand (but it also applies to the backhand), and I’ve shared some more advanced drills for developing topspin with this approach, so just click the links to learn more.
As I’ve mentioned in the swing path part, we want to swing straight through the ball to improve the accuracy of our shots.
In this part, after the contact, we usually explain it as extending after the ball.
You can imagine just following the ball for a bit to develop this extension. That is a more mechanical approach, but I would also like to mention the actual cause of extension that happens with more advanced players.
The reason I, for example, extend after the ball is because I am aiming and guiding the ball towards a certain target I have in mind.
In other words, I have a very clear intention of how and where I want to play the ball.
This clear intention and my desire to hit the forehand accurately naturally result in my extending after the ball in the same way as you would naturally extend your arm forward if you were bowling the ball and aiming towards a certain target.
The extension happens naturally if you have a clear intention and you are aiming into a specific target.
I have found in my work with hundreds of recreational tennis players that they rarely have a clear intention and that they often don’t aim accurately at the moment of contacting the ball.
And that’s why they don’t extend after the ball and don’t execute this part of the forehand technique correctly.
Having a clear and early intention of what exactly you want to do with the ball is extremely important for your ability to play consistently and accurately as it will directly affect your stroke technique.
I’ve explained this in the past in detail, so head over to the #1 Key For Consistency article to learn more.
We have been directing the ball and extending through the contact zone, and now we just need to complete our stroke in the follow-through.
On the forehand, I teach my players to catch the racket. I recommend that you work on catching the racket with your left hand somewhere above your shoulder in this position because, when you catch the racket, your left arm and your left shoulder will go out of the way.
The most common mistake on the forehand follow-through is that the left arm just drops dead and the right arm ends up alone in the follow-through. Then the shoulders tend to fight each other – they’re blocking each other – so the hitting arm cannot easily swing through the ball.
When we catch the racket, then our shoulders can move freely through the shot. That helps us generate more power and move much more efficiently.
I’ve explained this in more detail in the Forehand Follow-Through article, so click the link to learn more.
The 8 steps to a modern tennis forehand technique is a method of developing the fundamentals of the forehand which should be applicable to all recreational and junior tennis players, especially if they are struggling with the forehand.
If you are saying that it’s different than how most of the pros play, you’re right. But, be realistic in your expectations of what your current skill level is.
Consider that these are the most talented people in the world. They started very young and spent thousands of hours working on their forehand technique under the supervision of an experienced coach.
My friend Urban and I play at a very high recreational level of tennis, yet we don’t fully apply the forehand drop and flip techniques because they are extremely demanding.
Our forehands are excellent even for high level recreational play. Neither of us has any problems putting opponents under pressure from the baseline or finishing short balls when we have to.
While this article and its corresponding video above are extensive, they represent less than 10% of the instruction I provide in the full Effortless Forehand video course, which includes more than 4 hours of video instruction.
The Effortless Forehand course shows you various practical drills that help you develop the forehand techniques described above.
It teaches you how to engage your bigger muscles in the body for effortless power through drills based on biomechanics, and it teaches you all the major stances and footwork patterns that allow you to hit quality forehands from any situation.
If you have any questions or thoughts about developing the fundamental tennis forehand technique described above, just use the comments section below.