What Is The Correct Racket Head Orientation At Contact?

Jul 11

One of the most common misconceptions in tennis is that the racket head needs to be horizontal when we make contact with the ball.

Even if a coach never tells you (incorrectly, of course) that your racket head needs to be horizontal at contact, you just assume it.

And, as you’ll see, it’s an incorrect assumption.

Racket Orientations (Angles) For Low, Medium Height and High Balls

We hit most of the incoming balls between the hips and the shoulder height. In most of those situations, the racket is actually horizontal at contact.

tennis racket head orientation

The racket head is horizontal when hitting at around hip to shoulder height

We may then incorrectly assume that it also has to be horizontal when hitting low or high balls.

When players receive a low ball and they attempt to hit it with a horizontal racket orientation, they will tense up their wrist to keep the racket head level and will therefore lose the flexibility of the wrist.

In other words, you lose the ability to manipulate the racket head and therefore the ball with feel since your wrist is tight.

Instead, you should drop your wrist and the racket naturally more down so that it’s very comfortable to your wrist when you’re making contact.

Racket orientation low contact point

Racket orientation / angle at low contact point

In fact, hitting low balls is the most comfortable for me personally as I simply swing down and allow my wrist to drop down,which means I get effortless acceleration with the help of gravity.

This applies to forehands and backhands, of course.

The exact same principles apply to high balls; you don’t have to struggle to keep the racket head horizontal when hitting a high ball – that’s quite uncomfortable for the wrist.

If you do, you will again tense up your wrist and possibly other muscles in your arm and lose the feel and control of the ball.

You can very naturally allow the racket head to be above the wrist and hit the ball that way.

Racket orientation high contact point

Racket orientation / angle at high contact point

Yes, you will likely apply a bit of sidespin to the ball and not a pure topspin, but that’s fine as the ball will still have a predictable flight because of the amount of spin.

There is no law that says that a tennis ball can spin only around a horizontal axis.

I’ve shared much more on how to hit high balls in tennis before, so just follow the link if you want to learn more.

In summary, realize that you do not have to hit a tennis ball with a horizontal racket head orientation.

You can drop the racket head down when hitting low balls, and you can lift it up above the horizontal line when hitting high balls.

backhand contact heights

You’ll position your arm and wrist in much more stable and comfortable positions, and that will allow you to control the ball better.

forehand contact heights

Keep in mind that I do not want you to DO the drop or the lift of the racket head, I want you to ALLOW it.

If you have been trying to hit a ball at every height with a horizontal racket face, then you weren’t ALLOWING the racket to drop or come up to the ball.

You were controlling it too much with tightness.

If you now consciously and forcefully drop or lift the racket face, that won’t work either.

You just need to allow it by trying to be more comfortable when hitting low and high balls and giving yourself permission to hit the ball at any racket angle orientation that you want.

You’ll see that your forehands and backhands will become much easier.

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(14) comments

David July 11, 2017

Great insights Tomaz! Sometimes in tennis it seems like we fight what feels natural, to our detriment. (The two exceptions, as you point out in other posts, are the serve and keeping our head still). I think it’s important to also emphasize that racket head orientation changes, but not the angle. One of my biggest faults is changing the angle of the racket itself.

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KEvin July 11, 2017

Coach, how about the orientation of the racket face at contact? Perpendicular, open or closed to the ground and when? Thanks.

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    Tomaz July 11, 2017

    Hi Kevin,

    There’s a difference between what video analysis shows and what we teach. Video analysis can show on some shots a racket face slightly closed, perhaps 2 degrees off the vertical line.

    But you cannot consciously control 2 degrees racket angle.

    So it’s best to just imagine a perpendicular racket face at contact for a fundamental groundstroke from the baseline and learn to adjust the minute angle changes of the racket through repetition and doing it subconsciously.

    Reply
      Peter July 11, 2017

      I learned, that very often the good players do not try to hit the ball in the sweet spot of their rackets (especially forehands) but a little bit lower/under it. This is the reason why the racket is a little bit closed directly after contact (as a reaction!). The question is of course whether to teach the contact under the sweet spot or not?! What do you think?

      Reply
        Tomaz July 11, 2017

        Hi Peter,

        I don’t think that’s possible. Every player wants to hit the sweet spot but sometimes they mishit.

        The human eyes and brain are not remotely good enough to be able to aim to hit the ball slightly below the sweet spot on purpose.

        If they were that accurate the top pros would never frame the ball. And yet they do it.

        So that’s just coincidence that some guy noticed here and there and made another bogus story out of it just for the sake of getting more attention.

        In 80-90% of the cases the pros hit the sweet spot. The rest are random hits off the sweet spot.

        I do remember Andy Roddick saying in one interview that he manages to hit the ball completely clean only in about 15% of the cases…

        Reply
          Peter July 12, 2017

          Thank you, Thomas, that sounds reasonable!

          Reply
JonC July 11, 2017

Tomaz, wanted to get your opinion on something. I was reading in the commments at Talk Tennis concerning the one hand backhand, but it applies to forehand as well: he says a key mistake that few talk about is letting the racket face get into an open position during the take back and then you have to close the face as you swing forward which leads to an inconsistent face angle (too closed or open) at contact.

He says to drop the “trailing edge” and accelerate the “leading edge” to contact (for topspin of course). I didn’t even realize I was doing this but I was – since I started keeping the face angle consistent during the whole stroke, I’ve really improved the consistency of my ball trajectory.

Jon

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    Tomaz July 11, 2017

    Hi Jon,

    When playing a one-handed backhand the racket face can be very open in the preparation phase like you can see with Federer, Almagro, Thiem and so on.

    That just means that they have locked the wrist into place and that doesn’t mean one has to close the racket face for contact.

    That happens automatically as the arm moves forward. Try it with yourself in slow motion and you’ll see.

    But on the forehand it’s different and it depends on the grip. A continental grip would show as a slightly open racket face in preparation whereas all other grips would have a neutral or closed racket face.

    So only if one would turn their wrist up for some reason then they would need to be told to close it.

    But that means you’re doing something wrong already and twisting your wrist when there is no need.

    If you simply hold your racket comfortably and don’t do anything with your wrist then the racket face surely won’t be open and there won’t be no need to try and close it.

    “Accelerating the leading edge” tip can be used when teaching someone how to hit low and short balls around the service line and spin them a lot so that you can keep them in the court.

    But I wouldn’t want to think that for a groundstroke from the baseline. If you consciously close your racket face at contact you’ll do it too much and your shots will land in the net.

    Reply
Tom July 12, 2017

What a relief. I took a couple of lessons recently and the coach kept trying to make me avoid taking the ball too low as this would mean the racket head facing slightly downwards. But for me doing this was quite comfortable, and I did not want to have to position myself perfectly every time so the ball was always about waist height. I also found it easier to impart top spin. Thanks Tomaz.

Reply
    Tomaz July 12, 2017

    Glad to hear it helped, Tom. The coaches sometimes force players to try and hit the ball at the highest point as that’s what the pros do.

    But when it comes to stroke fundamentals and just practicing one should give themselves plenty of time and hit the ball on the way down as then it’s the easiest to hit.

    Reply
Gary July 14, 2017

Hi Tomaz, on low balls, how about bending the knees more and so as to be able to hit horizontally? Thanks.

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    Tomaz July 16, 2017

    Hi Gary,

    Sure, you can bend your knees to get lower to the ball but again, don’t force your wrist into a horizontal position. Always look for comfort in your arm and wrist.

    Reply
Sam S July 15, 2017

Coach, thanks for the tip. It is not always obvious that one has the option to adapt to the situation at hand. Will try to remember this next time I am on the court.

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