You’ve surely heard of the term “unit turn” in online or on-court tennis instruction when your coach was teaching you how to initiate your forehand or backhand stroke.
We use the unit turn tip to stop the player from doing the backswing only with their arm because we want the players also to turn their body to generate more power for the stroke.
While the tennis instruction of executing the unit turn seems very simple at first glance, players still misinterpret it and do it incorrectly.
The first common mistake that players make when executing the unit turn is that they turn their whole body from toe to head.
They imagine that the unit we’re talking about is their whole body, and this results in players stepping back with the right foot (for righthanders).
If you step back as you’re turning your body, you are also transferring your weight backward. That’s not good because in a split second you’ll have to transfer it forward toward the ball.
This stepping back then robs you of power and time.
Of course, keep in mind that the unit turn I am explaining here is done in easy conditions where we work on the stroke fundamentals which also means you’ll step forward toward the ball and hit it in neutral stance.
If you have to move backward when receiving a deep ball, then you will step back naturally when performing the unit turn.
I am sharing this video article is because I see on a daily basis how players step back and turn their whole body even when they are receiving a nice ball.
So, instead of stepping back with the right leg, you should just pivot on it and then step forward with the left leg toward the ball and execute your forehand.
The same applies to the one- and two-handed backhands, too.
The problem may originate in what the player understands as a unit.
The unit that we should turn is not your whole body from toe to head but just your torso.
You should focus on turning the torso from the waist up together with your shoulders and turn that by roughly 90 degrees first. Everything else must follow that.
So, whenever you initiate your stroke whether your forehand or your backhand, you should focus only on turning your torso and not immediately turning your feet, too.
The feet will just follow the upper body whether you step forward, backward or have to move to the side.
The second most common mistake when turning the unit is that the rotation of the shoulders tends to pull the head with it, which results in the head turned too much away from the ball.
When the head is turned away from the ball (and tilted), the eyes are not both pointing toward the ball.
And when the eyes are not facing the ball well, we lose the ability to judge depth as we cannot see well in three dimensions.
If the eyes are slanted toward the ball, then one eye sees the ball well but the other doesn’t. As a result, we don’t perceive the ball well as it’s flying toward us, and we will very likely mistime our strokes.
The tilted head also affects our balance since the organ for balance is in our inner ear and every tilt of the head causes the balance system in our brain to engage various muscles to keep us in balance.
A tilted head also prevents good body rotation into the ball because we lose the feeling of the axis of rotation.
We always need to rotate our hips and shoulders throughout the stroke to execute our strokes very efficiently, and a tilted head will often lead to very jerky movements since we’re not rotating well into the shot.
If you look at the pros and how they position their head in relation to their shoulders, you will be amazed to see how flexible they are in their neck. In fact, they can turn their head way more than 90 degrees away from the shoulders.
The best way to practice keeping your head and eyes facing the ball while your body rotates is to stand in front of the mirror and practice this.
Look yourself in the eye and initiate the unit turn by turning your torso by 90 degrees while trying to move your head as little as possible.
You will realize how your head wants to follow your shoulders, so you must try to separate them as much as possible.
Your body needs to turn, but your head must not so that your eyes can both be pointing at the incoming ball.
Only when the ball comes really close to you and you’re about to hit it will you turn your head slightly to the side.
In summary, the fundamental unit turn when we’re receiving an easy ball is done correctly when we turn only the torso to the side and not follow that with the leg stepping or with the head also turning to the side.
That will create the initial coiling in the body that will allow us to release it when we hit the ball and we’ll also be able to judge and time the ball better.
The ball is in your court now: Were you aware of these two little details about the seemingly obvious and simple unit turn part of the strokes, or is this new to you?