Generating Racket Head Speed on a Forehand
Modern tennis is a game of extreme topspin and power. And because the greater the upsy topspin = less chance of the ball going ‘long’, you can no longer have too much racket head speed.
So, to generate enough racket head speed to hit with topspun power, you’ll need a loop.
By joining the back-swung racket head and the forward swing in a circular looping motion, you create continuity and greater distance, over which to build up racket head speed.
The term ‘loop’ serves a purpose, but perhaps a more precise term is the Power Circuit or Power Cycle.
It’s worth pointing out now that with this increase in the stroke’s size comes a greater degree of difficulty in timing, particularly for the young.
The Loop Cycle or Power Circuit
Conchita Martinez was a big looper, so this ten frame sequence is worth another look.
As she turns, ‘Chita also sets the racket head off on its loopy way.
By virtue of its size, the Loop Cycle takes more time than a Connors-like straight-back/straight through hitting style, and the winning trick is to complete the full loop – circuit – cycle – in one, seamless motion… and still meet the ball out front for a Connect 3.
As mentioned, most forehands are hit from low to high, kinda like hitting up a hill – Topspin Hill.
But this isn’t possible unless you get the racket head below your hitting fist and the oncoming ball.
In the above slo-mo of Brugera, we see he’s dropped the racket below the height of his impending contact – way below – and I’ve highlighted this low-to-high hill.
If you don’t already know, Gabriela Sabatini is one of my all-time favourite (ground)stroke makers.
Because in her prime, everything seemed so pronounced and visually stimulating (in a purely technical sense, you understand 🙂 ), and I’m surprised more players haven’t used them as Stroke Models – they’re as relevant now as they were then.
But unless young aspirants know of the existence of players from previous generations, I don’t suppose they can.
In 1 of this sequence we see Gabby’s elbow pulled back high, at shoulder height.
She’s pulled back her elbow – the Cocked Trigger – and in 2 & 3 the racket head is made to journey around the elbow.
It is worth noting that the height to which she drops the racket head in 4 & 5, only marginally below the ball, tells us this is flatter, more aggressive top-spin.
Also, the slightly higher Connect 3 gives Gabby a more favourable trajectory from which to attack, and the forwardness has been engineered to reward aggression, so it is less Mats-like back-foot topspin and more front-foot Lendl-style aggression.
Cycle of Aggression
The height of the elbow (pre)determines the height of the loop – the higher the elbow, the greater the following loop cycle (and greater potential for racket head speed) – and we may as well look at other examples:
Anna Kournikova (above…obviously), here playing in the French Open Juniors, powers up the cycle of her racket head, on a deep ball that pegs her almost to the court fence – so weight forward is not really an option unless she chooses to step up and take it on the rise.
In the above three frames Andre Agassi accepts an invitation into the mid-court kill zone. We see his loop cycle and that his elbow peaks fractionally below the height of his shoulder (my film ran out at this point – gutted – but I have no shortage of Agassi sequences).
Remember, the height of your elbow determines the height of your loop – capito?
Michael Chang’s elbow, however, is a touch lower and his loop more shallow.
Curiously, for such an extreme topspin merchant, Thomas Muster’s elbow (below) is lower still.
This suggests a shallow loop and – consequently – a higher degree of muscle in the Muster forehand (if this sentence doesn’t make sense, fret ye not – it eventually will).