FOREHAND AND BACKHAND SHOTS IN MODERN TENNIS
If we compare modern performance of the forehand (a shot made from the right side in case with a right-handed player) and backhand (performed from the righty’s left) shots to their 10-12 year old analogues, we’ll notice significant changes in technique and in the usage of these fundamental tennis elements.
Forehand in times of Pete Sampras
Particularly noticeable is the change of the usage of these shots. In the golden days of Federer, Sampras and Agassi much attention was given to the power and speed of the shots performance. In this regard, the majority of shots were flat with less spin imparted but with higher velocity. Unlike its modern variation, tennis of those days was a competition in power. The essence of most matched lied in a big serve and forceful forehand. Thanks to them the majority of points were scored. And it’s not surprising at all. Practically all tennis hard courts where the majors are played used to be faster, which predetermined the aggressive playing style. Good serve and hard hitting forehand were more than enough to achieve winning results on such courts. And, of course, these elements were well developed by all professional athletes.
Secondly, we shouldn’t neglect technological progress. No one can argue us out of the idea that in many respects technological advancements caused tennis philosophy to change. Today rackets enable athletes to have greater control over the ball and to add different variations of spinning which was impossible before. I can hardly imagine Nadal displaying all his wonderful shots 10 years ago, as this high-speed rotation he imparts to the balls has become possible only some years ago. In past times the courts were faster, rackets were more primitive thus depriving defending players of all advantages they possess now. All these factors predetermined the forehand technique which used to be flatter than its present-day counterpart.
Modern forehand overview
At the same time forehand was considered to be one of the most deciding elements. As a result, all top players tried to bring it to perfection neglecting their backhand technique. Consequently, their backhand looked like a footballers’ left leg, which they lean on while walking. Many players took no trouble to practice it somehow and were confined to slice shots from the left. Today’s tennis veterans Karlovic and Petzschner are illustrative examples of it. Of course, modern tennis is all different. Due to slow hard courts and new rackets forehand and backhand techniques have changed dramatically. Flat shots lost its efficiency against consistent players with good defense.
Top players now take to hit the ball back to the opponent’s side of the court making him commit mistakes using the aggressive but inconsistent flat forehand. Alongside, the players hit forehand with more rotation. The speed falls down a bit, but the shots gain more consistency.
What shots are more beneficial these days? Top players today make great use of cross forehand shots. More rotation gives more consistency but decreases the speed of the ball, thus making it tougher to break through the competitor’s defense. That’s why cross shots are vitally important in today’s tennis. Such shots overwhelm the opponent’s defense by opening free corners to consistent shots along the line. David Ferrer bases his play on cross forehand shots. If you happen to watch his matches, you’ll get what we are talking about: most of his point the Spaniard wins making cross-court forehand spins driving his opponent into one corner thus opening the other one and then hit the ball along the line.
Again, greater rotation imposed on the balls hit from the forehand has drastically influenced the tennis vision. It has become more tactical than it used to be. Versatile types of rotation, tactical vision of the game, proactive approach, good movements and physical training have come to the fore leaving such components as power and strength behind.
Have you ever tried to guess why young players suffer so much trouble trying to get into top 100? The key lies in their poor tactical training. Big serve, powerful forehand and solid backhand can’t afford them to lift to the next level. Why? Their training sessions are mainly aimed at developing fundamental tennis elements, while only experience can provide for them with deep tennis comprehension. Such statistically average rising stars as Kokkinakis or Zverev count on their booming service play and aggressive shots from the both sides. But it’s not enough. More skillful players would easily edge them out due to their incompetent decisions on court. They make wrong shots in a wrong time. That’s why young players should hone their tactical skills making use of their forehand: hit shortened and diagonal cross-courts, learn to send high bouncing balls to the baseline (which is very efficient against defending players of a low height) and to attack with powerful flat shots when it’s needed. Personally we believe that only because of their poor tactical training such athletes as John Isner, Steve Johnson and Tomas Berdych failed to fully reveal their potential. They would hardly be capable of moving further as their tactical arsenal remains the same.
They play powerful and aggressive tennis to defeat one and the same opponents who practice the same tennis style but with poorer defense or those who lack defending skills are next to nothing. So any consistent player becomes a real challenge for them. That same Berdych will smash all around unless he meets Gasquet, Simone, not to speak about Ferrer, Djokovic or Nadal.
To make a long story short, forehand technique has underwent significant changes. Versatility in rotation has become very important. The players now tend to use the topspin approach very often. New tactics has innovated the footwork and movements on court.
Modern backhand overview
Now some words about the backhand. In my view, tennis ought its development to the evolution of the backhand mostly. That’s why it is worth to be described in a separate article. But in this one we want to dwell on the most vivid aspects of the backhand shots. The two-handed backhand is more popular today due to its higher efficiency. Why? It’s much easier to impart topspin on the ball and to hit higher balls. The only exception that comes to my mind is Richard Gasquet whose one-handed backhand is perfect! The rest are off the mark. Such a fashion is also attributable to new technologies in tennis enabling players to impart more rotation to the balls. As a result, most players with one-handed backhand have nothing to answer against high topspin shots hit to the service box. It’s very difficult to play these balls raising the hand on the head level with a one-handed backhand approach. We immediately recall Federer – Nadal rivalry, where the Swiss gets a lot of points when Rafa starts hitting the balls to his left.
Another important issue is that the one-handed backhand is much slower than the two-handed. And it’s especially visible on fast courts where Federer, Wawrinka, Dimitrov and Dominic Thiem tend to lose backhand-to-backhand exchange as they are especially vulnerable in this element. Another thing is that slice shots are so rare to see today that they’ve almost disappeared from the men’s tour. Of course come players develop them to make their tactical steps more varitype. But as the main shot from the left it’s almost gone as these shots are very easy to handle and will help your opponent to press out for mistakes from the baseline.
And in conclusion spin forehand by David Ferrer
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