The forehand is one the most important shots in tennis. It is something most people love to hit too because it comes very naturally to a player as it shares a lot of common ground with many other games such as baseball, cricket, table tennis, and badminton. Personally, I love to hit the forehand, it’s something I practice the most because it has the ability to make or break your game.
The main focus of this guide is to improve your forehand and take it to the next level. It does not matter whether you are a beginner who has been playing for a few months or an intermediate player who has developed some sort of style to your game. This guide will surely help you improve it.
I have made a five-day guide focused on different aspects of the forehand. I spent a good few days researching and outlining the best way to move forward with this post. This will be as comprehensive of a guide as any on the internet. This guide will wholly focus on the forehand. I’m not going to talk about different grip types, but if you want to know about them, you can visit this link detailing all the different grips in tennis and what you should pick
Be sure to watch all the videos with the lessons, they go over the visual part of the drills which might be a little difficult to put in words.
Day 1: All the Basics in One Place
Day one is going to be all about developing a very sound framework for your forehand swing, and the first drill you will do features slow controlled shadow swings.
The key to making these shadow swings work for you is picking out some fundamental focus points and being really aware of making them perfectly. Remember to focus on them as hard as you can and take it slowly because rushing through it will hurt you in the long term, and you’ll learn bad habits in the process.
Open Stance to Start
Having an open stance is going to be beneficial at the start because it allows for more hip and body rotation, making for a smooth and perfect style. After learning the open stance, you can switch to a squarer stance.
Many amateur players do not realize that there is more than one stance to playing this beautiful game and learning all of them in due time is going to benefit you in the long term.
The Drill Technique
Hold the racquet in your preferred grip, whether it is continental, western or semi-western. Focus on rotating your body a full 90 degrees, keeping your arm as relaxed as possible and transferring your weight from your right foot to your left foot, using an open stance.
Make sure to use a long smooth swing, that finishes up high over your opposite shoulder, with the butt cap of your racquet pointing out towards the other side of the court.
After you have spent a few minutes honing your open stance swings, it’s time to move on to a square stance. I’ll emphasize this again that amateur players get comfortable with using only one style. But to be successful in all kinds of situations and point scenarios, learning both the open and square stance are critical.
It is very important that you transfer your weight from your right foot to your left one while calmly and smoothly making a full turn with your hips and shoulders. Keep your arms totally relaxed and finish with a long follow through, up over your opposite shoulder.
I will go over different footwork on day 2 of this journey, but for now, your focus is to practice in these two styles/stances. Remember to only move forwards when you are comfortable with both and can execute them pretty close to perfect. Things are going to get tougher as the days go on, so if you don’t get the basics right, you’ll have problems later.
Introducing the Ball into the Equation
After spending a solid 5 or 10 minutes becoming super familiar with your perfect shadow swings, it’s time to get some balls into the mix. They will introduce a little difficulty bump and that is what we are focusing on, small improvements but making them stick.
The key to making these swing mechanics stick to your muscle memory is taking it slow and progressing in difficulty and speed a little bit at a time.
To start this drill, get to the service line instead of the normal baseline because you will learn how to control your power better on the service line. Start by dropping yourself the ball, while focusing intently on executing the same exact technique and speed that you did on the shadow swings. Start with the same open stance that you did on the first drill and after becoming comfortable, switch to the square stance.
Every human makes mistakes at the start of learning something new, and you and I are no different. When you are doing the drills, eventually you’ll start learning some bad habits into the reps. To correct them, I suggest have someone record you hitting to confirm that you are following the guidelines exactly as they are supposed to be, otherwise, you’ll just end up wasting your time.
Now, move back from the service line to the middle of no man’s land. Things are slowly starting to move towards the real-life patterns. Gradually increase your seeing speed, but only by a little amount. Our main focus is executing your technical cues 100% to the way you learned. Increasing the speed is just going to break the good habits that you have learned in the previous parts. Going to back to old habits is a completely natural response whenever we are trying to learn something new, our mind tries to take us back to a more comfortable position/state. Break this bad habit by constantly recording yourself and confirming that you’re executing the drills correctly.
Being mindful of how relaxed you are is very important. Keep reminding yourself to keep your arm loose while your body turns forwards and powers the swing. Do not worry about hitting a particular target yet. Instead, keep your attention on executing the swing as perfectly as possible. Placing the ball will come pretty naturally once we progress forward in this guide.
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Now we are at the final drop-in drill of day one, start all the way back at the baseline and things will be pretty close to real-life. The swing speed should be pretty much matched, realistic to a nice calm rally speed. I would recommend going at around 75% of your normal rally speed.
The challenging part of this drill is going to be maintaining the confidence and acceleration with looseness and relaxation at this speed. The normal human response which I’m sure you will face yourself is to tense up on the shots and muscle through them. If you feel like that is indeed happening, slow down immediately, take a breather and retrace your steps back to a slow methodical swing. Always keep tabs on your length of swing and quality of follow-through as well. If they start getting choked off or abbreviated, then that’s a strong indication that you are tensing up. Always go back to your video footage if you feel that way.
Some Real-Life Hitting Practices
It’s time add some match conditions to your newly learned forehand techniques. Time to start bridging the gap between that super controlled environment and a real-life rally. It will bring much more variety and challenge to strengthen your forehand. The main focus of this guide is to be as progressive as we can, taking things step by step and not skipping anything.
Start with slow and calm short court rallies with a hitting partner that can at least return the ball. If you do not have a partner to hit with, a ball machine or a wall will do just fine. You really have no excuse for not doing these drills.
I had this problem growing up as a tennis player that I was not very comfortable with short court groundstrokes, because I couldn’t separate the length of swing from the speed of my swing which was critical for control and precision. Short court rallies help focus on the control and precision of your strokes and this drill should help immensely with that.
Focus on all the same technical elements, including body rotation, arm looseness, length of swing and follow-through. Your tempo should be around the same as those first slow shadow swings which we discussed at the start.
The final drill of the day is a very controlled baseline rally. Your challenge for this drill is controlling the quality of the technique. Now that the acceleration will be faster than it was with the drop-in hit progressions, you’re going to naturally feel the urge to tense up and shorten your swing compared to the slow short court rallies. If you feel like that is happening again, take a minute or two to move through some slow smooth shadow swings. Drop a few balls yourself to recalibrate your fluidity and then go back to the rallies, ideally start these at around 50% of your max rally speed and slowly increase the tempo only as you feel confident that you are executing your swing technique extremely well.
Keep recording yourself along the way, if possible, to check and see exactly how well you’re doing. This will allow you to make improvements and adjustments the next time you hit.
Day 2: All About That Footwork
The second day of our awesome journey is going to be focused on footwork. Having solid footwork patterns is going to make your life so much easier on the court. No matter what the situation is, you will be able to move around the court smoothly and calmly.
The Split Step
This video goes into the detail of the split step, try to understand the simple mechanic. It’s the most essential thing to a great forehand return when you have to face a serve. It gives free power and sets you up for a stable return.
After learning the split step, you can do these shadow drills to really set it into your muscle memory. Focus on execution of the split step right foot pivot and unit turn of your upper body. This sets you up with a solid strong base to both move away from the ball and also swing at it when it arrives.
I agree that it can get very awkward and corny to practice the split step in a shadow swing, but the truth is that hardly any amateur tennis players use one. It is a very critical part of a good tennis movement, so try to focus on it as much as you can.
Time to Practice the Footwork Mechanics
Drop some practice balls for this drill. Make sure that when you are doing the swings to take the racquet back with your body, instead of the other way around. Follow a natural path because it will introduce so much more power and control, rather than trying to force your body to move with the racquet.
Practice setting up in your strong unit turn, making a smooth shadow swing and an imaginary ball, just outside of your initial step and gather yourself calmly back to the middle of the baseline. Watch this video to get an idea.
If you do not use the open stance, this can feel pretty weird and foreign. I’ll try and walk you through it quickly. As you swing, you want to drive up and out towards the ball with your right foot. After contact, you’ll touch down with your left foot and then plant your right foot to stop your momentum.
This should leave you right back in a ready position, so you can shuffle back to the middle. Becoming comfortable with this footwork is pretty essential to using the open stance and having the ability to hit powerful shots from wide positions on the baseline.
Day 3: Adding Topspin and Height to Our Weapon
With the basics and footwork patterns out of the way, it’s time to switch to consistency in your forehand shot. Consistency is achieved through top-spin and depth. There will be countless situations when you won’t be able to play a normal forehand to get back into the point and will instead have to use a topspin forehand.
To get started, you need to get a solid feel for a more vertical swing path. For the first drill, you will have the racquet in a hazard choke right at the throat–don’t worry, your racquet isn’t going to die. Try and isolate every other part of your body less your arm and shoulder.
Get up close to the net, so it can act as a barrier for you to hit up over the top of the width. The goal here is to land your shots well inside the service line on the other side of the court.
Start with the tip of the racquet pointing straight down and then rotating the racquet head up, towards the ball with a calm speed. This drill is greatly exaggerated to help you feel what a heavy topspin swing is like.
Back to The Service Line
The second drill is going to have you on the service line with your normal forehand grip position. Start with some shadow swings to practice incorporating that upward rotation of the racquet head from drill one, with a fuller motion of your body.
After a few slow calm practice swings, drop a few balls to yourself with the goal of making exactly the same swing while maintaining the same smooth slow speed. An important part of making this practice successful is paying close attention to height and shape of your shots. The ball should travel at least three feet over the net and land well inside the
service line. If that is not happening, experiment with different amounts of racquet drop and different angles of your racquet face at contact.
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No Man’s Land (The middle of the court):
Slowly we are getting to our normal position, but for this drill head towards the no man’s land or the middle of the court. Practice making your usual unit turn that we learned on Day 2. Making the unit turn with the racquet head pointed into that low position that we have been working on to create a more vertical swing path.
After a few shadow swings, start to drop a ball to yourself while maintaining the same easy swing speed. Now your goal is to create a full arced curved shot that crosses the net by at least four feet, and land right around the service line.
Training the swing path will you the ability to swing at your forehand with full confidence without sacrificing consistency, which is the holy grail of groundstrokes.
Time to Move Back to The Baseline:
On to drill 4, move all the way back to the baseline, practicing some full confident shadow swings. You should be accelerating with more speed, which is going to be key to creating maximum top-spin down the road. This will come in handy later down this guide.
Your job in this drill is to maintain your racquet head speed which will give you a lot of height and shape on your resulting shot. When you are at this point of this training, you should be looking to create a clearing of over six to eight inches over the net, with the ball landing well inside the baseline.
You might be thinking that this is very high but some professional players go to even more extreme lengths with extreme racquet head speeds. This drill will help you break your normal patterns and make you confident in your ability to hit a confident heavy ball.
Alternating Between Topspin and a Low Drive
This drill is going to be a little tricky from all the drills we have done before. Start your practice alternating between a heavy top-spin swing pass and a low drive swing pass. The first three shadow swings you may drop the racquet head down low before swinging upwards aggressively on the next three.
For the sixth drill, you will need a partner, coach or a ball machine. This will be a live rally which will start in the middle of the court. You will focus on creating a steady pace and spin to your shots to begin with. I highly recommend focusing on an ideal rally ball, which is at least three feet up over the nets with plenty of spin to bring it back down well inside the baseline.
The key here is not to slow down your swing to maintain consistency. Instead, use the technical elements we worked on in today’s practice to create the right amounts of spin.
If you start missing long, then start closing your racquet face a bit more and dropping your racquet head a little bit lower before swinging up to contact. Whatever you do, don’t slow down your swing after going down the middle. For a while, you can practice cross-court as well.
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Day 4: Accuracy and Patterns
We are pretty much done with the basics of the forehand, now you know how to hit a normal one and when in danger add some topspin to it. Day 4 is completely focused on bringing your forehand and consistency to the next level, so you can reliably execute all of the most important directional patterns on command.
Short Calm Cross Court Rallies
The first drill we will be focusing on is going to be a slow, calm short cross court on the forehand side. Directing the ball cross-court is all about timing your swing, to make contact out in front of your body. The face of the racquet should be pointing towards your target.
Keep going until you hit 10 shots in a row that land in the correct service box in front of your practice partner. Completing this task is going to be exponentially easier if you move your body through a fundamentally sound framework, which we have already discussed in the Day 1 section of the guide.
Going Down the Line
Now it’s time to change the rally up a bit. Your focus will be to change up the direction of the rallies to go down the line. That means that your contact point will be a little bit further back that drill one. You should still be continuing that same full smooth swing. In addition to executing solid swing fundamentals, it’s also critical to groove in the efficient footwork patterns that you learned in day 2.
You should have your focus on always making a split step on every rep and using a combination of square stance and open stance depending on the shot. It is this kind of focused, purposeful practice that can make the short court incredibly valuable to your game and really help you reach the next level with your forehand. Unfortunately, most amateur athletes don’t take it seriously, so they don’t get anything out of it.
Mixing Your Shots
This drill will be our last short court rally drill, and it features a change of direction. Your task for this drill is to move through a sequence of three shots over and over. Two forehands aimed at the cross-court service box, followed by one forehand aimed at the down the line service box.
You can do this drill either with a good partner, or a good ball machine or even by dropping balls to yourself. To drive my point home, your main aim is to put in the reps however you can, because changing direction reliably takes precise timing of your swing. That’s exactly why we’re practicing it in a short court environment first, to take it slow and train good habit with high levels of control.
The next part of your accuracy and directional training will have you back on the baseline, rallying cross-court using just your forehand. You should not only be focused on your swing technique, footwork, and timing but should also be focused on keeping the ball deep.
Your goal is to hit seven shots in a row that land cross court and past the service line. As you do this, I strongly recommend picking out a specific target to aim for. It can be anything closer than four feet from the sideline or baseline. It’ll help you gain consistency in your shots and that is our goal for the day.
Introducing Some Risk to Our Shots
It’s time to start focusing on some risky shots. You’ll shift your focus to aiming down the line, and also past the service line which is an inherently lower percentage shot than cross courts, so be sure to add a little bit of extra shape to your shots.
A good idea is to bring in your specific target point a little bit away from the lines for additional margin for error as well, of course, you’ll rarely hit exactly where you’re aiming. The name of the game is making small adjustments from shot to shot to narrow down your results and sharpen your accuracy as you become more precise.
You can push your boundaries a little bit closer to the line but remember that we aren’t changing direction yet and that adds another layer of difficulty when you get there. Before you move on, make sure to make seven shots in a row past the service line and in the singles court.
Change of Direction
This drill feature features the infamous, yet priceless forehand change of direction. It is one of the most offensive patterns that you can run. I recommend running through this drill until you’ve completed the cross court and cross court down the line pattern at least ten total times successfully.
Remember that ball’s momentum moving across your body is going to want to push your down the line shot further out wide than you intend it, so choose your specific target very wisely. Also, be sure to keep in mind to add a little bit of extra spin to your shot. It will help you avoid the net and land the ball inside the baseline, without slowing down and pushing the ball. This is something we learned on day 3 of this guide.
Going Inside Out
One of my favorite shots is the inside out forehand, but most amateurs tend to ignore this as it really is a pain to get right consistently. Inside-out simply means that the ball is traveling in towards your body as you hit your forehand from your backhand side, and then you are directing it back out cross-court where it came from.
This is a very important pattern of play to utilize, And it sets up your strengths against your opponent’s weakness (assuming that you’re either both right-handed or both left-handed). I recommend starting with all forehands inside-out, simply to get comfortable with a different position on the court and the different contact points. You would ideally do this until you hit at least seven shots in a row that are both cross court and past the service line.
Day 5: Power and Acceleration
Having the correct footwork and consistency in your shots is great, but to take your game to the next level, you need some power behind those forehands.
This day is going to focus on drills targeted around looseness and smoothness of the body while playing powerful forehands. The drills might sound weird at first, but bear with me, it’s going make to sense.
Leading with Your Hips
The first drill of the day will have you making slow smooth shadow swings with a very narrow focus. You’re going to work on leading the swing with your hips and shoulders, while keeping your arm and shoulder as relaxed as possible. This is something that most amateurs act oppositely to when trying to make a more powerful forehand swing.
Keep progressively ramping up the speed of your swing while keeping your kinetic chain usage and looseness high quality. That’s tough to do, but exactly what I want you to work on for the first part of this training session. You can either use an open stance or a squarer one, it’s completely up to you.
Where Did the Strings Go?
The next drill is pretty unique and a bit of a mind bender so I hope you’re ready for a challenge. You will make two shadow swings with a frame that has no strings, and then on the third drill drop a ball with the goal of making the exact same swing, even though you won’t hit the ball.
The training purpose behind this is learning how to stay flowing and relaxed, even though your brain and body are expecting a collision between the ball and the racket. It sounds crazy but trust me, the first time you try this, you’ll notice your tension and swing speed ratchet up immediately when the ball is there. You should try and maintain your tempo on each set of three swings. Once you have success at a slow speed you can progressively increase acceleration.
Back to a Strung Racquet
This drill is a continuation of the same concept as the previous exercise, but now you’ll actually make contact with the ball using a strung racket. You should start with a really slow calm swing speed and execute two shadow swings, followed by an actual hit. Your goal is to lead with your body, keep your arm totally relaxed and make all three swings with exactly the same amount of effort and speed.
When you start to gain confidence and comfort in your swings with a slow speed, you should slowly increase acceleration while staying really mindful about the tension in your body. if you pay attention you’ll almost certainly feel more tightness creep into your swings as you try to swing faster. That’s exactly what we’re working hard to avoid, so don’t rush through this, and feel free to drop down in speed if you need to so that the quality of your training can stay nice and high.
The two specific elements you should be focusing on are your hips and shoulders. You want both to be facing towards a wall or fencing to your left upon the smooth completion of the swing. Regardless of whether you use an open stance or a square one, you’ll notice that on both styles, you’ll end up finishing with the butt cap of the racquet pointing towards the wall or fencing. All these reps should be slow and calm to simply focus on the quality of execution.
Now to Put it all In Practice
This drill takes the next step by starting to practice hitting the ball with your longer, more exaggerated swing size. Focus on both the open and square stances, with the framework of two shadow swings followed by a drop and hit repetition.
Focus on completing the same benchmarks for the drill that we have discussed before while maintaining good smoothness and balance. As you get comfortable with this technique in the different stances, you can start slowly increasing your swing speed. Combining speed with length will give you the ultimate power spin and offense. But be really careful to progress very slowly or else tension will creep in and kill your results.
Bring all of it together by getting into a live ball rally which is going to be very difficult for you at the start. Your goal for this rally should be to start each exchange with a few slow but full and relaxed swings, and then slowly ramp up your swing speed, while maintaining control.
This brings us to the end of this guide. Keep these drills and do them the next you hit the court, and you will see results pretty quickly.