The forehand should be your number one weapon. Yes, the serve is important,
but you only get to use it in half the games and you may have physical
limitations that limit its ultimate effectiveness. Like, if you're
several inches under six feet in height, you're just not going to serve
But the forehand comes into play in almost every point. And repeatedly.
Every time that you can get in a good position in the backcourt to belt a
forehand, try to do some damage with it.
The forehand is far more complex than the backhand. Look at all of the
variations in players' styles. These variations are possible simply
because the mechanical strength of the human forehand motion allows for
lots of variability.
Complexity is both an asset and a liability. As you develop forehand
skills (a lifelong quest!) you can learn to vary the topspin from flat
through roll to moderate top and ultimately the "big dipper."
You can loop the forehand like the Spanish clay-courters or punch it with
the simplest of motions -- like John McEnroe. His forehand stroke is about
as simple as is humanly possible.
If you develop too much variety, however, you have to be able to make quick
and correct decisions. Shot selection is crucial to winning matches. I
get a kick out of watching a pro shake his head and scream at himself after
a particularly dumb shot. If only he'd had a few seconds to analyze his
shot selection BEFORE the shot! But choices must be made instantaneously
and based on an intuitive "feel" for what might work at the moment.
If you want to do well in the local club or city tournament, proficiency
with a variety of forehand spins and trajectories is especially important.
You find yourself playing a menagerie of opponents you may have never seen
before. A full draw can throw at you a bewildering array of styles in
stroke production, spin, and trajectory.
Example: Let's say you're the loopy type. I mean in your forehand -- I
didn't intend to insult you. You love rallies with high arc and moderate
to heavy topspin. In the first round of a hard court tournament you play
your stylistic twin. Your rallies are aesthetic works of art. The spins
and trajectories are glorious. Anyone watching is mesmerized by the
parabolas, hyperbolas, conic sections -- oops, I'm getting carried away by my
But you're good, so you win. You feel unbeatable. In the second round,
however, you meet a Neanderthal who's all flat and slice. Everything's
low. You don't have time to load up the spin. Too many of your shots dump
into the net. And every short ball you hit comes back as an oppressive
approach shot forcing you to scramble to the corner, with the big brute
blanketing the net.
What do you do? Adjust or lose. You have to be able to flatten out your
shots. Am I suggesting to convert to his style? No, that's a losing
proposition. He has more experience with his style than you do, obviously.
You should still look for the balls that you can load up and loop. After
all, the guy that hits the ball flat loves to hit against low trajectories
Whenever you can force him to change the trajectory -- from your loop to
his flat, you reduce his comfort factor. His risk is greatly increased
when he tries to flatten out a ball and send it back with a tight
trajectory off of a high looping, heavy topspin ball that jumps vigorously
off the court -- IF YOU HIT THE BALL DEEP!
But you can't consistently hit deep loopers off of this guy's cut shots.
To win you need to flatten more of your shots and insure that you get
depth. The loopy opponent you played yesterday was far more content to hit
a big topper back off of a topper that you dropped a bit short. But this
guy will not sit on the baseline and allow you to remain in any comfort
When you're forced out of your comfort zone, you must pay conscious
attention to moving your feet. Arguably, the most significant factor in
developing a ferocious forehand for all battle conditions is footwork.
Forehand versatility tempts you into bad footwork. You have the strength
to hit the shot from awkward positions. So, rather than move your feet
when you get tired, you simply adjust the stroke. And every shot where you
don't pay the price on footwork, you tend to adjust in a slightly different
way. One time you're cramped, the next you're stretched. This time your
shoulders don't rotate, the next time you add a little extra wrist.
But the "adjusted" stroke is one that you don't practice, typically, and
therefore can be categorized as "invented." Every time you "invent" a new
shot, your statistics are going to be awful. Another way to look at it is
this: Your 4.5 level forehand is now operating at a 4.0 level! The
result? You lose!
It is only possible to play to your top potential by putting the whole
stroke package together -- footwork, preparation, brilliant shot selection,
and full-blooded stroke work. Only as you do this thousands and thousands
of times are you able to develop the confidence, strength, and timing to
move up to the next level. So get your priorities straight -- take off
from work early today and hit that court!