Hardcourt Tactics: Banana Forehand Escape!
The U.S. Open, with it's Deco Turf 2 surface is the fastest of the 4 Grand Slams. The surface affords players the best footing and most predictable bounces. That means starting on August 31st, the world is in for 2 weeks of ruthless, offensive-minded tennis! The rubberized hard court really makes topspin shots take off after the bounce. Both WTA and ATP Pros will be unleashing an onslaught of heavy topspin groundstrokes into the corners to force their opponents into hitting short balls. One sign of a successful hard court player is the ability to get out of this corner trap. There's a surprisingly high percentage way to make this escape, and still get on the highlight reel: the Banana Forehand!
The term “banana forehand” refers to when a player hits a forehand groundstroke down-the-line with a combination of side and topspin that causes the ball to initially curve outside the singles sideline, and then curve back in. The flight path of the ball is similar to the curve of a banana. It's typically hit with a reverse follow through, where the racquet ends up over the player's hitting shoulder. While most every Pro on tour uses it at one time or another, the modern master of it is Spanish ATP #8 Rafael Nadal. Here's what it looks like:
Rafael didn't create the shot, and it's not even a “modern tennis shot.” Bjorn Borg is the earliest player on video to use it. Here's a shot of that piece of history:
However it could be said Rafael Nadal is the master of the banana forehand since his opponents use equipment that produce far more topspin than Borg's ever did. The result: Nadal gets pushed deep into the corners of the court a lot (especially on a fast hardcourt)...and that sets the stage for the Banana Forehand Escape! Take a look at these 10 examples of this play:
In each of the 10 examples the same perilous situation exists: Nadal's opponent uses a heavy spin shot to put him deep in the Ad court corner (mostly topspin, a couple slice). The most commonly accepted “high percentage” way to get out of this situation would be a high arcing shot down-the-middle to reduce the opponent's possible angles on the next shot. The problem with that reply on a fast hard court is the opponent is going to get another crack at an offensive forehand, and that could be lethal. The second “high percentage escape” would be sending it back cross court. The problem there is the great distance between the players. The opponent will be able to move forward to cut that shot off with either a swinging volley, or at very least an on-the-rise groundstroke. Either way, they're in control...unless you escape with the Banana Shot!
Because the opponent is expecting either the cross court or down-the-middle reply, the down-the-line is wide open. The deep positions you see Rafael Nadal hit these shots from actually aid this shot. The further Nadal gets outside the sidelines, the more space he has to hit into. Add in the side and topspin, and it's not really a low percentage shot. Recreational players can pull this shot off with either traditional or reverse follow throughs as long as they make contact on the inside edge of the ball and launch their racquet through the ball at top speed. So the next time you're trapped in a corner on the hardcourts, pull out the banana forehand, and leave your opponent in awe of your escape!