Don't Take Your Racquet Back!
Much thanks to the great tennis coach Nick Bolletieri for inspiring this tennis tip. I was actually toying with several different ideas for this next tip when I read one of Nick's tips in the March/April issue of Tennis Magazine. I was astounded to read Nick's tip to players of all levels to take the racquet back “as soon as you see the oncoming ball coming.” As evidence of his claim there's a photo of WTA #1 Serena Williams hitting a forehand groundstroke, and her racquet is way back. No doubt Serena is the owner of a devastating and powerful forehand. However, this USTA High Performance Tennis coach advises a different approach for better groundstrokes: don't take your racquet back!
Back when I first had my first tennis lesson at Connersville High School courts in Connersville, IN, the very first thing the instructor told me on both forehand & backhand was exactly Nick's advice: take the racquet back. The old adage “racquet back to the fence” has been used worldwide. Tennis has progressed a lot since 1983! That's advice that Serena Williams uses quite visibly on all groundstrokes, especially on her two handed backhand. Let's take a close look at this powerful shot.
Serena Williams Backhand Groundstroke Slow Motion
Now let's compare it to two other high level backhands from the Pro Tour:
Ana Ivanovic Two Handed Backhand Slow Motion
Novak Djokavic Two Handed Backhand Groundstroke
They must be teaching something different in Serbia, because both Ana and Novak are going against Nick's advice on every single shot. They do not take their racquets back “as soon as they see the oncoming ball coming.” They racquet is at it's furthest extension from the body after both players have loaded weigh on their outside legs for the last time (in this case, the left leg). Before that, their racquets spent most of the stroke directly across from their back shoulder. I could line up videos of almost every two handed player in the Top 20 on both men's and women's tours and they'd all be doing the same motion.
There's a very good reason: this hitting technique allows for maximum continuous motion and results in the greatest racquet speed. Serena's racquet immediately goes all the way back and comes to a brief stop. That means she has to re- start the racquet speed build up from zero. It's Serena's amazing overall strength compared to her competition that allows her to make up for less efficient technique.
So if you're a recreational player whose got an amazing combination of strength while still being flexible enough to launch your racquet at the ball at 100 mph, taking your racquet back as soon as you see the ball coming could work for you. However, if you're not that rare breed, start with a shoulder turn and the racquet tip up, and make your move to the ball. Your racquet should generally go back and down as the incoming ball descends to the court. Of course, the length of your swing has to vary with the speed and spin of that incoming ball, but if you watch the ATP & WTA Pros at the French Open this week, that's what you'll see, and that's what will help your game!