Recently I gave a lesson to a player who continuously gets too close to the ball. Typically this is a forehand phenomenon–did you know that the forehand needs more space than the backhand? Being handcuffed on the forehand, whether a groundstroke, volley, or a return of serve, means that you have not cleared your upper body before contact. So, let’s deal with the three of thesethe crosscourt groundstroke (the ball coming from the diagonal), the ball coming right down the middle right at you, and the forehand approach shot.
In this scenario the ball has been hit on the diagonal creating its own space away from player A and not requiring a lot of movement to get positioned correctly.
To find the correct distance from the ball, use the non-racket arm as a guide (if you’re right-handed, this would be your left hand/arm, and vice versa). The off-hand and arm should turn with the upper body (and with your swinging arm) thus pointing toward the direction of where the ball will be struck and should NOT DROP when contact is made.
Turning the shoulders with off arm provides the best chance for the kinetic chain to work and is a guide for judging the distance to the ball. Note that the front foot (the one used to step into the shot) should be between you and the ball upon contact.
On the middle ball coming right at the body, you should move away from the ball on the diagonal. The best way to perform this movement is using a “drop-step,” where you push off on the outside foot (furthest from the ball), and the inside foot moves back under the torso to allow for the greatest energy for moving toward the ball (you can find videos on YouTube defining this movement or post your questions by commenting on this page.
The most important part is remembering NOT to move laterally (or parallel) to the baseline. You need to give yourself the space to swing the racket and allow for a good contact point for the ball. Moving straight back or straight to the side will not create the space you need, leaving it either too close to the body or too far back for a proper swing as the ball continues on its same path.
The movement on the diagonal does 2 things: it creates space and keeps you BEHIND the ball.
Overrunning the forehand approach shot is a common mistake. Most players move too quickly, lose control of their body and then lose control of the ball. Having complete control of your body is critical. It’s okay to move quickly at first but when getting closer to the ball, slow down so as not to run through the shot. Think of downshifting.
The height of the ball and your balance will determine what shot you can hit.
Next, be visual. When moving to the shot ball, visualize the space to the side of the ball, not the ball space. You will need to position your body in the space to the side, so that you can make your turn as you draw close.
The forehand can be a weapon or it can be a major weakness. Give it the space it needs!
– Judy Dixon
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