Analysis of the Roger Federer Forehand. Behind the Federer Forehand, are the keys of tennis technique that players should model regardless of skill level.
by: Coach Eddie
Roger Federer’s Forehand can be considered one of the top forehands on tour today. His forehand stroke is efficient, powerful and adaptable meeting all three criteria for a world class tennis stroke. Federer’s forehand is beautiful and incredibly powerful at the same time.
Federer Forehand : The Roger Federer grip
Let’s start with the basics of Roger Federer’s forehand. His forehand grip is in some version of an Eastern grip, which is considered more conservative than the majority of the other players on tour. Federer is able to hit his forehand both with topspin and is able to flatten it out at times for a pure winner. Federer’s forehand is more versatile than most of the other pros on tour, which allows him to be able to use a variety of different shot selection as well as insane angles on the run.
Federer’s Forehand Preparation
When I began studying Roger Federer’s forehand in slow motion video, I was able to piece together the forehand and finally come up with logical and biomechanical principles behind tennis technique that produced better results. I knew that Roger Federer’s technique was made only through lots of practice and repetition plus refinement. Federer is hardly a muscleman, and it was clear to me that the power he was generating was not just a result of pure strength or muscle power. Instead, I realized that Federer’s forehand must be due to his flawless tennis technique that allowed him to produce the effortless and extraordinary results that amateur tennis players could not match without proper tennis technique.
What Roger Federer shares in common with the majority of the rest of the pros on the ATP tour is what I call “world class tennis forehand preparation.” Like most top pros and high level tennis players, Federer uses a “unit turn” to initiate his forehand stroke. Basically, a unit turn is a movement where the body turns and coils as one “unit.” Federer’s tennis racket, shoulders, and lower body turn together at the start of his forehand, in preparation to create the coil and store the energy for the swing. This means that as soon as Federer acknowledges the ball flight coming towards him, he does not immediately take his racket back abruptly in a backswing. Instead, what Federer does is he makes sure to get a full and complete unit turn where the shoulders turn sideways.
At the point of the unit turn, there is very little independent movement of the tennis racket, no immediate backswing and the racket “comes along for the ride” during the unit turn.
Roger Federer’s Forehand: The Fundamentals
Federer Forehand consists of a compact and fluid takeback that results in a clean and efficient swing. Federer possess equisite tennis technique that produces a great forehand even under pressure. His timing is also flawless. Roger Federer’s backswing is a relatively simple tennis stroke that starts with a good initial unit then with the left hand followed by the racket on edge until he reaches the height of the takeback.
In the modern forehands on pros on tour day, it is increasingly evident that players are now using angular momentum to their advantage enabling them to generate greater power and topspin, a devastating combination that results in the high paced game of tennis we see on tour.
Not only do we see players hitting harder, but they are quicker and more agile. This is a primarily a result of racket head speed, which is partially contributed to the groundforce reaction created by the players. The pros are thrusting their bodies into every tennis shot and maximizing the torques with both upper and lower body rotation which contributes to the increased amount of power.
Roger Federer uses full upper body rotation in his forehand, meaning he engages his entire body in the motion. It begins once his body has coiled, moments before contact, Federer releases all of the energy Federer is not intending on taking a huge backswing, rather he is actually more concerned about getting a full “coil” during his unit turn, where he can then unleash all of that power into the shot later on.
Tennis Takeback and Backswing Shape
As Federer completes the unit turn, he makes sure that he is still not abruptly taking a huge backswing. Federer’s takeback resembles an upwards arc. The shape of his backswing is not loopy, or circular based as is on some of the other pro forehands on tour. Although, the shape of his backswing appears to be relatively high, he doesn’t take his racket back behind his body. The swing stays on the same side of the body. This type of backswing, where the hand and arm stays on his right side of his body gives him more efficiency and better timing.
Federer’s backswing can loosely be considered “whippy” as evidenced by the appearance of his stroke during the foreward swing. It resembles a “liquid whip” because federer utilizes a variety of mechanics that allow him to do this. This is explained further in my Optimum Tennis EBook. I go into more detail regarding federer’s backswing and some unique biomechanics he uses that are possibly responsible for the “loose whip-like” forehand.
Lowering of the Racket
Once the height of the takeback has been reached, usually the ball would have made contact with the ground. By now, Federer continues to use a relaxed wrist and arm. From the height of the takeback, Federer then lowers his racket arm on it’s own accord letting gravity do most of the work to drop the racket below the level of the ball (to impart topspin). A key point is that Federer’s Forehand is a backswing that stays on the same side of the body, and at no point in time does the backswing extend behind the back (as seen in some of the WTA players on tour). This is important from an efficiency standpoint as well as a biomechanically important structure that will allow Federer’s Forehand to achieve an incredible amount of racket head speed once contact is made. This is predominantly a result of the Stretch Shorthening Cycle (or SSC) at work.
Passive Stretch (SSC)
The main focal point in modern tennis technique, especially on the forehand side is the ability of players to generate both power and heavy topspin to create winning tennis shots as well as extreme angles. The racket head speed in today’s tennis is high velocity and this is mainly a result of player’s increased used of the stretch shortening cycle, particularly on the forehand stroke.
If we watch Roger Federer’s Forehand in slow motion, we can visualize easier how Federer’s backswing resembles a very loose “whip-like” swing. Rather than stiffening up, Federer is completely relaxed and this facilitates a very quick “whip” action at contact, allowing Federer’s forehand to brush from behind the tennis ball with tremendous force.
Essentially, the stretch shortening cycle is a passive stretch where the power is generated upon release of the stored energy. Think of it like a rubber band. If you were to pull on a rubber band, the energy would be passively stored from within the band. Once the rubber band is then released from your hand, all of the stored energy is then shot out
Roger Federer’s Contact point is relatively similar to that of the rest of the ATP tour pros. There are little differences here. Contact well in front of the body. The racket face is perpendicular, unless Federer hits a mishit. There are no magical elements on the contact point that are responsible for the unbelievable shots that he makes. Occasionally, Federer may utilize a straighter arm on his forehand but this is a result of the style of takeback and not anything to do with conciously forcing a straight arm.
The straight-arm forehand as it has been called, is a consequence and not a cause. Many tennis players attempt to model Federer’s forehand by replicating incorrect elements that become detrimental to their own tennis forehand. It needs to be noted that Federer’s straight arm at contact is a result, “cause-effect” of his backswing style and not by concious force.
Finish and Followthrough
Similar to the majority of pros on tour today, Federer utilizes what is commonly called the modern “windshield wiper” finish. This is where is commonly defined as forearm rotation. The right arm finishes across the shoulder and, rather than the traditional “over the shoulder” finish that is still commonly taught by teaching pros. Federer manages to get excellent extension and drives through the ball well, even though he finishes across his shoulder.
Federer does still utilize the classic “over the shoulder” finish on some returns of serve, but for most of the balls he hits on the baseline, he finishes across in a windshield wiper movement.
Should a tennis player attempt to model his/her stroke after Roger Federer’s Forehand?
Depending on the skill level of the tennis player in question, and their current needs and goals, most tennis players would not benefit from modeling their tennis forehand with Roger Federer until he/she is at a fairly advanced level. Since Federer’s forehand is more of an advanced stroke style, it is not recommendable that a novice or intermediate level tennis player attempt to model his forehand, until their foundation is solidly in place.
However, Federer’s forehand serves as a technically-sound model in his forehand, and due to his unique biomechanics he is able to combine many different powerful techniques that allow him to execute shots that many players before his time could not even imagine doing.
What Elements can we take from Roger Federer’s Forehand?
So, what elements can we take home from Roger’s unique and powerful forehand?
- First and foremost, his unit turn. This is the start of all good high level tennis forehands, and a commonality amongst all the top pros on the ATP Tour and some on the WTA tour.
- Versatility and Adaptability
…Roger’s forehand contains no hitches and his forehand is fluid. This is something that everyone can immediately be sure to work on their own forehand technique. A clean, simple motion.
- Good strong posture, balanced through the entire shot.
Federer’s forehand is a beautiful stroke, and when his game is “on” his forehand is an atomic weapon. Roger’s forehand stroke is clean, very powerful and very classy.
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