Tennisopolis : Tennis Social Network

TennisOne's Joe Dinoffer says that the one-time joke on tennis pros used to be, “Racquet back, bend your knees, that’ll be twenty dollars please.” And I'm inclined to agree. At least in the old days, this was more or less the standard of teaching tennis. After all, it worked quite well for millions of players in the 1960s and '70s, didn't it?

Chris Evert in the classic takeback position.

The “old school” recommended a swing pattern for groundstrokes that was simple and easy to understand: Use your hitting arm to take your racquet straight back as quickly as possible to the back fence and then follow through by finishing with the racquet tip pointing at the opposite fence. Boy, a lot has changed in the last quarter of a century.

I'm often asked whether the racquet back position still takes place in today’s game, only faster?

Well, not exactly. For efficient and powerful hitting in today’s game, a very different swing pattern has evolved. Nowadays, players only take a quick partial turn of the shoulders and hips to allow them to move quickly to the ball. This is commonly called the “unit turn.”

Still, they say, doesn’t the racquet eventually have to be taken all the way back and paused before swinging at the ball?

Yes and No. Yes, the racquet takes a full backswing. No, it does not pause in the full backswing position. From the partial turn and set-up, better players today perform one fluid and explosive motion through contact and continue with an extended follow through. Note that the racquet does not pause between the initial shoulder turn and partial take back of the racquet all the way through the complete swing follow through. 

And the days of the back fence to front fence swing is a thing of the past. The length of the swing of the tip of the racquet is actually three times longer than in “old school” tennis. The modern player now starts with the racquet tip pointing forwards, then loops it back, drops it in a somewhat circular path under the ball to create the “brush up” needed for topspin, and finally finishes with the tip pointing at the player’s own back fence or even further, not across the net.

This increased relaxation and swing length maximizes racquet head speed. The opposite would be a short swing and tight grip – more or less like driving a car with the emergency brake on.

Of course there are other contributing forces at work. Angular or rotational forces are generated from the circular motion of the swing, and ground or linear forces are created by bending the knees to load energy and then thrusting smoothly upwards with the hit. On top of all that, the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints should be relaxed to create a controlled but whip-like swing that extends forwards through the area of contact as well as around in a circle.

Furthermore, squeezing the grip as tight as possible is not a very efficient way to generate power nor is overall strength a necessity (although if used efficiently it could be a contributing factor).

Surprisingly enough, there are many 8-year-old girls hitting harder than some 250-pound recreational male players! Simply put, relaxation increases fluidity. And the more fluid your swing is, the more potential you have for your racquet head to accelerate and hit powerful shots. This concept holds true for many other sports as well. Relaxed and fluid motions that are also quick are needed to properly throw a baseball or football, as well as swing a golf club.

So just how relaxed should the grip actually be?

As relaxed as possible. Just keep two criteria in mind. First, you obviously don’t want to be so loose that you literally throw the racquet over the net when you hit the ball. And, second, you eventually need to be consistent. Most coaches who look at long-term skill development will say relax first, and with patient repetition, ball control and consistency will follow. The overall idea is that in order to hit as efficiently and effectively as possible, relaxation and fluidity are essential.


Posted by Steven White, Author of "Bring Your Racquet"

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Comment by Tim Prapong on June 11, 2012 at 5:13pm

Yes, a very important distinction here. It is terrible to watch a player of the past recommend the racquet back first method to someone learning the unit turn. Two very different methods.

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