Most forehands are hit with topspin because it helps keep the ball from landing outside the court. On some occasions, such as an approach shot, a player can opt to hit with backspin, which can also be called a 'slice'.
Players with great forehands often build their main strategy around it. They set up a point until they have a good chance of striking a powerful forehand to win the point. A well-known tactic is to run around a ball on their backhand side in order to hit a forehand cross-court, called the inside-out forehand.
There are four main grips for executing the forehand and their popularity has fluctuated over the years. They are the western, the semi-western, the eastern, and the continental. Some rarer grips include extreme-western or Hawaiian.
The western was widely used in the first two decades of the 20th century. For a number of years the small, apparently frail 1920s player Bill Johnston was considered by many to have had the best forehand of all time, a stroke that he hit shoulder-high using a western grip. Few top players used the western grip after the 1920s, as many of them moved to the eastern and continental, but in the latter part of the 20th century, as shot-making techniques and equipment changed radically, the western forehand made a strong comeback and is now used by many modern players. Some consider it to be an extreme or radical grip, however. The maximum amount of topspin can be generated with this grip. Prominent exponents of the western grip include Kei Nishikori, Nadia Petrova, Lleyton Hewitt, Sania Mirza, Robin Söderling, Samantha Stosur, Jack Sock, and Andrea Petkovic.
The extreme-western or Hawaiian grip is a very extreme tennis grip where the player places their knuckle past the 5th bevel on the tennis racket. It's considered by some to be too extreme for tennis, as the optimal strike zone for this grip is very high up and is suitable only for pure spin hitting. Indeed; flattening out a shot at that height is near impossible due to wrist constrictions, and so this grip is suited only for clay court specialists. However, some players are able to take advantage of this grip's massive spin generation due to their defensive play style or height, which allow them to hit the strike zone often. An example would be Florian Mayer. Other players that employ this extreme grip are Nick Kyrgios and Karen Khachanov. On the WTA tour, Anna-Lena Grönefeld and Amélie Mauresmo were well known for using the Hawaiian grip. The Extreme-Western is also known for causing arm and wrist problems if employed incorrectly. Currently, Iga Świątek employs the Hawaiian grip on the WTA tour, allowing her to generate levels of topspin comparable to Rafael Nadal on her forehand.
The semi-western grip is also widely used today, and falls in between the western and the eastern. It is popular with players who want to hit a fair amount of topspin, but still want to be able to flatten out the ball for finishing shots. It is currently the most popular forehand grip among ATP and WTA pros, with many top players employing this grip on their forehand. It can be further modified to be closer to a semi-eastern grip, or more extreme to a full-western grip depending on the player's profile and playing style. Many of the world's current players use this grip, such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Venus and Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, and countless other professional tennis players in today's modern game.
The eastern grip widely replaced the western in the 1920s and thereafter was used by such World No. 1 players as Ellsworth Vines, Don Budge, and Jack Kramer, all of whom were considered to have very powerful forehands. Many beginners start with the eastern grip because of its comfortable feel. It is often described as shaking hands with the racquet. Forehands hit with the eastern can have either topspin or backspin, as the gripping hand is on the same plane as the racquet, and can thus be tilted up for topspin or down for backspin rather easily. Although rarer on the professional tour as it makes hitting topspin somewhat difficult, there are some notable players who use the eastern grip to great effect. Juan Martín del Potro is an excellent example of an eastern forehand user. Roger Federer is often noted as having an eastern grip, although his forehand lies somewhere in between semi-western and eastern. His power and versatility on the forehand side are commonly attributed to this twist on the forehand grip. WTA players who have utilised the eastern grip include Steffi Graf, Justine Henin, Petra Kvitová, Angelique Kerber, Ana Ivanovic, and Lindsay Davenport.
No matter which grip is used, most forehands are generally executed with one hand holding the racquet, but there have been fine players with two-handed forehands. In the 1940s and 50s the Ecuadorian/American player Pancho Segura used a two-handed forehand with devastating effect against larger, more powerful players. His frequent adversary and even greater player Jack Kramer has called it the single finest shot in the history of tennis. Ellsworth Vines, another great player, agreed. He wrote: "Two-handed forehand is most outstanding stroke in game's history; unbeatable unless opponent could avoid it."
Monica Seles also used a two-handed forehand very effectively, with 53 career titles that included 9 Grand Slam titles. Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon in 2013 with a two-handed forehand. Unusually, both players placed their dominant hand at the base of the racquet, resulting in a cross-handed stroke. Fabrice Santoro, who was ranked as high as 17 in the world, used a two-handed forehand.
The classical forehand where a player hit through the ball and finished their follow-through above the shoulder was the dominant forehand usage for most of tennis history. Players as recent as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi used the classical forehand. With recent tennis racquet technology improvements, generating power has increasingly become easier and hence having more control has become an emphasis for current professional tennis players. This has resulted in the pro players now using a windshield wiper forehand where the follow-through ends up with the racquet ending across the body rather than over the shoulder. This enables more top spin to be imparted to the ball, thus controlling the extra power generated while still keeping the ball in court. Most pro players now use the windshield wiper forehand, with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic among other pro tennis players all employing the windshield wiper forehand.
At a professional event in 1951, the forehand drives of a number of players were electronically measured. Pancho Gonzales hit the fastest, at 112.88 mph, followed by Jack Kramer at 107.8 and Welby Van Horn at 104.
1879 in reference to a tennis stroke; 1909 as a noun in this sense; from fore- + hand (n.). Earlier it meant "position in front or above" (1550s); hence forehanded "prudent, careful of the future" (1640s), which came to mean "well-provided, well-to-do," a sense which lingered in New England into 19c.
Not many promising young pros employ the classic modern forehand with an extended wrist and high racquet head set-up.1 In fact, it is worth noting here that Federer and Nadal have drifted (slightly) towards the nextgen forehand; Federer now takes the racquet back with a smaller loop, with the racquet tip lower towards the side fence; Nadal still takes the racquet head back above his shoulders, but when he drops the racquet head his wrist loosens into flexion with the tip more outside as well.
A difference in weight and swingweight this large is non-trivial in my opinion given that a heavier frame provides more power and control. Running down the names in each column, most players born before 1990 use a gravity-assisted forehand without much wrist flexion, whereas those born after mostly use something closer to the Nextgen forehand, with a racquet head pointing lower and more to the outside and often with more flexion in wrists during the set-up phase.3
The miracle string is probably the main driver of the Nextgen action we see in forehands today, but the homogenized surfaces and "ease of use" development plans of red/orange/green dot tennis may also play a factor. In my opinion, there is a lack of great forehands in the younger generation, despite a wealth of new knowledge and training methods in sport science, and some of the players (e.g., Zverev, Sock, and Shapovalov) tend to be inconsistent off that wing.4 The nextgen technique suffers when control is required (i.e., on return, on the run, and with variation) and when the pressure increases. In these instances, you want fewer moving parts to help time the ball and make execution easier when you might be tight. The modern forehand accommodates this by simply shortening the backswing and keeping the wrist extended. Power is generated by using a higher loop in the backswing and by relying on bigger muscles with the kinetic chain (and an increased swingweight in the frame). An Argentine who just retired might have the blueprint.
My guess is that string tension explains some of the disparities in weight. Polyester can be strung much looser, and perhaps racquet head speed is prioritized to help create spin. Dimitrov (younger version), Korda, Rune, Rublev, and 2021 Thiem are the closest examples of the modern forehand in the younger generation.
Such a fantastic analysis! What are your thoughts on the "straight arm" vs "bent arm" forehand? It's brought up somewhat often during TV commentary, usually something along the lines of "Alcaraz/Player X has that same straight arm forehand as Federer and Nadal... he's following in the footsteps of the great" and in general extolling the virtues of the straight arm forehand. However this piece argues that the bent arm mechanic is superior ( -forehand-technique-straight-arm-vs-bent-arm/), because it gives you more margin for error and reduces risk of injury. I'd be curious to hear your take on this. 2b1af7f3a8