Section 01 – The Forehand Follow Through Explained

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Introduction

The follow through consists of everything the body and racquet does after the ball has been contacted. There are two distinct phases to the follow through. Theoretically once the ball is off the racquet the rest of the swing has no bearing on where the ball will go and does not have any effect on how good the shot will be. Basically anything can be done with the racquet at this point. The racquet could be put over the head and swung around to mimic a helicopter and it will not change the shot. Conversely, a great follow through will not make a bad swing (up to the follow through) turn out good. A ball that was going to go into the net before the follow through will still go into the net, no matter how good the follow through is. So why is the follow though important? A good follow through allows for a longer hitting zone. The hitting zone is the area where if the ball is hit within this zone there is a great chance of returning the ball successfully. Hover over the below image to see the hit zone area.

Elongating the hitting zone is important for any player who does not have perfect timing. If you have perfect timing, you can skip this section as this part won’t help you. Still here? Good, I expected as much. I’ve never met a player yet with perfect timing. It is the reason that pro’s extend their hit zone way out past the contact point as even the they do not have perfect timing.

A correct follow through is also important as it helps make recovering for the next shot much quicker and easier. The second stage of the follow through is basically the start of the recovery process. The sooner a player can get ready to hit the next shot, the more likely they will be able to successfully return the ball. By not being rushed a player can make more adjustments to hit the ball better. The more time a player has to hit the ball, the more likely they will be able to hit the ball where they want to hit it as they will have more options. The less time they have to hit the ball, the less options they will have and the more they will be forced to potentially hit the ball to places that will be more advantageous to their opponents instead of to them.

Phase One – Elongating The Hit Zone

The correct follow through involves going at least three “frames” out past the expected contact point of the ball towards the intended target. The intended target is the place on the court where the hitter wants the ball to land. Because of this, the follow through will vary based on where the ball is expected to go. If the intended target is to the right side of the court, the follow through should go to the right.

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If the intended point of target is straight ahead, the follow through should go straight ahead.

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If the intended target is to the left, the follow through should go to the left.

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By having the racquet extend out towards the target on the follow through you are assuring that the ball will go in that direction. It is virtually impossible to hit a ball to the left if the follow through stays on the right side.

Now, this may seem like a contradiction to what was said earlier about the follow through having no bearing on what happens to the ball after it leaves the racquet, but it is not. There are two factors that make this true. One is that the path the racquet takes on the follow through is started well before the ball is hit and starts during the forward swing part of the forehand.

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If the racquet is heading to the right after the ball has been hit, it will have been going in that same direction and on that same angle before the ball is hit. The racquet will not be heading to the left before the ball is hit and then all of a sudden start heading to the right after the ball is hit.

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The momentum of the swing is just too great to change directions that quickly. The laws of physics won’t allow for this.

Second reason

Three frames means to let the racquet go out towards the intended target for as long as it takes a standard video camera to film three frames. In tennis this is really only a few milliseconds, but it makes a huge difference in having a consistent forehand.

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This phase of the follow through is not the recovery phase. At this stage the more immediate problem is ensuring the ball is hit correctly, not what the opponent is doing or how to prepare for the next shot. Elongating the hit zone is what I affectionately call the save your ass phase. What that basically means is there is a really good chance that where the player expects to contact the ball is not where they will actually contact the ball. By going out the three frames past where they expect to hit the ball they are extending the area that the ball can successfully be hit in. In order to do this part correctly the body and racquet need to stay in about the same position it was in at the expected contact point.

Because of the way a forehand is hit, the only place the hit zone can be extended is past the intended point of contact. Before the intended point of contact the racquet face is semi-closed so there is no way the hit zone can be elongated before the intended point of contact

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This is one of the main reasons why a player needs to prepare early. A player who always prepares late will not be able to extended the hit zone after the intended point of contact near as much as a player who prepares early.

The Wrist

The racquet should go the three frames out towards the target with the wrist still being in a fixed position. The wrist needs to stay fixed for the three frames as it is possible that the ball will be hit in the third frame. Hover over the below image to see the wrist stay fixed for the three frames.

If the wrist is moved the racquet will be pulled out of the hit zone early and the ball will be impossible to hit. Hover over the below image to see the wrist movement making the hit zone much smaller.

Moving the wrist will tend to bring the racquet too quickly into a horizontal position which will make for a much smaller hit zone. This will lead to a much less consistent shot.

Racquet Position

The racquet head should continue to be vertical for the three frames as this will give the best chance of hitting the ball successfully if the timing is off.

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The racquet will be rising slightly as compared to where is was at contact, but that is not a problem because the ball should be higher if it is being contacted further out in front.

The Hitting Arm

The hitting arm should stay in a relatively straight position.

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The forearm should not be pronating either. This helps keep the racquet in a position that will make it more likely to be able to hit the ball. If the forearm is pronated, the same issue arises as if the wrist is moved. The racquet will be pulled too early out of the hit zone. Hover over the below image to see the forearm pronating and shortening the hit zone.

Left Arm

The left arm should still be in a decelerated state. This will make it look like the left arm has stopped, although it is still moving, just at a very slow speed. This will keep the left arm relatively close to the right arm and helps to facilitate a vertical swing which helps to elongate the hit zone.

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If the left arm is moving too fast or is too far away, there is a good chance the swing will end up horizontal and the hit zone will be shortened. The left arm moving will tend to force the right arm and racquet to also move to the left. It will make it virtually impossible to track out towards the target the three frames needed to ensure a good shot.

Legs

As the racquet tracks out three frames the left leg should continue to be relatively straight and even though most of the bodies weight should have shifted onto the front foot already, the rest will continue to shift onto it.

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Head

The head should remain still with the eyes continuing to look at the contact point until after the racquet has tracked three frames out.

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This helps the bodies center of gravity from moving up to abruptly which keeps the racquet from moving abruptly. The head should stay down until the hitting shoulder touches the chin.

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The main goal of the follow though is to ensure that the ball can still be hit even if the player has timed the shot wrong. Ideally the body and racquet will maintain the same position it was in at the contact point. Because the racquet will be slightly closed until right before contact its important to not be late for the shot. There is really only one acceptable way to miss time the shot and that is to be early.

Phase Two – The Finish

Most players (and teaching pro’s) confuse the recovery aspect of the follow through for the whole follow through. They will treat what goes on after the ball is hit as one element, instead of two. The recovery phase is a vital element to high level tennis. The faster the ball is being hit, the less time there is to get in a good position to hit the next ball. If a player waits too long to start to get ready to hit the next shot there is a good chance they will be rushed hitting the next ball. Being rushed to hit a ball means they will most likely not be able to dictate where the next ball goes and, in a really bad situation, may barely reach the ball or won’t reach it at all.

Many times people watching tennis mistake the recovery phase of the follow through for the whole follow through. The human eye cannot see more than 24 frames per second. This makes tennis watched at full speed deceptive. Many people think they see things that aren’t really happening. On the follow through people cannot see the first phase, extending the hit zone, because the racquet is moving faster then the eye can see. The recovery phase can be seen as the racquet is decelerating, thus moving slower, during this phase. Often people think the part they can see, the recovery phase, is the whole follow through.

Good players are efficient with their time. Once the hit zone has been extended, the rest of the time until the next ball needs to be hit can be used to get into a good position to hit the next ball. Before the ball is hit good players focus completely on the ball. After the first phase of the follow through they will focus on setting up for the next shot. After the ball is hit they will again focus completely on the ball.

There is no need to wait until the racquet has stopped moving to start getting ready to hit the next shot. Depending on the opponent, not starting to recover until the racquet has completed the swing many be the difference between hitting and not hitting the ball.

Once the racquet is three frames out past the contact point many different things can be done (and usually are done) with the racquet. Most players finish with their racquets in many different places. Check out the below images of Milos Raonic. This is four different finishes on four consecutive forehands.

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Most good players will try and keep their swings as similar as possible all the way until their racquet has gone three frames past the contact point. By keeping all their swings the same, it helps them get into a good groove which leads to more consistency. But after the racquet has tracked out the three frames, they will vary where the racquet finishes based on how they are trying to recover for the next shot.

Many pro’s will move their forearm and possibly their wrist once the racquet has gone three frames past the contact point to finish with their racquet some where in between the left shoulder and hip.

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This is what many people call the “windshield wiper” motion. The pro’s do this because it is easier to start getting ready for the next shot if they finish the racquet on their hip as the racquet has much less distance to travel to get back into a good ready position.

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The pro will also do this because they can use their hitting arm to help accelerate their body for recovery by “pumping” the hitting arm down. Much like runners do. When the hitting arm is pumped down it accelerates the opposite hip making the initial recovery steps quicker.

I do not recommend finishing the forehand on the hip for beginner or intermediate level players. If they try doing this and are not an advanced player there is a good chance that they will swing horizontally instead of vertically.

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There is also a good chance of hitting the ball flat instead of with topspin as the racquet will not come much above the hip on the follow through. Hitting a ball flat is much more difficult as it will need to be hit lower over the net in order to go in the court. By hitting the ball lower over the net there is a greater chance the ball will land in the net.

Even the pros who do use a windshield wiper type motion will still bring the racquet up to about shoulder level before they bring it down again. Look at how high the racquet is in the below image. This is only a few milliseconds before Monfils will have it on his hip. From here it would not be very difficult for Monfils to continue to let the racquet go up to finish over the left shoulder if he wanted to. In other words, he has options.

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For beginner and intermediate level players the racquet should swing over the left shoulder.

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This helps to ensure a vertical swing and makes it more likely that the shot will be hit with topspin. As mentioned above, the follow through angle is started on the forward swing. By having a greater angle on the follow through that allows the racquet to finish over the left shoulder, there will be a greater angle on the forward swing which will put more topspin on the ball as it is hit.

The Hitting Arm

For beginner and intermediate players the hitting arm should stay relatively straight during the recovery phase.

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By keeping the arm relatively straight there will be less of a chance of moving the wrist early or of pronating the forehand early. Moving the wrist early or pronating the forehand early can lead to a much more inconsistent swing by making the hit zone shorter. Keeping the hitting arm relatively straight can lead to a longer recovery time as the racquet will have further to travel then if the hitting arm is relaxed. But, because their opponents are most likely also beginners, there is not such a rush to recover as the ball will not be moving as fast. This is also why it is important to catch the racquet with the left hand, by doing this the racquet will stop earlier then if the left hand does not catch the racquet.

For advanced players the arm can be relaxed at the elbow after tracking out three frames.

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The racquet can then continue over the left shoulder as in the above image or it can be finished on the left side of the body like in the below image.

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For advanced players once the racquet has gone three frames out towards the target the hitting arm can start to aid in the recovery process. By relaxing the hitting arm at the elbow the arm can now be used to help pump the arm and accelerate the body towards the position on the court the player wants to get to. Think of it like a runner pumping his or her arms. Plus, relaxing at the elbow will keep the racquet from traveling as far as it would with a straight arm. Even though the elbow has been relaxed the wrist or forearm should still not have moved. To check out if the wrist and forearm have stayed fixed, unbend the elbow without moving any other part of the arm and then bring the racquet back to the contact point.

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If the racquet is still vertical then the wrist or forearm have not been moved.

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If the racquet is not vertical then something in the arm is moving.

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Beginners or intermediate who don’t relax from the elbow can do this as well to check if they are moving their wrist or forearm.

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Legs and Foot

The back foot should move to the right side of the body by the end of the swing. This usually happens automatically because of the momentum of the body. The whole body will rotate forward and eventually to the left during the swing and the weight will fully transfer to the left foot. As the rest of the body rotates clockwise the back foot will as well, especially since there is not much weight on it. If a player does not move their back foot when swinging they are either not swinging very fast, not getting their weight to transfer onto the left foot or not rotating their body substantially enough. The right leg moving to the right also helps to stabilize the swing which gives better balance and lead to more consistent swings. The right leg should stay behind the left leg.

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Many players will bring the right leg up in front of the left leg.

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This often leads to over rotating of the body, but more of an issue is that it usually makes players move forward instead of backwards and the longer the point goes on the more into the court the player gets. This happens because it is easier for the body to recover by moving forward (the way the bodies momentum is moving) and then to stay forward. This is especially true of beginning players.

The heal of the back foot off the ground at the end of the swing is a good indicator that the weight has shifted to mostly on the front foot.

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The weight on the left foot signifies that an almost complete shifting of the weight has happened. This aids in giving much more power to the swing. There should be so little weight on the back foot that someone could easily move your back foot if they wanted to.

The toes from both feet should be pointing towards the net. This makes it easier for the body to move in any direction.

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If the toes were still pointed towards the right it would make it difficult to move quickly in certain directions, especially to the left.

The front leg needs to be straight at the end of the recovery phase of the follow through.

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This helps to assure that the body was used to lift the ball over the net. It also helps by keeping the bodies center of gravity higher and more in front which makes moving laterally much quicker and faster. This aids in recovering for hitting the next shot as most movement in tennis is lateral in nature. The back leg can still be bent as there is no weight on it so it has very little effect on this stage.

Racquet Position

The angle the racquet travels after contact is dictated by the angle of the racquet before contact. This means players who swing relatively level before contacting the ball, will swing relatively level after contacting the ball. Their racquet will tend to finish off to their left side.

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Hover over the below image to see that the racquet initially did not get very far under the ball.

That is why it is a good idea to finish with the racquet over the left shoulder.

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This assures a good angle (before ball contact) for top spin as most likely the forward swing will have started under the ball. Hover over the below image to see that the racquet is much further under the ball.

Even the pro’s who finish with their racquets on the hip will still bring the racquet up to the height of their shoulders before bringing it down when trying to hit topspin.

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The racquet should also be on edge. This means the racquet will have its leading edge pointing up towards the sky or perpendicular to the ground.

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This signifies that the wrist and forearm have not moved. Many pros will finish with the racquet not on edge.

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This means they will have moved the forearm or wrist somewhere during the swing. This is fine to do as long as the wrist or forearm where not moved until after the hit zone has been elongated. That is exactly what Monfils does. Hover over the below image to see that his wrist is still locked well after the ball has been hit.

The main reason most players should keep their racquet on edge at the finish is to ensure that they have not moved their wrist or forearm before extending the hit zone. Many players who move their wrist or forearm will do so too early and cause their hit zone to be too small.

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In the above image the ball is barely off the racquet and there is no way the ball could still be hit.

Left Arm

The left arm needs to continue to stay close to the right arm all the way through the recovery phase. As the racquet moves up to the left shoulder the left hand should “catch” the racquet.

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This has the effect of helping to slow the momentum of the racquet which keeps it from going too far behind the back. This makes recovery much quicker. It also helps to keep the whole body relaxed. If the left arm is kept low and not raised as the racquet raises their is a tendency for the body to tense up.

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A tensed up body will make the body move slower. This will make it much more difficult to recover for the next shot. Recovery will also be more difficult because the racquet will travel further since the left arm isn’t there to catch it.

Head

The head can now be moved to look at where the ball is going and to see what the opponent is doing. Hover over the below image to see the head move.

A player wants to look at where the ball is going as it can help them determine where they will stand for the next shot.

The Back

The back will continue to remain straight,

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This helps keep the center of gravity higher which aids in movement. It is also an indication that the body has lifted correctly. It also is a good indication of proper balance. If the back is leaning to the left or right then the body is not balanced correctly.

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Bad balance at this phase will make recovery more difficult as the body will need to balance itself before it can start to recover.

Belly Button

The belly button should now be pointing towards the net and the hips and shoulders should be parallel to the net.

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Similar to the toes pointing towards the net by having the belly button pointing towards the net the body is in a much better position to move in any direction. If the belly button is pointing past the net towards the left, the body will have further to travel to get to the right. This takes time and can be the difference between easily hitting the next shot and missing the next shot.

By the end of the swing the body should be as close to the ready position as is possible. If done correctly only the racquet, arms and back foot will need to be adjusted to be back into a good ready position.

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The recovery phase of the follow through gains more and more importance the higher the level of the player. This is mainly because as the level of player increases, the power of the player also increases. The more power, the less time there is to hit the ball. Even beginning players should do this phase correctly as it helps to ensure that as they get better and play better opposition, who can hit the ball with more power, they wil be able to quickly get ready to hit the next ball.

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