The Roger Federer forehand – a thing of beauty, the most natural looking shot in the game of tennis but also one of the most devastating and versatile shots to ever grace the sport.
The Federer forehand is a shot that's helped the Swiss legend win 17 Grand Slams and dominate the sport like no other player before him. But how has he developed the forehand into such a potent shot? Let's take a look at what makes the Federer forehand the shot it is today.
Federer Forehand Overview
If you've ever watched Federer live or on TV then you'll no doubt have noticed how effortless he makes the game look but he's only able to achieve that due to the way he executes the shot from start to finish which is actually quite complicated.
From a technical point of view there's so much to admire, Roger plays the game very aggressively and when a player is hitting any shot with a lot of force like Federer so it's important that you give yourself enough room to do so.
If you watch the slow motion clip below you'll notice that Roger's arm is almost locked when he makes contact with the ball. He does that because he wants to make contact with the ball as far out in front of his body as he possibly can.
This also allows him to generate more top spin as with his elbow locked is able to brush up the back of the ball and you can see how his wrist rolls up the back of it which generates large amounts of spin on the ball which creates ‘pop' when it hits the court surface.
Perhaps the most important aspect to create pace and timing is how perfectly still he is able to keep his head; Roger's eyes are focused firmly on where he made contact with the ball. The head is the heaviest part of the body so if he were to move it, or jerk it around to see where the ball was heading he'd start to shank and mistime his shots rendering the shot in effective. In terms of technical prowess there's so much to admire where the Federer forehand is concerned.
Federer Forehand in Slow Motion
How does Roger Federer hit such a great forehand?
Federer's forehand maybe beautiful but it's not easy to understand, such a shot doesn't just ‘happen' and is actually generated from a series of events/movements of which I'll dissect the major elements below:
1.) Federer uses an Eastern Forehand Grip
Federer uses a slightly modified eastern grip, it lies somewhere between the traditional eastern forehand grip and the standard semi-western grip. This grip means Federer can hit through the ball and take the ball on the up; allowing him to step inside the court and dictate play against his opponents.
With a grip that allows him to play close to the baseline Roger is able to dominate the court and hit more aggressive shots. This is key to his effectiveness and why he's won so many matches.
2. Vast amount of torso and shoulder rotation
Without body rotation the Federer forehand wouldn't be anywhere near the weapon it is today, he uses his full core strength to generate the high level of racquet head speed that translates through to the pace of the ball.
Gone are the days of yesteryear where players like Rod Laver used traditional grips, neutral stances and barely rotated their bodies; modern day tennis is where players use all of their body almost thrusting themselves into every shot to generate the maximum level of power possible.
Federer is no different; he rotates his upper body as fully as he possibly can. This creates almost like a coiled spring effect that unwinds and releases all the stored energy upon impact with the ball.
This is known as a unit turn and allows Roger to actually start his backswing. Many people believe that the power of a shot is determined by the length of the backswing, but contrary to belief, Roger actually has one of the shorter and less elaborate backswings on tour.
3. Technically and Biomechanically Sound Preparation / Take Back
Federer has a technically sound preparation on the forehand and lets his body do the work rather than his arm. His backswing isn't elaborate and doesn't extend behind his back unlike some players especially on the WTA tour.
This makes the forehand efficient in terms of exertion and also from a biomechanical standpoint as it allows Federer to generate as much racket head speed as possible.
4. Contact Point
When you play aggressively like Federer it's important you give yourself enough room to hit the ball freely and make contact with it as far out in front of you as possible. Federer does this by utilising great footwork and using what's called a straight-arm forehand; whereby the arm is virtually straight on contact. This allows him to hit with power and accuracy.
It's worth remembering that the straight arm contact point comes as a direct result of his swing patch and preparation, it's not done intentionally.
5. Windshield Wiper Finish
A classical eastern grip combined with a windshield wiper style finish is a rare combination and it's not often a player can fuse traditional and modern yet still be hugely successful.
This approach allows Roger to hit the ball hard and with a low trajectory over the net which is especially useful when on the attack or on indoor & grass courts. The wiper finish allows him to hit with spin too making the Federer forehand extremely versatile.
Roger can also vary how quickly he turns his hand over and the length of his extension allowing him to create a wide array of angles and spins, from crosscourt passes to precise topspin lobs. Because of his eastern forehand grip, he is able to do this while still hitting taking the ball early well inside the baseline. Combining the modern and classical components of tennis technique gives him a variety of options which is unrivalled on tour.
Conclusions on the Federer Forehand
The Federer forehand is a shot that has defined tennis for the last decade. Not only is it a beautiful shot it's also deadly and when it's “on” his forehand can take the match away from even the most seasoned opponents.
Should you try and copy the Federer Forehand?
Unlike some professional ATP players the Federer forehand is a great shot to try and imitate because it's so technically sound that very little can go wrong. He utilises simple mechanics and a traditional grip which gives players the flexibility to handle a range of spins and trajectories compares to the more extreme and modern type grips.
Federer's forehand also allows a player to impart their own spin on the ball whilst still hitting through the ball to generate depth and pace meaning it's an ideal shot for players of all levels and all abilities.