February 22, 2011

Why Players Use Too Much Shoulder on Forehands

I was watching players at the club this weekend, and noticed a number of them use too much shoulder on their forehand strokes, both drives and loops. The problem with this is when you use a lot of shoulder, you aren't using your full body rotation. The key is to rotate the shoulders, not stroke with them. Otherwise, you lose power (which also leads to a loss of control), plus you'll probably eventually hurt your shoulder.

Older players often do this because of muscle stiffness, and so don't rotate the shoulders back. If you don't rotate the shoulders back, you can't rotate them forward. And so their stroke becomes mostly arm.

Beginning juniors, especially when very young, are natural mimics and so often copy what they see others do, whether it's good or bad. But even if they copy good strokes, and learn to backswing properly, sometimes they stop their shoulder rotation early on the forward swing, and so end up using too much arm at the end, and losing the power from the body rotation. It's important to rotate forward through the stroke, and not stop early and end up with just the arm swinging forward at the end.

A good way to overcome this is to imagine a rod going through your head when you do a forehand. Rotate in a circle around that rod, and make sure to do so completely through the ball.

That growing realization that you better try something different

I played a match this weekend with one of our up-and-coming junior girls. For two games, we battled it out, my steadiness versus her vicious hitting. On her serve, I'd either topspin the serve back and start countering, or push it, she'd loop, I'd block, and we'd be countering. On my serve, I'd mix in side-stop serves which she attacked, or backspin serves, which she'd push, I'd loop, and she'd jab-block or hit so aggressively I stopped using them. In most rallies, within two-three shots I'd be back fishing, then lobbing, and she wasn't missing.

She won the first two games. It finally dawned on me that no matter how steady I was, I simply wasn't going to out-counterhit her. Since counter-hitting wasn't going to work, I decided I had only one option, and went all-out physical and switched to all-out forehand looping. (I actually had another option, chopping - I can win that way, and might have gone that way in a tournament - but I wanted to win with topspin. I was determined!) It was physically exhausting (I'm 51 in a week), but once I made the decision to unhesitatingly go for the loop, the loops became stronger and steadier, and in particular deeper (thereby making them harder to attack), and I won three straight. The down side - now I dread playing her again, because it's so incredibly exhausting!

Moral of the story: sometimes you have to make a major strategy change. If you do, commit to it utterly. This doesn't mean doing only one thing. It means having complete confidence in whatever you decide to do tactically, and look to do it every chance.

Congratulations Western Open Champion Timothy Wang!

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