March 9, 2017

Backhands to Get the Timing for Forehands
I have a new student who has been struggling with her forehand. It’s sort of strange – she has a very good backhand, and we can really go at it on that side. But on the forehand, her shots go all over the place. Sometimes she’ll hit a few good ones, and then she’ll swat it straight down into the net, then loft it way off the end, as if there’s no control over the timing or the stroke. The contrast between the two sides is huge. Her background was that she had trained as a kid in Poland, then stopped for decades, and was now picking it up again.

From a coaching point of view, it was rather frustrating as each session would start with us going forehand-to-forehand, sometimes multiball, sometimes live, and no matter what we did, the balls flew everywhere. Eventually we’d wear down and switch to backhands, where she’d have no problem – though by then she’d be a bit tired, physically and mentally, and so even there it wasn’t as good as it could be.

Yesterday (our fifth session) I had a brainstorm. We so often start off sessions going forehand to forehand and then backhand to backhand, and it made sense here – she needed more work on the forehand, so we should start there, right? After a while we could then go to the backhand for a time, and then come back to work on that problematic forehand again. But more and more I was suspecting the forehand problem was strictly a timing problem, and the changes in stroke were her adjustments to timing problems – lunging forward and swatting the ball into the net when she was too early, lofting it off the end when she was too late. We worked on the timing, trying to take the ball at the same spot each time, but were only semi-successful. So what was this brainstorm?

We started yesterday’s session going backhand to backhand. She did so well that I began to increase the pace, and soon she was hitting them like a pro (perhaps at a 1900-2000 level). When I played my forehand to her backhand I began to really tee off, and she got better and better, as if those skills from years ago in Poland were coming back.

Then we switched to forehands – and the change was dramatic!!! Hitting all those backhands, where she’s comfortable, helped her develop her timing, and so when we switched to forehands, she had no trouble. By the end of the session she was smacking in forehands like a pro! (Next week we begin looping, something she learned all those years ago in Poland – and she hinted that she was stronger on the backhand loop than the forehand loop.)

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