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Develop A More Compact Forehand

Develop A More Compact Forehand
A compact forehand takeback may take your forehand to a new level.  When is your takeback too big and how can you practice a more compact stroke?

Your forehand takeback is too big!

Perhaps you’ve been told that by a trusted coach or heard a tennis commentator refer to it when critiquing a player's forehand technique. Why might they say that, and what do they mean? Well, a common teaching principle of the modern game is an emphasis on developing shorter strokes. One might think a shorter backswing on the forehand would equal less potential power, but that does not reflect what an increased understanding of the biomechanics of a tennis forehand bears out.

Indeed, we're learning that less is more, and compact forehands can often be more effective than big swings. Esteemed American coach Rick Macci (coach of Venus & Serena Williams and Andy Roddick) is famously quoted as saying, "There’s not a right way or a wrong way. But there might be a better way." Tennis players should not be afraid to explore and listen to what the best in biomechanics research can offer. If we can improve our game by making subtle (at times even drastic!) technique changes, we may unlock our highest potential as players. We'll never know if there is a better way unless we put forth the effort to find out!

Rick Macci Forehand
Rick Macci Forehand

How do I know if I have a big forehand backswing?

A big backswing (for our purposes, interchangeable with "the takeback") is typically noted when the hitting hand and racket head break the body's plane before the start of their forward swing. In other words, as a player is winding up for their forehand, both the hand and racket strings are visible on the other side of the body (as you face the player, the right side for a right-handed player). Have a friend or family member take a video of you hitting the ball from across the net. Does their footage reveal that your hand and strings “break the plane?”

Madison Keys Signature Forehand

In the professional ranks, bigger forehand backswings are more prominent on the WTA tour. They are likely an ingrained habit from a player's junior days when they lacked the physiological strength to maintain a shorter stroke.

What is a compact forehand backswing, and why is it beneficial?

There are degrees of compact backswings ranging from Adrian Mannarino (super short!) to Roger Federer (half-loop) to Nick Kygrios (next-gen style). Still, they share a specific crucial element: The forehand stroke (from the takeback to the forehand swing to the contact point) remains on the hitting side of the body, and they do not break the plane.

compact forehand
Photo: Roger Federer

This compact technique has been dubbed the ATP forehand, and such terminology has caught on within coaching circles worldwide. For those who can master it, it's likely an ideal way to execute a forehand for the following reasons.

  1. Shorter backswings often allow for easier ball timing on fast surfaces such as grass or hard courts.
  2. Shorter backswings can lead to greater consistency since there are fewer moving parts and less motion time of the hitting hand through the air.
  3. Shorter backswings usually result in a faster and more powerful forehand swing as they are less susceptible to improper use of the kinetic chain (i.e., arming the ball).

But is a compact forehand stroke the best solution for everyone?

As with most things technical in tennis, it’s not a one size fits all approach. What’s optimal for one or even most players might not always work for you. For every Paul Badosa (short takeback), there’s a Madison Keys (larger takeback), and both are incredibly successful players with great forehands. Still, being willing to experiment is key. Remember, there could be a better way for you!

Drilling Technique with the TopspinPro

The TopspinPro is a tremendous tool to implement when exploring a technique change. The ball and contact point remain static while you hone in on the desired technical element.

One helpful drill that promotes a more compact forehand is the "elbow hold," and it's very simple to perform (Alex from Top Tennis Training is doing it below). During your takeback, position your off arm under your hitting elbow (with a light grip), and then execute a forward swing (You can let your off-arm grip once you begin the forward swing.) This drill ensures that the hitting elbow stays on the hitting side of the body and can be practiced effectively with the TopspinPro.

compact forehand
compact forehand


If you need greater consistency or power and would fit the criteria of a large forehand takeback, consider adapting to a more compact stroke.  Through intentional practice and proper drilling, you might discover that a compact takeback elevates the effectiveness of your forehand and takes your game to a whole new level.

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