Increasing Power in Your Strokes
“Tennis Tip” by Jaspal Mahal, Tennis Professional
With the Grand Slam season coming to an end at the US Open a few weeks ago, most tennis fans saw the young finalists Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez play an amazing match. Some of the most common comments I’ve heard around the Tennis & Games Center have been, how can two teenage girls generate so much power in their strokes?
The average speed for forehand strokes among male tennis professionals is between 71 and 83 MPH, while the women come in between 70-79 MPH. While most of us are a long way off from achieving this level of performance consistently, we can learn the basics of power generation and implement them in our own game.
The most common mistake among players trying to increase groundstroke speed is being too close to the point of contact. When you get too close to the ball, all of the levers in your arm that would normally work to transfer power into the ball get disconnected. Think of your joints as checkpoints: the power generated by your trunk and legs travel down your shoulder, into your elbow, into your wrist, then into the racket. If the joints are not in a straight line at contact, you end up losing momentum and decreasing your stroke speed. When you look at slow-motion video of top-level players, they are almost always at full extension on their groundstrokes. You will also notice that the arm extension is at a 45-degree angle compared to their body position. This 45-degree angle usually corresponds to making contact with the ball directly in front of your lead foot, which is where you can focus on hitting the ball during your next training session or clinic.
Another flaw that could be restricting your power potential is not using your entire body to hit the stroke. The most powerful muscles in your body are in the legs and core and effectively using them can easily increase your stroke speed. The aim of the body during a groundstroke should be to move in a coil-and-recoil motion throughout. During the backswing, you should plant the back foot into the ground and bend the knee to “load” the leg, while rotating your upper body backwards away from the net. The forward swing should start by rotating your hips forward, followed by the trunk and abs, which causes the shoulder to move, then the elbow, followed by the wrist and racket. This chain of rotation starting at the hip uses the concept of a “kinetic chain” to transfer the energy into the ball. The more fluid your kinetic chain is, the more powerful your shot can be.
One major error that most players commit during the serve is having an incorrect toss. Just like with the groundstrokes, we want to hit the serve at full extension of the arm. Most players can correct this by simply moving their toss forward. If you are right-handed, your toss should go to the front and right of your body while landing about 1 foot inside the baseline. If you are left-handed, the toss should be to the front and left of the body while also landing about 1 foot inside the baseline. If you still can’t achieve full extension on your serve, there may be timing issues that we can work on. Just like with the groundstrokes, you also want to have a coil-and-recoil action with your body. Load your leg, coil and rotate your upper body during the take-back, and start the shot from the legs. Keeping your arm relaxed and free-flowing will help provide the whip-like action that pops a ball off your strings. Combined with a fitness program focusing on tennis-specific movements, these tips can easily add power to your overall game and provide another weapon on court.