This post is Part 2 of the 4-part series on the ATP and WTA forehands.
In Part 1, I discussed why I’m interested in this, what the key differences are between the two strokes, and how these differences contribute to power and topspin generation.
In this post, I’ll be addressing an issue that seems to come up frequently in discussions comparing the ATP and WTA forehands: timing.
I’ll start by saying I don’t know the answer to this question. I’m presenting both sides of the debate as food for thought.
Arguments for the ATP forehand being easier to time
1. You don’t need to actively re-pronate to contact the ball with a forward-tilting racquet
According to Part 6 of his Roadmap to a Hall of Fame Series (which a lot of the discussion in Part 1 was based on), author SpeedMaster believes the ATP forehand is easier to time.
By pronating the forearm at the start of forward motion the racquet comes up into the ideal position at contact naturally, with no extra effort by the player. He contrasts this with the WTA forehand, where he says the player has to actively pronate the racquet just before contact to get a bit of a forward tilt at contact and he believes developing this timing is difficult and likely accessible only to either highly competitive players who have the time to practice enough.
The vast majority of tennis players hit their heaviest topspin forehands by attempting a wide variety of body movements to create the stroke geometry associated with high-speed, high-spin forehands. The commonality of the topspin-amplifying technique/movements used by the vast majority of players is that these involve consciously manipulating the racquet hand and arm during the 100 or so milliseconds before impact.
These contrived movements commonly include such movements known as: “windshield-wipering”, ” wrist action”, “wrist rolling” or “wrist flipping”, “brushing up at impact”, “reverse finishing”, etc. , etc., etc.. All of these movements involve highly conscious, and often last-second, timing-intensive racquet manipulation where required stroke consistency can only be achieved with an inordinate amount of practice time that’s only really available to serious competitive players.
SpeedMaster believes that, while you do need to re-pronate your forearm in the ATP forehand (which takes practice to time) to get into the ideal geometry at contact, this is a more natural movement and appears to happen more automatically.
I’m not sure I agree with this argument, since you need to learn to time the contact pronation in both the ATP and WTA forehands, but according to SpeedMaster this is easier to do in the ATP forehand.
2. You don’t need to commit to your stroke as early in the ATP forehand
I do think that the shorter, faster, more compact swing of the ATP forehand lets you wait longer before committing to your stroke.
One reason that the ATP forehand developed in the first place was to give players more time to get to the fast moving ball of the men’s game in time to deal with it effectively. The shorter and faster swing doesn’t need to be initiated as early.
In the WTA forehand, with it’s (typically) bigger backswing, players need to start their swings earlier.
The ATP forehand should give you more time to get a read on the incoming ball, and to make last-millisecond adjustments to unusual spins or mistakes in judgment.
I’ll say here that this argument might be becoming less important as, from what I’m seeing, more WTA players are shortening their backswings. This will be discussed in Part 3.
The Other Side of the Argument: Why Timing the WTA forehand Might be Easier
This is the more commonly shared opinion that I’ve seen around the web.
1. More moving parts in the ATP forehand – more to go wrong
Remember that both the WTA and ATP forehands involve the lower body and trunk muscles/joints in generally similar fashions, so I’m just comparing the shoulder to hand components of the strokes.
The thought here is that, in general, the WTA forehand has fewer joints involved in the stroke. This isn’t always the case, but the shoulder is the main hinge of the WTA forehand and there is typically less involvement of the forearm/wrist/elbow.
Because more components are involved in the ATP forehand, there’s more for your brain to coordinate and therefore increased likelihood of something being mis-timed.
I like how “GuyClinch” puts this on the Tennis Warehouse forum (Jan 30, 2016). He shows videos of Hewitt (WTA forehand) and Sock (extreme ATP forehand) and says to just see for yourself how much more complicated the ATP forehand looks.
Both videos are from Essential Tennis.
Here’s the link to the thread:
2. WTA forehand has a longer window where the racquet is in the right hitting position
This is based on this FeelTennis video in which Tomaz Mencinger explains his opinion that the WTA forehand is easier to time.
Tomaz believes the ATP forehand can develop more racquet head speed than the WTA forehand, and therefore more power, but the ATP stroke is also more difficult to time properly.
His video comparing Federer’s and Halep’s forehands show that in the WTA forehand the racquet gets into the proper position for contact much earlier than in the ATP forehand. The window for contacting the ball properly is larger in the WTA forehand, so timing doesn’t have to be as perfect to yield a successful shot.
Tomaz believes that recreational players don’t get to practice enough to develop the timing required to successfully hit the ATP forehand.
Do I agree with this? I believe that Tomaz is a great coach and has worked with many players at all levels of the game with a focus on coaching recreational players (while some other coaches online base their teaching on their work with high level players) so I trust that this is a concept that he’s experienced with his players.
From the analysis in Part 1, we learned that there’s a natural opening of the racquet that happens during the forward swing. To get the racquet tilting forward at contact (which Halep does), you need to either start with a very closed racquet face (ATP forehand), or you need to pronate your forearm during the forward swing. Since Halep starts with her wrist supinated and her racquet face essentially perpendicular to the court, she must be pronating her forearm prior to contact to get that forward tilt at contact.
You can see that she does this. While it appears that she’s pronating her forearm after contact, she’s actually starting this a bit before contact.
The interesting thing is that to keep the racquet face at a consistent angle throughout the swing, as Halep does, you need to be changing the orientation of the arm somewhere. It’s kind of like an optical illusion – it looks like the wrist is “fixed” but it can’t be, or else the racquet face would be opening up as it moved forward.
Learning how to properly pronate your forearm to get the right contact angle is therefore still crucial in the WTA forehand.
That being said, however, in Halep’s WTA forehand, the forearm pronation is less significant, and more gradual, than in Federer’s ATP forehand, so the shot might be more robust to small errors in timing (if you mis-time, your racquet face will be much closer to where you wanted it to be than in the ATP forehand).
So I do see Tomaz’s point that the WTA forehand has a bigger window in which the racquet is at a “good” angle for contact. I’d just add that even in this larger window the wrist/forearm is rotating so it’s not quite as simple as it looks. But compared to the ATP forehand, where there’s much more movement in the wrist and racquet face, it does seem like mis-times in the WTA forehand wouldn’t impact the shot as much.
Arguments for ATP forehand being easier to time
- Easier to time the re-pronation of the forearm in the ATP forehand since it happens more naturally
- Don’t need to commit to the stroke as early as in the WTA forehand so can gather more ball-path data before swinging
Arguments for the WTA forehand being easier to time
- Fewer moving parts in the WTA forehand means less to go wrong
- Longer window with the racquet in suitable position to contact the ball in the WTA forehand
Based on the timing discussion, there might be conflicting elements that make one easier to time for one reason but more difficult to time for another.
Yes, the ATP forehand might be easier to time since you can wait longer before initiating the swing and can accommodate for bad bounces or improper ball judgements, but you also have more moving parts so in that way it’s more difficult to time.
So again, I certainly can’t say for sure which is easier to time, I just think these are interesting arguments that are worth considering.
Stay tuned for Part 3, where we’ll look more closely at the WTA forehand and see if it’s evolving into something closer to the ATP forehand.