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Interactive Forum April 2013:* The Gulbis "Swim" Forehand

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  • Interactive Forum April 2013:* The Gulbis "Swim" Forehand

    The Gulbis "Swim" Forehand

    I'd be fascinated to know where the swim move came from. Check out Ernests Gulbis new forehand, from some of our incredible new 500 frame footage from Indian Wells. I've never seen anyone move their left arm like that (except maybe in a swimming backstroke) and to me it appears to have reduced his shoulder turn.

    But I'd like to hear if anyone else sees something I am missing! No doubt he's crushing forehands in this currently ascending cycle of his rollercoaster career. Could the "swim" help explain why?

    Last edited by johnyandell; 07-01-2016, 10:12 AM.

  • #2
    Quicktime version

    The Gulbis "Swim" Forehand

    Last edited by johnyandell; 07-01-2016, 10:13 AM.


    • #3
      The Emperor and His Clothes...

      In the “Gulbis...What’s Going On?” thread there’s a lot of discussion about the Gulbis new forehand.

      To me it’s a ridiculous looking shot, a caricature. What got Doug Eng and myself captivated in the thread is...why? Where is the benefit? There could be a benefit on higher, slow balls but that would seem about all. He’s lost his Wimbledon 2008 forehand which was a revelation against Nadal. That forehand was compact and quite brilliant at dealing with fast incoming balls, similar to Nadal's. Now we have the reverse scenario. How on earth will he find the time to do the “swim” forehand against someone like DelPotro?

      Another odd thing is how can Gulbis view video feedback of this stroke and not jump out of his skin with alarm. Doug cites an “The Emperor and His Clothes” says it looks great...Gulbis believes in the Gulbis believes it’s a great shot.

      Klacr has seen the shot first hand and says the shot stood up well in matches. Gulbis narrowly lost in three sets to Nadal recently, so Klarc has a good point and must be right.

      Confusing this coaching business. If this is a good shot then I need to quit coaching and get a job stacking shelves in Walmart.

      I would be most interested to see what others think. Elements of the flip seem to be missing here. The new stroke is that it is no longer a type 3...the old one was...anyone agree/disagree?
      Last edited by stotty; 03-31-2013, 06:45 AM.


      • #4
        Godzilla...The Ernesto Gulbis Forehand

        I'm calling it the "Godzilla Forehand" some Japanese nightmare made into a Science Fiction tennis swing.

        So unorthodox it is unworthy of critique except to ask...what have you been smoking Ernesto? Ok...bottle would call it "quirky". It reminds me of that move that the "Karate Kid" does at the end of the movie when he kicks his opponent into next week. I would dearly love to see him try it with a Dunlop Maxply Fort.

        Why not? It certainly defies conventional wisdom. What's not to like?
        Performance Analyst


        • #5
          He still appears to be getting the slingshot effect of the SSC, and while the stroke looks odd at best I think the main factor is disguise. Maybe opponents are distracted or just don't know how to read the shot, but it seems to be working for him. My only issue is he seems to struggle with it on the run, that could be related to a longer preparation time or less reliable mechanics. Nice footage of that forehand John!


          • #6
            He does appear to at least keep the racquet on the hitting side of his body. His arm looks to me to be already externally rotated in the preparation/turn(prior to pull to contact), hence no flip. And his grip appears to be more western than Nadal or even Djokovic.
            Last edited by stroke; 03-31-2013, 07:13 PM.


            • #7
              Wow! And then all the re-bending as if coming out of the water in a swimming
              crawl! Quirky but quirky off the map? What this shot has going for it however is that Jimmy Arias thinks it CRAZY. And any time Arias expresses strong opinion, jump immediately to the opposite viewpoint? As when he forbade people like me ever to use a wiper again? For a while I believed him but kept running off the road in rainstorms. Fortunately, Tennis Player came along just then with The ATP Forehand and authorized me to use me wiper once again!
              Last edited by bottle; 04-01-2013, 08:05 AM.


              • #8
                Having seen it up close and now seeing it in slo-mo, I can say it looks uglier than in real time. With that said...besides the left arm flailing away, towards the net and up, what components in the actual swing are so bad or horrendous. If you get past the wild left high and a fairly high backswing, what technical checkpoints do not occur? The beginning of the stroke is so bizarre and I don't think its really neccessary. After that, his stroke is ok. If he just started the racquet where it is when he loads, it would look fairly normal. His grip is pretty extreme, so he is able to cock his wrist down and hits with brute force so he doesnt really use the momentum of his backswing.

                I like that john uses a swim analogy. I've been a swimmer longer than a tennis player, specifically backstroke. But again, the beginning of this stroke is unnecssary so to me its wasted breath.

                I know all of us on here salivate over perfect technique, but just because something is ugly does not make it ineffective no? Yes,there are a tons of ways to hit a ball, some being clearly better, effective or more effici ent than others.

                Much like Doug Eng comments about "Emperor's new clothes" what about another idea..."beauty is in the eye of the beholder" Although its not "normal" or looks "uncomfotable" and "awkward" to us, Ernests likes it. And if he likes it, he feels confident, and if he feels confident he plays better, and if he plays better he wins more frequently. And at the end of the day, he'll take wins and confidence over a pretty forehand and inconsistent results.

                I'm not a fan of it and personally would not advise my students to copy it, but if the player hitting the stroke likes it, and he's winning...where's the harm?

                Kyle LaCroix USPTA
                Boca Raton


                • #9
                  Is the success inspite of rather than because of the stroke pattern

                  Originally posted by johnyandell View Post
                  The Gulbis "Swim" Forehand

                  Just a few points I would make about Gulbis's forehand:

                  1. As already pointed out, he does get into a position where his racket face is almost horizontal just before he swings forward to the ball. This is not the "pat the dog" position, but it is similar; he just starts from the inside, not all the way to a Type I or Type II backswing, but closer to a Type II than a Type III; and he ends up going through the same position a Type III ends up going to before approaching the ball.

                  2. Also pointed out, as he starts that forward swing, he definitely creates an SSC effect.

                  3. As he starts that forward swing, he drops the left hand at least contemporaneously if not actually simultaneously. The position of his left hand limits the amount of coil he can get from his shoulders, but it could be argued that he is making up for part of the loss with the momentum of the swing of the left arm and hand down and back facilitating the rotation of his right shoulder forward around a vertical axis through approximately his left ear and the left side of his neck; it could even be the right ear. The point is, this could help swing his right side forward and would not be, in fact, totally pointless.

                  4. He's a pretty big guy at 6' 3" and he has always hit the forehand pretty hard, if not very pretty. It always seemed he could afford to give up a little power (lost with the lack of a nice left hand extension to the right), if it got him more consistency.

                  5. This seems like a really complicated motion. The only way to be able to pull it off is to set up and prepare for the ball very early and very well. I don't think Ernests has ever done that very well, at least before this. He is talented enough to set up really early if he actually focuses on early preparation. I would argue that he has no choice with this stroke. Certainly, I would think he would have better success with a different stroke if he could marshall his energies for the same kind of preparation required to pull off the "Swim" forehand. But the more conventional stroke with the kind of preparation he seemed to have in the past was not as successful over the long run. Now he has a formula that 'works' and he is committed to keeping it going. And he can certainly afford to give up a little of the power he would have with a better shoulder turn if he indeed ends up getting the better preparation and focus on the shot that he needs to be a little more consistent and accurate.

                  From just before impact to impact and through impact, his stroke on the right side of his body looks just like any other ATP Type III forehand; in fact, from that point forward the same can be said of the left side of his body as well as that the weird part of the stroke is gone. Furthermore, he actually may get more rotation forward with his right shoulder around that axis I mentioned than the more conventional strokes with good left hand extension to the right before contact.

                  I think the biggest thing is simply that he has to prepare well and early to pull it off, and while he may think he is getting better results because of the weird "swim" stroke pattern, it's actually that he likes the stroke, is committed to it and prepares better to hit it than he did with his old stroke and he hits the new "swim" forehand better in spite of the stroke anomalies. Part of the reason he is able to do that is he is in better shape. But I think the bigger issue is the mental commitment to be prepared to hit this shot.



                  • #10
                    In my opinion, the difference with virtually every other ATP forehand--leaving the left arm swim completely out--is the reduced amount of shoulder turn--less than 90 degrees... BUT that swim move appears to be what is causing this...


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by johnyandell View Post
                      In my opinion, the difference with virtually every other ATP forehand--leaving the left arm swim completely out--is the reduced amount of shoulder turn--less than 90 degrees... BUT that swim move appears to be what is causing this...
                      Extraordinary what’s going on here. He cannot turn the shoulder any further (or keep it turned longer) because the left arm positioned so high would even further obscure his sight of the ball. He has to peer underneath his arm as it is in the clip.

                      Try it at home. Pull the arm high and across your body. A great chunk of vision is lost. So he is never going to be able to turn the shoulder more.

                      Be interesting to see if his forehand morphs as he goes through the season.
                      Last edited by stotty; 04-02-2013, 12:07 PM.


                      • #12
                        Does he really have less shoulder turn?

                        Check this comparison of the strike zone. Gulbis definitely turns his shoulders less going back, but he also definitely turns them more going forward!


                        I was fooling around trying to learn a little more about using my Dartfish. Just hit the replay button a few times to get the full sense of the comparison.


                        PS: John, this is a private link with no names or keywords attached to the video. Let me know if you want me to pull it.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by tennis_chiro View Post
                          Check this comparison of the strike zone. Gulbis definitely turns his shoulders less going back, but he also definitely turns them more going forward!


                          I was fooling around trying to learn a little more about using my Dartfish. Just hit the replay button a few times to get the full sense of the comparison.


                          PS: John, this is a private link with no names or keywords attached to the video. Let me know if you want me to pull it.
                          Don - that's a great observation. Although he doesn't get a full shoulder turn, he still gets a lot of upper body rotation by rotating to the point where his left shoulder is well behind his right shoulder on contact.

                          Also he fires the upper body rotation first and then you can see his wrist really stretch (a snap back really) before the double bend comes through. I think this is the SSC that Jason mentioned he observed.

                          If you've seen his old forehand, he had an unusually low, compact take back. So maybe this overexaggerated forehand is a way to lift and extend a takeback that was too cramped. Hopefully he can tone it down and incorporate more initial shoulder turn with the left hand across the body to reach a happy medium.

                          Either way, there is a lot to like here - the tremendous knee bend followed by the spring upward from the legs followed by the firing of the upper body rotation. The wrist snapping backwards (ssc), the contact point well in front of the body, and the drive through the ball - all elements that were in the old forehand as well as this one.

                          As weird as it may look, I have to commend him and his coach for working on technique. Think of all the players (Andy Roddick's backhand, Donald Young's forehand, Dementieva's serve, etc) that could have been so much more if they had worked on technical limitations.
                          Last edited by jeffreycounts; 04-04-2013, 08:19 AM.


                          • #14
                            Doesn't always swim

                            I managed to catch a handful of games of Gulbis playing Isner yesterday at Monte Carlo. Seems there a numerous occasions where Gulbis doesn't swim on that forehand. When under duress or when stretched on wide balls he reverts to a more conventional style. In the few games I watched, Isner played to Gulbis's backhand much of the time, Gulbis never missed one...more errors came from the forehand wing or plopped short. I taped the whole match and will give it a full look over the next day or two.

                            Gulbis looked focused, though. He wanted it...wanted the win.

                            Isner looked below parr...not his usual self.


                            • #15
                              Gull-bis Stroke

                              I think someone called it the flying eagle. I call it the Gull-bis forehand.
                              The point of the emperor's new clothes analogy is the confidence factor.
                              Regardless of the attention he gets, he will ignore it since he's comfortable
                              and confident swinging away. Ernests believes in his coach and believes in the stroke. With his recent success, he's not going to abandon it until that success stops.

                              I mentioned earlier that there may be an advantage to Gulbis' stroke. And his stroke still has common elements of a good shot:

                              Common Elements:
                              1. As Kyle mentioned, he still has the pre-stretch (SSC).
                              2. He still loads on his back leg.

                              Possible Advantages (for success):
                              1. Less initial shoulder rotation might mean a more straight racquet path making the stroke more consistent since he stays in the contact zone for a longer time. (Let's define contact zone as the essential length of the racquet swing that coincides with the ball path, as opposed to the brief contact point).
                              Therefore less off-centered hits.
                              2. The high left arm may be better in the modern game given the balls also bounce higher today (in part due to spin) than ever. Basically, his loading set-up still has knee flexion but the higher arms may allow a good amount of spin even on higher balls. (for comparison, I and others teach an aggressive high-to-high or high-low forehand on high or short, high balls..Gulbis' inverts the technique for greater arc on rally balls on the baseline). The relatively high left arm is used by many pros on low, heavy topspin balls.

                              That adds up to a more consistent forehand that is effective in the modern game (with plenty of high, topspin balls). He trades off a slight loss of left-right rotation for a possible greater low-high swing.

                              Essentially his swing from the slot (or late-cocking) is similar to any other ATP forehand except the greater shoulder tilt. (Look at ca 0:23 of the video clip in this discussion).

                              A question might be what disadvantages he may have?
                              He might not use optimal biomechanics as he limits his shoulder rotation (as John Y. points out) which may translate to less power. However, given he has other strong elements, he can be reasonable successful with it. Ernests is a big fellow like many pros today and with the modern racquets, he doesn't need much more power but rather control. That's why touring pros still play with smaller, heavier racquets than the average person. They want control.

                              In addition, there are plenty of players with technical weaknesses who did well, if not better. Andy Roddick's groundstrokes, Gabriela Sabatini's serve, etc. Tennis isn't about perfection of strokes but also athleticism, competitiveness, dedication, tactics and mental toughness.
                              Last edited by DougEng; 04-24-2013, 02:45 AM.


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