The Agassi Forehand
Still Photos by J Gregory Swendsen
I've watched tennis for four decades plus, and I've seen the changes in technique,
the changes in swings, and the changes in stances. I've seen the changes in the players physically,
the changes in the mental game, the changes in the technology of racquets. But no matter how much
the game changes, there are still a few basics that will never change.
I want to discuss a few of these basics on the forehand, using the magnificent
footage of Andre Agassi that's been developed by John Yandell for Advanced Tennis.
(http://www.advancedtennis.com/). This footage gives us a very clear look at exactly what
Andre is doing and allows players at any level to see these basics for themselves.
What are these basics that don't change over time?
- Focus leading to early preparation.
- Timing leading to the correct contact point.
- A good foundation or base on the court, regardless of the actual type of stance.
Notice, I did not say grips. This is because there is significant variation in
forehand grips among the great players. Pete Sampras holds a strong Eastern grip. Gustavo Kuerten
has a semi-western. Tommy Haas has a strong semi-western. Agassi is somewhere between Sampras
and Kuerten. So I'm not going to get into what grip you should or shouldn't use. You should discuss
this with your coach and that's the person who can best help you make adjustments, if necessary.
Notice also I did not say backswing. Like the grips, the backswings are also different
among top players. Pete Sampras starts his backswing with the elbow going back first. The elbow is
fairly high, almost level with the shoulder. Very few people can do this. In fact, just recently Goran
Ivanisevic changed his forehand to reduce this elbow lead, and that helped him win the Wimbledon.
Andre Agassi's backswing is a little different from both of these players. He pushes the racquet up with the left hand
and he has what we call a circular motion. Tommy Hass for the last couple of years had more of straight backswing. It
affected his whole forehand negatively and made him force the motion and throw his shoulder into the ball. Now he going back
to the circular motion.
So notice, here are 4 guys with different grips, differences in the backswing, but they all have big forehands.
Now let's look beyond these differences to the things that don't change: focus, preparation, timing, point of contact, and their
foundation on the court when they start that forward part of the swing.
I want you to watch the footage. Notice how Agassi, like most other top players starts to react as the ball leaves
the opponent's racquet. The majority of the players throughout the world, on all levels, even including professionals, do
not pick up the ball soon enough. Some will start reacting as it crosses the net. Some will react once the ball bounces. If
they wait this long they don't have a chance.
So what I want you to learn to do, is to focus and pick up that ball a split second sooner.
Then immediately start the preparation. How are we going to do that? You don't need a tennis court. Get a tennis
ball. Get a buddy. This buddy doesn't even have to be a tennis player. It can be your girlfriend, boyfriend,
I don't care who it is.
Throw your buddy the ball. As soon as it's thrown, your friend will say, "Ball, catch." And then
you'll do the same. "Ball, catch." Start saying this as quickly as you possibly can. Then do the same exercise,
only say "Ball, prepare."
Now let's pick up our racquet, let's rally with each other and when I say rally, this means
keeping it within a speed where you both can control the ball and practice this exercise. As soon as that ball
leaves your opponent's racquet, yell out "Ball" and immediately prepare. Start saying this as quickly as you
possibly can. Then do the same exercise, "Ball, prepare." And as the ball is coming to you, prepare.
Then add to that the next phase. "Ball, Prepare, Move Back." "Ball, Prepare, Move to the Right."
"Ball, Prepare, Move Forward." Do you think I'm crazy? Tell you what, I'm going to send you a bill because I've
already helped your game.
With his incredible focus, Agassi picks up the ball sooner and begins his preparation earlier than other players.
The point of contact is usually determined by the grip you use. But no matter what
anybody tells you, try to meet the ball out in front of you. No matter what grip you have, if you
meet the ball in front, you have a pretty good chance to have success with your stroke.
Andre Agassi has such impeccable timing, he can hold onto the throat of that
racquet almost until the point that it has to come forward. If some students have a little problem
with early preparation, release that left hand a little sooner. Then as you begin to get the timing,
perhaps you could hold onto it a little longer as Agassi does, but there are a lot of other successful
forehands that let that left hand off the racquet a little sooner.
The length of back swing is usually determined by the difficulty of the ball coming
to you. You have a sitting forehand, and you're inside that baseline and the ball is saying, "Hey hit me,
hit me." Go ahead and take a little bigger swing. If the ball is coming at you very quickly and you're
caught inside the baseline or you're returning serve, take a very simple, shorter backswing.
But notice no matter the size of the circular movement the racquet stays on Andre's
When the racquet head or the butt of the racquet starts disappearing behind you, you're
in deep trouble. Why? When that racquet head goes back behind your body, you've got to get it back into
the proper forward plane to swing. That takes time, and that's where a lot of people make their mistake.
The height of the racquet head when Agassi starts forward determines the spin. Agassi
guides the racquet head to the height of the oncoming ball. If he wants to put more spin in that stroke,
he drops the racquet head and at the point of contact he goes up a little quicker. And if he wants to
drive through it and hit the ball flatter when he's inside the baseline, he makes sure that the racquet
head is almost on the same plane as the ball. This eliminates a lot of the spin.
Agassi's left hand helps prepare the racquet - the butt of the racquet starts the forward stroke.
Notice as he starts the forward part of his swing, Agassi's the right elbow is low and fairly close to the body.
This is where the leverage comes from. The butt of the racquet is starting the forward part of the stroke. The racquet head
then accelerates and catches up just before contact. This is what gives Andre Agassi that powerful forehand.
Watch on the followthrough - the right elbow comes right up equal to the left shoulder.
I can usually tell what ball Agassi has hit by watching the followthrough. If he's driving the ball the
followthrough will be almost equal with his shoulders. If he puts a little bit more spin on the ball the follow through
will be a little higher.
Some coaches say that as soon as you make contact with the ball, the followthrough means very little. I disagree
with that. And I'll tell you why. If you try to stop too soon after contact, I feel you're actually beginning to stop before you
make contact with the ball.
As Agassi starts the forward swing, the success or failure of the stroke depends on the foundation. By this I mean
the stance or position of his feet on the court. You'll see Agassi hit from three different stances. The first is what I call the
neutral stance. This is when the left shoulder is facing the net and the left foot is stepping toward the net. But he also hits
from a semi-open and an open stance depending on the ball.
Click photo to view
Agassi demonstrates the ideal foundation, with a wide base and good weight transfer in this neutral stance forehand.
Quite often, because he plays so close to the baseline, Andre Agassi hits off an open stance. As the
game began to progress and the power began to pick up and the technology of racquets made the ball go through the air
a lot quicker, it forced players to hit off an open stance on many balls. This is particularly true of Agassi because
he plays close or even inside the baseline. You'll also notice that when Agassi and other top players run wide to their
forehands, they may hit with an open stance because they find it might be a little easier to recover.
But when Agassi has a little bit more time, or he approaches the net and takes his stutter steps, you'll
see Andre will go into a neutral stance. You also see this from the baseline when he has the time.
I love to have a wide base, whether it's an open, semi-open, or a neutral stance. Get those feet spread apart.
They should be at least shoulder width up to about one and a half times the width of the shoulders. This means you can shift
the weight from the right foot to the left foot no matter which stance you are using. It's critical to good balance. The wide
base also enables you to relax that front leg and get down. And that's where you get your balance, your power, and your lift.
If you watch Andre's base when he returns serve, those feet are spread apart and you know why? Quite often he
has to hit it from an open stance. If you don't have them spread apart hitting off an open stance, you're finished.
Now let's talk about the recovery. Quite often people neglect the recovery. Many years ago when I first began
teaching, if my student ever took an extra step after the hit with the back foot, he didn't eat for a week. I mean he had to
get up on his back toe, wear the inside of that toe out and stay there as if he was taking a picture. Hey, not today. Today
the game has changed. Recoveries are a big part of tennis because a better recovery enables you to get the next ball-and that
ball is going to come back most of the time.
Most of the modern players will be in an open stance, they'll get down very low and load up with their hips
and their shoulders turned and their legs. Often, they will take an extra step. When they take that extra step, as Agassi
does when he moves for the ball, they actually start the recovery in the forward part of the swing. You can see it for
yourself in this incredible Advanced Tennis high speed video of Andre's footwork.
Notice how Agassi coils and then actually comes up off the court with both feet. That's right, he comes
off the court with both feet, to start his recovery. In the beginning stages, I don't recommend this, but as your game
develops, you'll see the use of the legs make it possible for you to recover quicker and to get the next shot. And that
next shot will come back more often than you think.
As he's going to the ball, he doesn't hold that left foot back. Now watch what happens. It hits
the ground and he pushes off to start the recovery. Quite often if you keep the back foot behind you, you will raise
up too quickly and also hit a lot of your shots with just your arms.
Now to do this you have to have timing. You have to do it thousands of times. As Agassi hits, those
feet will come up off the ground, maybe 12 to 18 inches. And you know what? When he's finished the stroke, by gosh, his
shoulders are already facing towards his recovery point.
For everyone viewing the professionals, don't go back to your coach and say, "Hey, Andre Agassi jumps
off his feet when he hits the ball. I thought you told me I had to be stationary, have my feet planted." That may be
true in the early stages, it may be true because you just don't have what Agassi has, you haven't put in the days and
years of practice.
In order to jump up off your feet, you have to have timing. And you have to use it as an asset, and you
have to know when to come up off those feet. So don't start practicing this just because you see Andre Agassi.
To do this, you've got to spend time. Do it slowly. Stand still for a while, get comfortable, spread
out those feet, get your foundation. Then take one extra step, and then you know what? I'm going to tell you something
that may make you think I'm crazy, start leaving your feet a little bit. Get down, load up, start coming up off your feet.
But when you try this, don't get mad at me, you're going to miss a lot of balls. You're going to start
losing control, you're going to start saying "Hey Nick is crazy." Well, all you've got to do is look at this magnificent
Advanced Tennis video footage. I'm not crazy. There isn't a pro today who has both feet flat on the ground before, during
and after contact. If they do, they're not going to get to the next ball.
So let's say you look at this footage and you say, "Hey I tried some of those things. I lost all control
and heck I'm going back to my old ways." Well you know what? I don't blame you. So why don't we go back to your old ways
but maybe do a little bit at a time? Let's focus on one thing and only one thing, conquer that, come back, and let's try
something else. That's the way players at all levels really get better. Remember, if you can just get to the ball, prepare,
and execute, I've already helped your game-whether I send you that bill or not.
Nick Bollettieri is the legendary coach who invented the concept of the tennis academy
more than 30 years ago. He has trained thousands of elite players, including some of the greatest
champions in the history of the game, players like Andre Agassi, Tommy Haas, Jim Courier, Monica Seles,
and Boris Becker, as well as upcoming stars including Maria Sharapova. IMG Bollettieri Academies are located in Bradenton, Florida.
Learn more about the Killer Forehand, and the other great
videos from Nick in this series.
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