There are many misconceptions in tennis. One of them is contact point positions (where the ball hits the strings of the racket in relation to the body). More often than I care to remember I hear tennis coaches blurt out “hit the ball out in front”. 9 out of 10 times this is wrong. I admit there are odd exceptions to the rule but by and large contact points are misunderstood by coaches and pupils alike.
It get’s a bit technical but let me explain…
Any ball contacted “out in front” is putting the body in a biomechanically weakened position. When you hit the ball too far in front your body segments are not operating within the body’s natural perimeters. The hand becomes isolated resulting in less control and power. Basically, you prevent yourself from moving the way your body naturally wants to.
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So why do some coaches teach players to hit the ball out in front of the body?
One reason is that many coaches have simply not updated their coaching knowledge to keep up with the modern game. They are teaching you what they were taught in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and 90’s. They just don’t know any better.
Many coaches grew up around my era of the 70’s, 80′ and 90’s where fast low bouncing court were prevalent. In those days generating power was not as necessary because the tennis court did much of the work for us. It was more important to stay low, use the speed off the court, hit to position and move to the net as fast as possible.
Back then we could get away with hitting the ball “out in front” because the fast and low bouncing courts allowed it. Because of this we saw plenty of smaller powerful players like Lendl, McEnroe, Johan Kriek and myself.
Todays tennis courts on the other hand are slower with the ball bouncing higher. This means players need to create most of the power themselves by generating racket head speed.
Think of a tennis player stretching for a low wide shot on grass. In this situation a power shot is almost impossible. There is not much a player can do other than place the ball to position. So why would you use this weakened position for normal shots? You wouldn’t would you?
Recently I took this video (see below) of Richard Gasquet, Andreas Seppi and Roberto Bautista-Agut warming up for the Marseille Open. Notice how balanced the upper and lower body of the players are. They are not leaning forward stretching to take the ball “out in front”. They are relaxed and making contact with the ball only 5 – 20 cm (3 – 12 inches) in front of the body. That is the power position.
As a legends tour player now playing on slower courts I constantly need to focus on my contact spots. For 20 years I played on faster courts so it can take my full concentration for the first first practice session to shake old habits.
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