Like any other sport, tennis requires you to learn certain fundamentals before you can begin to develop any real proficiency as a player. So among the basic strokes (e.g., forehand, backhand, serve, lob, slice, etc.), which should you make sure you've mastered first? While there'll always be debate on topics like this, it's generally agreed that your forehand is your most effective tennis stroke, and without it you're almost unable to play the game of tennis at all.
Not only do forehands comprise the majority of shots executed in the average tennis match, but they're also one of the most versatile shots you have. So how do you properly execute this all-important shot? Below are some tips to help you develop a highly effective forehand stroke.
The Eastern forehand grip is perhaps the most common grip taught to beginning tennis players. To hold the racquet with the Eastern grip, just think about how you would shake hands with a person. With that picture in mind, hold your racquet in a position to where the plane of the strings is perpendicular to the ground. Now simply "shake hands" with your racquet, gripping it in such a way that the palm of your hand is on the side plane of your handle, basically parallel to the plane of your strings. The base knuckle of your index finger should be on the top side bevel of the handle, and your wrist should be slightly to the right of the very bottom (butt) of the handle.
While it is true that the Eastern grip doesn't afford the ability to generate quite as much topspin as the more Western grips (which is why it's somewhat decreased in popularity at the pro level), it's still considered by many to be the most versatile grip for executing different types of forehands.
A good forehand always starts with proper body positioning. As soon as the ball comes sailing toward your forehand side, you should begin rotating your body so that the shoulder that is opposite of the arm holding your racquet should start aligning with the incoming tennis ball.
For right-handed players, that means that you turn your left shoulder towards the ball, and vice-versa for left-handed players. Your front foot should be aligned roughly parallel to the sideline. As you begin to initiate the shot, your leading shoulder should be perpendicular to the net, putting your chest basically parallel to the sideline, and you should be looking at the ball over your leading shoulder. Your weight should be on your rear leg, but as you execute the shot, you will shift your weight to your front foot (more on that later).
The take back (a.k.a. backswing): Hold your racquet roughly level with your hip as you take it back to prepare to hit the ball. Many players start this movement with the head of the racquet roughly level with their head, then lower the racquet in a nice, controlled arc-like movement that places the head of the racquet either level with or slightly lower than their hip.
Pros often cock their wrist back (i.e., supination) during the backswing movement to give their stroke an extra "snapping" motion when they strike the ball. As you're taking the racquet back, your weight should primarily be on your rear leg.
Contact: As you swing your racquet to make contact with the ball, you should also be stepping into the swing by shifting your weight to your front leg so that you can put more power behind your stroke.
This process of transferring your weight to your front leg as you execute the shot is one of the most important aspects of making contact with the ball, as it enlists the help of your body weight in order to provide additional power and acceleration. Your racquet should be making contact with the ball slightly before the point where the ball is level with your midsection; this definitely takes practice to develop a good feel for it.
Follow-through: By now you've delivered the shot. Keep rotating the front of your body back toward the net, bringing your swinging arm across your body in a windshield wiper type of motion. At the end of the stroke, your body should basically be facing 180 degrees from where you started, and your racquet head should be pointing toward the back wall or fence.
Learning how to effectively execute a forehand stroke will definitely take time, so be patient with yourself as you're learning how to coordinate all of the various movements involved in the stroke. Mastering the forehand will expand and elevate your game, and with enough practice, this shot can eventually become one of your most powerful weapons on the court.