Your Forehand Groundstroke Setup – try this …

I get out on the court from time to time with my coach Michael Wayman, primarily to clean up any unnecessary habits I’ve developed since the last time I saw him …

What I like the best about Michael’s coaching is he is no nonsense when it comes to the fundamentals.

Anything I or Michael’s other students do that takes away from a fundamental is quickly eliminated with Coach Wayman’s very dry British way of saying things that lets you know – better do this NOW! 

As the great Tom Stow used to remind me quite frequently, “Mr. Abel, that’s artificial.  Get rid of it.”

So, after I butchered a boatload of forehand groundies, Michael had a good suggestion for my racket elbow which seemed to have a mind of its own …

Your Topspin Forehand Groundstroke Can Look Like This …

Click here to see exactly what’s in this course …

“Hi Brent,

I’ve bought several of your courses over the past two years.

If this isn’t your best course, it’s darn close!

The swing shape you teach and how to get effortless racket head speed has made a big difference in my confidence with the forehand, especially with the spin for my passing shots.

Thanks for another great course.  And, I absolutely love your what’s the right shot videos!”

Jim T., Denver, CO 


  1. Elbow in and butt cap aiming at the ball as you swing forward to contact. I also work on having the racquet face facing the ground like you do at the end of the backswing before starting to swing forward. Helps to get racquet face square at contact.

    • Good SRC. I’m not big on forcing the butt cap at the ball because I want to come around the outside corner of the ball.


  2. First – Brent you are great. A great player and a great teacher. Just on this one particular point you may want to do a little research. The elbow position on the take back is something that can certainly work when done in different ways depending on the talent of the player. WTA players like the William sisters have proved you can have incredible forehands with a elbow tucked in. The ATP forehand keeps the elbow higher and more away. While the women (even Serena) sometimes have that racquet cross behind the back – the men keep that racquet on the right side of their body which gives them a more direct flight to the ball (and more violent harder hit). It’s a subtle difference and even Federer tends to drop that elbow sometimes. Keeping that elbow up and away will facilitate the racquet staying on the right side of the body that the WTA player has difficulty with (Stoser is an exception – she has an ATP forehand). You would think it would be exactly the opposite but the higher elbow will actually shorten the swing while the lower elbow will tend to make the swing longer. Check out Murrey and Nole on their take back where it’s more pronounced to see. Great stuff as always Brent!

    • Hi steve.

      For many of the pros, yes, you’re right.

      But for the rest of us, at some point the elbow has to get back close to the body at contact, and if you get too far away with your pre contact swing shape, it can spell trouble.


  3. doug dahlgard says:

    it’s amazing that a relaxed and natural motion yields a more consistent shot,
    while a forced or exaggerated move uses more effort and is less consistent.

    just like a golf swing, its so easy to pick up bad tennis habits when working by yourself. they just sneak in by themselves,

    this is what keeps skilled coaches in business.

    • Hi Doug.

      Practice being smooth out there on the court.

      Seriously, twice a week for 15 minutes, just focus on receiving the ball, and allow the racket to smoothly pass through contact.


  4. Forever growing.

  5. Mike turner says:

    Thanks for all your great tips. I tend to agree with Steve’s articulate comments about the elbow being held higher and a little more away from the body since, for me, it tends to create a more vertical swing path, which tends to give me more top spin. Quite a few of my students tend to keep the elbow in and pull the racquet behind them which creates more of a horizontal swing path, making their timing of contact more difficult and being rather flat. What do you think is a good balance?

    • Hi Mike.

      I think you’re more versatile with a lower set up with your elbow.

      Have your students try to let their elbow naturally hang in the set up and then simply swing the elbow up through contact.

      Experiment …


  6. Good tip but , does this drops your raquet head speed?

  7. You sure that’s complicated enough?? 🙂

    I got to “ballboy” last night for Jack Sock’s singles match. His forehand seemed to look a little different from yours. 🙂

    Seriously, though, I note that a lot of the top seniors players hit relatively “flat” forehands. It’s my theory, though, that you’d *better* be a top player, because hitting the ball that “flat” is extremely difficult to do on a consistent basis (and still get any pace on the ball, or to hit accurate angles). Do you think the average player can learn to effectively play such a flat forehand?

    • Warren Turner says:

      Flat vs Topspin – a lot of us hit “flat” because that is what we learned. It is not necessarily wrong. A lot of top spinners flatten their shots when needed to take away time from an opponent. Of course they are good enough to hit whatever is needed. A lot of Hall of Fame greats hit pretty flat shots.
      The advantages of a “flat” shot is:
      1) The mechanics are simpler. It is easier to line up the stroke in the direction and height you want to hit the ball. THe primary disadvantage is – the court gets short.
      2) A good flat drive takes away some time from the opponent – for the same racquet head speed.
      3) And most important for seniors – It is a matter of practicality – If you have a comfortable stroke (more or less flat that you have used it for years) unlearning it and starting over for another shot takes more time on court than the average senior has. You can learn to hit topspin, but can you spend enough time on court to get naturally comfortable with it?
      Just my experience – others may learn faster.


      • Hey Warren.

        I agree.

        One of the big problems I see with players thinking topspin is they tend to automatically go full eastern forehand, semi, or worse, full western forehand grip as soon as they see a ball hit to their forehand.

        Way too many approach opportunities have to be passed up …


    • Kevin.

      A relatively flat swing path with a relaxed grip creates plenty of topspin.

      Artificial low to high swing paths create lots of shanks.


  8. I have found that the elbow (in this early position or even a slighly elevated position) slides into the slot with almost elastic properties when the forearm goes behind the elbow. The elbow sliding in front of the back hip is a commonality among all good forehands. This movement of the forearm needs to stay on the hiiting side of the body( not behind the line of the shoulders ) keeps the stroke very compact without sacrificing power and can eliminate tension in the stroke.

    try it and let me know what you think…….

  9. definitely a good tip! but, ouch… that music! ?? d:-(

  10. Brent P. says:

    Interesting comments! It may be difficult to generalize this one due to differences in grips, backswing, body rotation, etc. As with all tennis strokes, the key is consistency doing what works.

    Brent, thanks for bringing this one up. My forehand gets funky too often, and this is a detail that has faced from my radar screen. I’ll check it this afternoon. For my particular forehand your suggestion is a good one. One thing that keeping the forehand in longer does is to lessen the tendency to “chicken wing” the shot. With the elbow up (chicken wing) one tends to close the racquet face too much at contact, unless you compensate with the grip or wrist position (a bad idea). Also, if you lead the backswing with your elbow, you shorten your swing. And if you need to take s short, quick backswing for a fast ball, you don’t want to make it shorter with a high, leading elbow.

    Thanks again, Brent

    • Brent P. says:

      Make that “faded from my radar screen” and instead of “shorten your swing” make it “shorten the swing path of your racquet.” grrrrr

    • Morning Brent.

      That was my result with a prep that got too far away from me, an arm swing that didn’t include the body.

      The reality about a shorter pre-contact swing path is that you’ll be way more consistent with hitting your ideal point of contact which equates to being a more consistent shotmaker.


  11. Jeez Brent, this is the first time that I can think of that I may disagree with you. I am thinking about how all the pros play and how I tell myself and my kids to “hold a beach ball” with their arms to create space when they make that unit turn. Not sure keeping the elbow “in” is consistent with the modern game with a faster and more spin. I will watch some slo-mo footage of the pros and see where there elbows are but I’d bet $ it’s not “in” and is away from the body. best, matt

    • Hey Matt.

      The first time?!?!?

      Keeping the elbow in is not consistent with the modern pro game forehand.

      I don’t disagree.

      BUT, I don’t believe it’s a fundamental.

      And so, be careful when you teach kids or anyone something that copies what only the very best players in the world can do …


  12. The thing I noticed that I think will help my stroke even more than keeping the elbow in tight is the way you practically let go of the racquet while the ball is on its way in your direction. You open your hand and insure yourself of a very loose grip. I need this!! Too much white-knuckle syndrome when I hit. Thanks. As for music, bring back Van the Man…….

    • Hey Mike.

      Haha! I get the picture about the music 😉

      Good observation about the grip tension.

      Practice it. Get out there with a hitting partner who will hit at a medium pace so you have time to actually feel what your grip tension is.

      Feel the difference between white knuckle and way too loose.

      Then find a comfortable grip tension that allows natural swing speed …


  13. As I worked on my ‘modern’ forehand I found a need to learn to rely on the shoulder turn to bring my racket back instead of reaching back with my arm, as an earlier generation of players had, and I made a drill of setting my elbow lightly at my side so that my arm would not move independent of the body’s rotation until it was moving forward. This took the extra loopiness out of my stroke and gave me a more compact foundation — almost like that FH return of serve which is pretty much turn, step on back foot, rotate, follow through — which I needed to do because bad things were happening during that long loop. And it has worked out good.

    • Good feedback Robert.

      Every ball hit to your forehand side is not an automatic topspin forehand.

      At least it shouldn’t be because there are so many opportunities to play other types of shots such as a slice approach, a drop shot, etc.

      From the set up you’re describing, you can now disguise all of those shots …

      Well done Robert.


  14. Major Dan says:

    OK, you’ve all got me thinking about htis now 🙂
    even though I have too many years on me, I have spent the last few years rebuilding my forehand to be a ‘modern’ forehand. When I am hitting it well, it kicks off the bounce and gives me a lot more options – bigger angles, more pace with more margin, etc.
    But I think there are some misconceptions about how this shot is created. I teach some students (have for years) and one thing I focus on early-on is to get the ‘arm’ out of the swing. Too many players have arm-generated loops -windmill motion – and it is bad for timing, limits power, and is vulmerable to dealing with pace.
    I can do a modified full loop without my arm changing position in relation to my body until release into follow-through. You do this with hips, legs, shoulder turn.
    As I am lately working on playing more aggressively, forehand approach shots – in fact any shot moving forward instead of set or moving sideways – need to be played very much like what Brent shows in the video.
    once the arm starts windmilling, the feet stop – not a good way to get to the net 🙂
    From a backcourt position where the player can set up a forehand and hit offensively, keeping the elbow ‘in’ is not requried. in fact, extending the arm away from the body creates a wider arc of rotation and thus more racquet head speed. BUT, extending the arm does NOT mean windmilling with the arm. You simply start the elbow farther from the hip AND maintain the elbow to body relationship in this extended position.

    If anybody has read this far, or followed any of this, I am suggesting that the principle of maintaining elbow to body relationship is pretty much always in order. The distance from the body can be modified for differernt purposes.

  15. Hmm, holding the elbow into my side is contrary to what I need. It seems I learned forehands from one of Dick Gould’s disciples when I was too whippy with my right arm. So I was taught to hold my elbow into my side. The result was than I had less power and that I had problems getting away from balls that crowded me. I’ve been working over the past couple of years to move the elbow out so that the arm is more loose and free. My strokes are much better when I do that.

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  17. james magee says:

    I’m so happy to hear a top coach not insist “butt cap at incoming ball” !

    1: too many wrist injuries for non pros w/ “BC” at flight path
    2: too pedantic; striking “ball location” allows for creativity, more feel, shot variety
    3: agree a loose arm and grip provide plenty of top; stretch shortening is accomplished!!

    I do teach racquet tip at back fence + w/ hips and shoulders leading the way racquet lag will “whip” even farther when accelerating forward

    thx for the great video!! as most of us learn thru visuals : i didn’t need much discussion as a player, tho the words help as a teacher 🙂

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