So What is the ATP Forehand Anyway?
A recent article (“Has Player Development Failed Female Athletes?”) questioned the assertion that females can’t hit an “ATP Forehand”. But what is an ATP forehand… good question. It is not clear when the predominant forehand style on the men’s tour received the official designation of the “ATP Forehand”. What is clear is that it is common terminology in tennis these days and the subject of much discussion and disagreement. There is no definition that I’m aware of – it seems to mean different things to different people and it is not as if all ATP players use the exact same swing.
I began investigating the swing type about two decades ago. Using various motion quantification systems to subsequently assess the technique of many players in terms of the biomechanics, I began to formulate a definition of the basic components that define the “ATP Forehand”. Noting that significant variability existed I proposed what I called the Type III forehand – an optimized gender-neutral model based on my research, neuromuscular theory and my work on the court. While the terms have been used interchangeably, the Type III is an ATP forehand but many ATP forehands are not Type III.
The Four Pillars of the Type III Forehand
The pillars of the model Type III BASE swing are presented here. It should be noted that within the Type III model there are several specific adaptations to handle different types of incoming shots (height, spin, speed etc.). It is not my intent to reinvent the wheel here – the details of the Type III model have been presented elsewhere. Rather the purpose here is to briefly review the key attributes as a conceptual model.
Analysts and teaching professionals tend to focus on the backswing and the finish but it is important note that the Type III model is defined by ONLY the forward swing. The pillars are independent of the backswing and follow through. These parts of the swing are important in the Type III instructional pedagogy and analysis only to the extent they are made as efficacious (proper positions entering and exiting forward swing), compact and/or safe as possible.
Pillar 1: Assignment of Racquet Velocity Sources
This is the highest level of abstraction of the Type III model and is the foundation of the “heavy ball”. Simply stated, the body motions used to create forward racquet speed (torso rotation and non-twisting shoulder rotation) are separate from those causing vertical speed (shoulder twisting rotation or internal rotation). The result is the ability to concurrently maximize speed and spin – no trade-off.
Pillar 2: Independent Arm Motion
The separation of racquet velocity to unique sources is only truly possible if the hitting arm is accelerated through the body rotation. In other words the shoulder joint is used to propel the arm (in addition to torso rotation) to a very forward contact point. Therefore the Type III swing is multi-segment with functionally two horizontal degrees of freedom (torso rotation plus shoulder non-twisting rotation).
Advancing the arm through the torso rotation implies an additional muscular load at the shoulder joint. Proper sequencing of the body rotations (pelvis, torso, arm) attenuates this additional load. The Type III model is characterized by a very specific sequencing (timing and magnitude) of these body rotations.
Pillar 3: Hand Path Linearization
The two horizontal degrees of freedom produce the conditions necessary to create a more linear hand path from the end of the backswing to contact. This is a critical attribute of the Type III model and allows the hand path trajectory to align closely with the shot direction. Toward this end the hand is positioned to the outside of the body exiting the backswing.
Linearizing the end point (hand) of a two-degree of freedom system (torso rotation and non-twisting shoulder rotation) requires specific proportions of each rotation throughout the motion. This is an additional consideration in the sequencing of body rotations in the Type III model – that is, not only is rotation sequencing necessary to decrease the load on the shoulder it must also facilitate hand path linearization.
Pillar 4: Neuromuscular Enhancement
The more linear hand path in the forward swing allows neuromuscular facilitation in the generation of vertical racquet head speed. The linear hand path implies a forward oriented pulling force on the grip. Assuming the head of the racquet is outside of the hand (pulling force) as the forward swing is initiated it will rotate into the dynamic slot (the flip in tennis speak). The racquet rotation will in turn rotate the arm externally prior to internal rotation that creates vertical racquet head speed.
In other words, the racquet rotates the arm (externally) then the arm (internally) rotates the racquet to produce vertical racquet head speed. Generated this way, the external to internal coupling engages certain elements of the stretch-shorten mechanism. These elements enhance the internal shoulder rotation used to produce vertical racquet head speed. External rotation of the arm in the dynamic slot (flip) and internal rotation near contact are both optimized if the arm is straight. Therefore, a straight arm (or close to it) is required in the Type III model.
Where We Go from Here???
The Type III model has been presented, referenced (directly and indirectly) and even “borrowed” often over the last few years. What has become clear is that I’ve not done a great job explaining it because even many that have been trained in, and/or extensively exposed to the concepts have serious misconceptions. Hopefully this more concise review will clear these up. If not, and as an additional step, I will apply the concepts to the video analysis of some current players in future articles. These players will represent a diverse cross-section of forehand options in the professional realm… should be interesting.