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Straight Arm or Bent... Essential?
Today's topic was submitted by a listener of the Essential Tennis Podcast, and his question brings up a topic I feel strongly about. Ahmed wrote to me this week and asked:
I read this on a lot on different forums. Could you elaborate on the straight arm vs. Bent arm forehand styles. Seems Nadal and Federer play with a straight while others like Djokovich use the bent arm approach. Did you have a preference? Can you do both??"
Ahmed, to answer your questions, do I have a preference? No. Can you do both? Yes absolutely.
Tennis is much like golf and other technique intensive sports in that all of the top players do certain things the same way, and yet no two players ever look the same while executing their game. How is that possible? Well because every player has a different set of talents, skills, and athletic ability. What is good for one player might not be good for another. This is why its extremely important to be very careful who you get technical information and advice from. There are hundreds and thousands of amateur tennis players out there roving the internet looking for somebody who will listen to their ideas on how to hit a "modern" forehand, or any other stroke. Are their observations and ideas necessarily wrong? No I don't think so. Just because the best player in the world uses a certain technique, does that mean it must be the only way it can be done? No of course not, in fact, Roger Federer does countless things that I would never recommend to most of my students. Why? Well because they aren't Roger Federer, and we both know they never will be.
Does that mean we can't learn anything from the pros? Certainly not, it's always great to keep up with how the best in the world are doing things. In general though, they take good technique, and accelerate and advance it to the extreme, something that most of us don't have the skill and ability to do. That's why they're on TV playing and we are not.
So, what can we take from the pros? What you should be looking for are things that every pro does without exception, and then implementing those things. Every pro uses their core muscles to power their strokes, every pro aims deep in the court on their ground strokes, every pro pronates on their serve, every pro split steps as their opponent hits the ball.
My point is, I've never thought about whether my arm is bent or straight on my forehand, and I would bet that Federer, Nadal, and Djokovich don't know either if you would ask them.
Now, obviously there are extremes that should be avoided. I'm not saying that it doesn't matter if your arm is fully stretched and extended or not at contact, or that hitting the ball half a foot from your body is good either. What you should all be focusing on, is what is comfortable and achieves the best results for YOU, when used within the basic constrains of good technique. Certain things will not work well period, like attacking from behind the baseline with a downwards swing path, or trying to hit a soft touch volley with your racket face closed. Certain things are essential to success, and certain things are style and personal preference.
So in closing, a 3.5 player shouldn't be concerned with the small nuances of each tiny movement and angle of a professionals swing. That would be like a Ford Escort studying the telemetry of a Formula 1 race car. Rather than getting caught up in the details and debating the differences between pro's swings, focus on the basic similarities instead, that's where we all need to improve.
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