Open and Closed Stance Forehands:
Is it One or the Other?
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
Some of the ‘tennis gurus’ of today lament the preponderant use of the open stance for everyone; from the highly ranked to the rank beginner. While it is absolutely true that the open stance forehand has indeed become synonymous with today’s ‘modern forehand,’ the idea of abandoning the closed or neutral stance forehand is a mistake among those who choose to only offer an open stance patterns to their students.
Nadia Petrova's classic open stance forehand.
Regardless of whether you are a teaching pro or a ‘student of the game’ your understanding of why both stances are not only important in today’s game, but that the use of the closed or neutral stance—as both a learning tool as well as a mandatory shot in many situations—is equally important for all levels of players.
Having taught tennis for 32 years, I have seen the ramifications of many tennis teaching methods and philosophies on hundreds, if not thousands of players. Anyone who has visited public tennis courts or most tennis clubs can attest to the multitude of players who can not transition from relatively ‘basic’ tennis skills (those usually found among those millions of players who perpetually reign at the 3.0 or 3.5 levels of play), to progressively more advanced play. Most common are inadequacies found in the ability (or inability!) to volley or serve well, (more specifically, serve effective 2nd serves!). However, because we see so many pros use the open stance forehand, many teacing pros today are prescribing this stance to beginners.
James Blake uses a neutral stance after moving up to a short ball, attacking it with a subtle back leg 'kick' before he continues forward with his next step.
The problem for many is the inability to learn how to close the upper body when the hips and the feet start open. Such stroke patterns usually result in the player swinging only with the arm, in effect, learning to ‘push’ the forehand instead of develop a smooth, angular stroke. (If the shoulders are too open too early, a player using a normal stroke will pull the ball out wide. For compensation of this feeling, the player will unconsciously lay the racquet back and push the arm out toward the target.)
I have never seen a player who was first taught the closed stance forehand not be able to evolve, almost naturally, into an open stance. It usually takes one or two days to gain an affinity for the stance. (I’m sure there are many exceptions. However, I have taught over 3500 players and have seldom ever had a player fail to easily make the transition.)
The dynamics of the open stance forehand, of loading the inside foot, coiling the upper body (usually using the off-hand and arm to help facilitate this coil), and then exploding the hips and upper body into the shot unleash a great deal of stored potential energy. Such energy can be tapped to add pace, spin, or both to the forehand. It is almost a marvel to see this almost unbridled power executed by today’s men and women tour pros. (And, among out top ranked juniors and skilled club players as well!)
On the run, Federer steps across his body during contact and uses his back leg as a brake step.
However, when a player is on the run, the dynamics of the open stance prohibit the proper balance and transfer of energy when hitting a forehand. If a right-handed player is moving to his right to intercept a forehand, to load up on the right foot in the modern open stance method, will end up nearly falling over. Thus, we almost always see a player step across the body during the contact phase of the shot so as to have a landing foot followed by the back leg ‘braking’ the momentum of the player to aid in the recovery of the player’s position. (Which is why we call the back leg’s release on such shots a ‘brake step’.)
Such running shots (and many other forehands) can incorporate an ‘open-to-closed’ stance. That is, the player looks like they are setting up for an open stance then brings the crossover step of a closed stance in across the front of their body while swinging the forehand.
Kim uses a neutral stance yet still finishes with a 'reverse forehand,' a pattern that takes the racquet up over her head and hitting shoulder instead of the opposite hip or shoulder as we see with most forehands.
In such shots, the closing of the front leg allows the player to accelerate the racquet within the kinetic chain of body parts. It is a lot like when a player pulls their toss hand into their chest to help force the upper body from swinging around on the serve. If a player starts their hip rotation too early, they will have to decelerate the arm swing to prevent pulling the ball. By closing the stance, the hips stop their rotation (their movement around towards the net) and allow the racquet to accelerate through the desired target line.
Make sure you have mastered both the open and closed stance strokes as you develop your own forehand. To say that you are only going to use an open stance would be like saying you will never use a slice backhand. There is a time and place for every shot. You will want to have the option of using the best shot in the right circumstance.
Click link to purchase Dave Smith's book, Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
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