The Forehand of Fabrice Santoro

by: Ed McGrogan | July 15, 2009

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A mastery of the fundamentals helps the veteran French player this unorthodox two-handed stroke effective.

Fabrice Santoro, who’s nicknamed “The Magician” by his fellow pros for his ability to conjure a bewildering array of angles, spins, and changes of pace with his two-handed ground strokes, offers proof that underspin and off-pace shots can still work in today’s high-octane power game. As long as you have solid basics—eyes on the ball, good preparation, an appropriate grip, good balance—you can get the job done.

1. Santoro clearly got a good jump on the ball because even though he’s in a defensive position behind the baseline, he’s taking a measured stride and looks relaxed. And while the ball hasn’t entered the frame yet, he’s already well into his preparation. His shoulders are turned and he has switched from the semi-Western forehand grip he normally uses with his right hand to a Continental, offering the first hint that he won’t play the usual topspin drive with this shot.  

2. Now that Santoro has his racquet head high above his wrists, it’s certain that this will be a slice. From this same stance he could produce a drop shot (though he’s too far back in the court for that to be a smart choice), a teasing crosscourt angle, a lob, or an underspin drive. Also, here we get a good look at Santoro’s unusual split grip. This isn’t something I would teach, but it does give you added control. The downside is the loss of reach that results from having your hands so far apart. 

3. The thing that stands out here is Santoro’s balance. He has great alignment, with his head right over his torso and his legs, and he has positioned himself in what has become a normal stance in today’s game, with his rear leg behind the ball as much as possible. This not only keeps him balanced but puts him in the best position to execute this shot. Santoro’s racquet face is open and starting to come down now. At this point the shot looks a lot like a left-handed slice backhand.

4. Santoro’s concentration is excellent. His focus is right on the ball, his head remains still, and his weight is now beginning to transfer into the shot. The racquet has come down sharply from its highest position, and he’s making contact almost where you would expect to hit a volley or a slice approach, with his racquet head just slightly above his wrist. This is clearly a defensive or neutralizing shot. 

5. In yet another example of Santoro’s unique style, he has now completely switched the racquet over to his left hand (again indicating that he treats this shot much like a left-handed slice backhand). I think this is a smart move because it keeps his racquet head accelerating through the ball, which helps to produce more spin. Notice that his eyes are still glued to the contact point even though the ball is no longer in the picture.

6. One of the advantages of using two hands is disguise. Until this frame it was unclear what kind of shot Santoro was going to hit. It now looks like it’s a lob, judging by his follow-through and where he’s looking. By following through with just his left hand, this shot is easier on Santoro’s body than it would be if he were to keep his right hand on the racquet, as most players do on two-handers.

Photos by Tommy Hindley/Professional Sport

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