Tomas Berdych's Forehand Approach
The Wimbledon finalist closes up his stance as he moves in for the kill.
1. The 6-foot-5 Czech is a big, powerful man with the fine-tuned technique of a much smaller player. I love the way he loads up for this high-bouncing ball. His back is straight, his knees are bent, and he has a full shoulder turn with his off arm pointing to the side. His body’s spacing is perfect. I try to tell players to put some air between their hitting elbows and their bodies, so they can stay relaxed. Berdych uses a semi- Western grip and holds the racquet loosely. Notice the angles of his feet. By today’s standards, this is a closed stance, which makes sense on an approach shot. It’s easier to move into the ball from this position. Club players can learn from this: You don’t have to hit every ball with a fully open stance.
2. Berdych starts to transfer his weight to his front foot and lowers the head of his racquet. His hitting hand is relaxed and the face of his racquet points toward the ground, something you see all the time today that you never used to see when I was playing in the 1980s. As you transfer your weight, don’t consciously try to lean into the ball. That will wreck your balance. As you start to uncoil, like Berdych does here, your weight will move forward naturally.
3. You were probably taught to point the butt cap of your racquet at the incoming ball. Berdych does, but I’m not a big fan of that instruction. This is excellent technique, but in my experience students tense up their arms when instructors ask them to do this. My advice: Keep your hitting hand and arm loose as you drop your racquet into position. The butt cap will point forward naturally. Berdych’s weight is on his left foot now and he’s rotating into the shot. Notice one more thing: The ball has arrived, but his racquet is still all the way back. Don’t worry, he won’t hit the ball late. The man has incredible racquet-head speed.
4. Berdych whips his body around and makes perfect contact. Since the last picture, the ball has hardly moved, a testament to his quick swing. Berdych’s weight is on his right toe now and his knees are no longer bent. A good stroke creates lift, and even more lift when the ball is this high. Berdych begins to tuck his left arm to help maintain his balance and prevent over-rotation. If your shoulders get too far ahead of your racquet, you’ll lose power and consistency.
5. The big man is airborne and the ball is zooming to the corner. All of Berdych’s energy is moving forward, from his feet up to his hitting shoulder, which is extended toward the target. His left arm is fully tucked now and his eyes have moved from the contact point to the path of the ball. Like most modern players, Berdych uses the windshield-wiper finish on the forehand. His racquet is now moving in a downward path.
6. This is a perfect landing. Berdych’s left foot is pointed forward and his momentum is toward the net. He lands with such balance that he can move into the net in stride, without having to reset his feet. By the look on Berdych’s face, though, there might not be much to do at the net. He has the calm expression of a man who just put away a winner.
Jimmy Arias, a former Top 5 player, is a commentator for the Tennis Channel.
Originally published in the November/December 2010 issue of TENNIS.