The down-the-line forehand is a high-risk, high-reward shot. Here's how to do it right.
1. The down-the-line forehand is risky for three reasons: You’re changing the direction of the incoming ball; there’s less distance to the baseline than if you hit the ball crosscourt; and the net is higher near the net post. So the first thing to learn about this shot is when to hit it. Make sure the ball is inside the court and that it bounces high enough so you can easily drive the ball over the net and apply topspin. Set your feet as shown here and turn your shoulders as early as possible. Don’t let the ball drop too low and keep it well out in front of you.
2. This is an aggressive shot, but don’t get ahead of yourself. Don’t jump. Keep your feet on the ground as you accelerate and let the force of your uncoiling shoulders and swing lift you, rather than your feet. The racquet head should drop below the ball so you can brush up the back of the ball and apply topspin. Before you swing, the butt cap of your racquet should point at the target.
3. Full extension is essential on the down-the-line forehand. If you let the ball crowd you, you’re likely to hit the ball too soon and blast it long. At contact, your outside foot will likely be on the ground, even if just your toes are touching, as shown here. Keep your eyes on the target and your head relaxed and still. In other words, maintain good posture.
4. A big advantage of the open-stance forehand is your weight transfers to your inside leg as you follow through. This allows you to recover quickly for the next shot. If your opponent can get to your down-the-line forehand, he or she will probably hit it crosscourt, so move over a few steps past center to ensure that you get another forehand (to your left if you are righthanded). Your next shot will likely be more inside the court than the last one, and you’ll have even more open court with which to work.
Mark Dalzell is a senior coach and team leader at IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy.