As of late, the reverse forehand has gained in popularity due to players such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, and even Maria Sharapova using it. Although the shot has its applications, in my humble opinion if you are going out of your way to use it, then you’re not using it correctly. Everyone, at one point or another, performs the reverse forehand, but if used incorrectly, can cause you to lose a point or even worse, cause injury.
The reverse forehand occurs when our racket follows through opposite to the direction of the ball’s path (most often over your head or the same shoulder as opposed to the opposite shoulder) when hitting a forehand. There are two occasions when the shot has an actual place. The first is if you are hitting with a grip in the western family. Both the semi-western and western forehand grips can, at times, follow through over your head due to the mechanics of the swing. In this scenario, the reverse forehand is natural and not forced, and is therefore acceptable. The second occasion occurs when a player is on the run and in trouble. When a player reacts late to a ball, or when a ball is struck well by our opponents and it cannot be reached as easily, we will often strike the ball late and follow through over our head. Our natural instincts are to begin our follow through after making contact with the ball. If the ball is struck well—meaning in front of our body—our racket will follow through over the opposite shoulder. If the ball is struck late—meaning even with our body or behind our body—our follow through will be shorter by about a foot, meaning it will go over our heads or over the same shoulder. In this scenario, the reverse forehand is a product of the situation as well, and therefore is acceptable to use.
Times when the reverse forehand should not occur are times when are you making a conscious effort to follow through over your head. Players will consciously follow through over their heads in an attempt to put extra spin on the ball, create a better angle, or hit the ball deeper. The fact is that there are far more effective means of achieving your goals than following through over your head. It is easier to hit under the ball to get the depth desired, than it is to follow through over your head. Hitting over your head has more of an upward motion than an outward motion and will more often than not cause the ball to fall short. Following through over your head cannot create angles any better than moving around the ball.
The reverse forehand was arguably best used by Pete Sampras who used it on the run to hit a ball down the line (often done by Nadal as well). This happens because the contact point is late and so it can be applied to down the line shots very well. Hitting cross-court and creating angles can be achieved far better by moving around the ball or hitting the ball earlier rather than later. Finally, more spin can be achieved just as easily via various methods. Whether you change your grip, string your racket with textured string, or use a windshield wiper motion, you can achieve spin in safer ways than a reverse forehand.
Whether your balls fall short, causing you to lose the point to an approach shot or whether you hit yourself in the face because of your follow through, there are easier ways to improve your game. Everyone can and does perform the reverse forehand from time to time, but going out of your way to follow through over your head can have negative results. Have fun and play safe.
Miguel Cervantes III
Miguel Cervantes III teaches at Carefree Racquet Club and privately outdoors. Miguel specializes in teaching beginners, training juniors and coaching doubles. He may be reached by e-mail at UnderstandingTennis@gmail.com.