In order to win a tennis game, you must be able to execute various types of tennis shots – Cross court forehand, down-the-line backhand, half-volley and lob, to name a few.
Today, we will be discussing on how to hit a tennis forehand down-the-line. This article will be broken down into a few sections.
First up, why is this shot important in a tennis game?
The tennis Down-the-line forehand is essential in helping you change the direction of the incoming ball.
Say you and your opponent have been hitting cross-court forehands for the past 5 shots. The last shot that you went for pushed him outwards. Your opponent returns your cross court forehand shot in a defensive manner. The ball comes to you shorter and slower. Now is your chance to step into the court and attempt to win the point by hitting the incoming ball down the line.
Learning how to execute this shot would help you formulate a better game plan. If you can master it, it will definitely increase your chance of winning the game.
How do you hit a tennis forehand down-the-line?
There are two ways you can execute this shot – either with a closed or open stance.
Let’s talk about the closed stance. For a closed stance, you have to turn your hips a little more to the side as compared to a cross court forehand. Stepping in with your left leg would help you generate power to attack the ball. The distance between you and the ball is also very important.
For a down-the-line forehand, the contact point must be slightly further out front as compared to a cross court forehand. Being further away from the ball by stretching out your arms a bit more would help you to achieve that.
As for the open stance, you also have to turn your hips outwards to hit it down the line. Same as the closed stance, an outstretched arm is important. It is more likely for you to hit the ball too soon if you do not stretch out your arm enough, which might end up as a cross court shot or the ball will end up going to the middle of the court.
In turn, your opponent will then take this opportunity to start attacking you. In another scenario, you will end up over hitting and the ball goes long.
Another important ingredient to a winning down-the-line forehand is the use of topspin.
Imagine this: Your opponent returns your previous shot defensively. His ball is short, dropping at the service line. You decided to go for a down-the-line forehand because he is all the way at the other side of the court. You tell yourself “yeah alright, I’m going to hit the ball down-the-line and win the point!”.
In that moment of excitement, you did not control your racket face quite enough, the ball ends up going long and you lost the point. What went wrong? You practiced this shot a million times, how did it go long? Topspin, topspin, topspin! You have to strike the ball with some amount of topspin to ensure that your ball stays inside the court.
Preparation is also key in achieving this winning shot. Preparing early and anticipating this shot will help you to get into position better. Remember to turn your shoulders as early as possible.
Keep your feet on the ground. Keep the ball in front of you. And lastly, hit it with topspin. To generate topspin, you must not let the ball drop too low. Dropping drop the racket head below the ball would allow you to generate your shot with a bit more spin.
So, when should you use the tennis forehand down the line
A down-the-line forehand is often used as an aggressive, trying-to-win-the-point shot. Here are a couple of pointers to take note of before you choose to hit the ball down-the-line.
Understand the type of ball that is coming towards you. You should use this shot to attack your opponent when the bounce of the incoming ball allows you to easily drive the ball over. If the incoming ball is deep with heavy topspin, it would be difficult for you to return it down-the-line. Don’t try to go for a down-the-line if you are unsure whether you can hit it confidently.
Confidence. Believing that you can hit the shot well is important. If you have practiced hitting the balls down-the-line a thousand times, the muscle in your body will remember how to position itself to hit down-the-line forehand.
Once you tell yourself that you are going for this shot, your body will naturally set itself up in the correct position to hit the ball down-the-line.
Change of direction
Changing the direction of the ball or opening the court. Sometimes you only have less than 5 seconds to decide on what your next shot will be. If your goal is to open the court and move your opens side-to-side, adding this shot into your game will help you to achieve that.
What to expect after the shot?
Even after setting your opponent up; opening the court and driving the ball down-the-line, somehow your opponent, like Flash the superhero, still manages to appear at the other side of the court and returns your shot.
Remember that you cannot assume you won the point until you truly win it. Always prepare for the next shot even though it seems almost impossible for your opponent to return your ball.
What kind of drills should you do to improve your tennis forehand down-the-line?
Mini-tennis down-the-line drills.
Keeping the ball inside the service court while hitting down-the-line to your partner would help you to better understand where you should be contacting the ball, how you should be contacting the ball and the correct position to hit the ball well.
All these while moving in a small confined area is extremely helpful as you start practicing down-the-line shots at the baseline.
Baseline down-the-line drills on one side of the court. Rally down-the-line to your sparring partner and attempt at least 30 to 50 balls each time. This would help to increase the consistency of your shots.
Baseline down the line drills
Baseline down-the-line drills within the singles and doubles lines. By rallying within the confines of these two lines would help to increase the accuracy and consistency of this shot. Attempt to rally at least 30 to 50 balls each time you do this drill.
Butterfly rally. This drill is targeted at advanced players who have mastered the basics of the down-the-line forehand. You will hit down-the-line forehands and backhands while your sparring partner returns your ball cross court.
This drill forces the player to always get into the right position to hit a good down-the-line forehand or backhand. As the drill progresses and the rallying gets longer, both players will be fatigued and tired as they would have been running left to right for awhile.
This drill shows you the importance of being able to get into the right position to hit a good down-the-line forehand even if you are tired from running around.
If you are working with a coach, have the coach feed you three balls from three different sections of the court – (1) baseline (2) between service line and the baseline (3) service line.
This would help you to understand how you should contact the ball, when you should contact the ball and most importantly, how should you be directing your racket face to ensure that the ball stays within the court.
Players who are really good at down-the-line forehands
Rafael Nadal: his running down-the-line forehand shot is Nadal’s signature shot. Some people nicknamed it the banana or the helicopter forehand. The opponent pushes him outward to the right with a strong backhand crosscourt.
He returns the ball; the opponent directs the ball to his left. Any normal human being would not be able to return the shot as the ball bounces off the corner of the court.
Somehow, this tennis demi-god comes running in from the right to his left, flings his arm over his head after contact and the ball ends up going down-the-line with depth. The crowd roars.
Angelique Kerber: she is very good at changing the direction of the ball from crosscourt rallies to hitting it down-the-line. Kerber would take the time to set up her game by opening the court and eventually attempts to win the point with a down-the-line or change the direction of the ball.
As she is left-handed, it is also difficult for the opponent to return her down-the-line forehand as they would have to turn and run from the left to the right.
Down-the-line forehand when executed correctly, can be one of the greatest weapons in a tennis game. Turning this shot into one of your strengths will definitely increase your chances of winning on court. Try out one of the drills mentioned in this article and work on bringing your game to the next level.
click here if you want to know why hitting cross court is important
written by: Christabelle Ong
The tennis classic from Olympic gold medalist and ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert, now featuring a new introduction with tips drawn from the strategies of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Andy Murray, and more, to help you outthink and outplay your toughest opponents