Next up on our countdown for the best shots in tennis, we take a look at the best forehands on tour.
A truly great forehand is determined not only by the raw power or topspin that a player can generate, though these are important factors to consider. For me, the things that are essential in a great forehand are:
- Versatility. The ability to hit every kind of shot, from a heavy-spinning looping shot, to a low flat offensive off-forehand
- Power and control. A great forehand should have good power behind it, but not to the detriment of a accuracy, and vice-versa
- Defence to offence. The ability to hit a strong shot not just offensively but also off one’s back foot
- Stability. A great forehand should rarely break down
The effectiveness of a forehand is particularly hard to judge as there aren’t really any great statistics related to forehands. Moreover, tennis is a stylistic chess match and many players have intrinsic advantages and disadvantages in their games. There is a good example within our top 5. Roger Federer is regarded as having the greatest forehand ever, yet he struggles against the massive topspin that Rafael Nadal produces. At the same time, Juan Martin Del Potro, who stands at 1.98m annihilates Nadal’s spin with his crushing flat pace. Federer however, loves playing Del Potro’s punching forehand where he can absorb and return the raw pace.
That being said, based on the four aspects for a good forehand, here are the five players with the all –around best forehands in tennis.
Monfils possesses perhaps the most insanely athletic body in contemporary tennis. He tempers that with a mind that doesn’t really seem suited for tennis tactics which makes him one of the most frustrating players to watch. He often will try to hit winners from 3 meters behind the baseline or step in and miss an easy winner by a mile. But when he really connects with a forehand, it is a sight to behold. At full power, he might possess the fastest forehand ever, in terms of average and maximum pace. At the 2007 Australian Open he hit one of the fastest forehands ever at 193 KPH. His lack of consistency leaves him off the list.
5. Novak Djokovic
The great hallmark of Novak Djokovic’s game is his consistency off both wings. He possesses a world class forehand and backhand. And while his backhand is probably a little stronger overall, his forehand deserves to be counted among the top five in the world. The greatest strength of Djokovic’s forehand is the ability to change the direction of the ball. The more of an angle imparted to a ball, the harder it is to control, yet Djokovic seems to have no trouble moving the ball across the court off of any incoming shot. His ability to spread the court and drive opponents to the corners is essentially unmatched in modern tennis. He uses a fairly modern forehand grip which allows him to hit with great spin when he needs to, and take high balls and drive them. His disguise as to where he is going with his shot is also extremely good, and players with great anticipation such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal often get caught on the wrong foot. This is especially visible against Nadal, whom Djokovic can consistently trap in the corners of the court. He also possesses what is likely the most precise forehand lob in modern tennis, which he seems to land within inches of the baseline over and over.
The Djokovic forehand also has weaknesses. It can be pressured more than his backhand, and he tends to dump forehands short into the net, especially when he is pushed right, near the right sideline. While Djokovic’s forehand is inarguably elite, it simply lacks the unstoppable effectiveness of the next four players.
4. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga’s game is power personified. Listed at 1.88 meters and conservatively at 91 kilograms, he looks more like a rugby player than a tennis player. He possesses one of the most powerful forehands in tennis. It was probably best evidenced in his 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinal win over Roger Federer, where he dominated the greatest grass court player ever with punishing, deep forehands over the final three sets. Tsonga’s game is highlighted by his love big hitting, and he will gleefully uncork powerful forehands close to the lines. He likes to gamble with his forehand, but it pays off more often than not. He also is great at mixing up his forehand selection, throwing in high spinning forehands and odd looks.
Tsonga struggles more on the defensive end than his peers on this list, as his style is notably more aggressive. Moreover, Tsonga struggles mentally, and tends to come in and out of focus throughout the course of a match. This can cause him to take stupid risks, miss and begin to spiral, which affects his forehand control. But, when the chips are down, his forehand tends to be there for him, and is among the best shots in tennis.
Don’t forget to check out Blindside Sport’s analysis on the Top 5 Servers in Tennis
3. Roger Federer
If this list were to rate the best forehand of the decade, or even all time, Federer’s would probably be number one. Despite his use of an old-school eastern grip, his forehand is the epitome of modern tennis. Federer can hit any spot on the court, either with blistering pace or elegant spinning crosscourt shots. He has also added a well disguised forehand drop shot to his arsenal which often catches players completely by surprise. His unique ability to hit powerful forehand half-volleys allows him to transition from defence quickly and seize momentum in rallies. The shot that David Foster Wallace once called “a great liquid whip” might also be the most aesthetically pleasing shot in today’s game. It is also without a doubt the most versatile forehand in tennis history.
However, as Federer has gotten older he has become more and more likely to run around his backhand and hit an off-forehand, which was his hallmark in his prime. But he tends to arrive slowly, opening up the court for his opponents. As a result he digs himself into holes more often than he used to on the forehand side. Federer also makes more mistakes off his forehand. He also doesn’t seem to have the same average pace levels as some of the other elite players and can get bullied by bigger hitters, something that never happened at his peak.
2. Juan Martin Del Potro
Juan Martin Del Porto rocketed onto the scene in 2009 when he became the only player not named Federer, Nadal or Djokovic to win a Grand Slam since 2005. He achieved this largely on the back of his forehand, a ridiculous weapon that utilizes the leverage of his 1.98m frame to terrifying effect. His height enables him to punish high balls that many other players struggle against. And he is able to bend down and take low balls with no apparent issues. The result of his size and leverage is a shot hit almost straight on, with little spin but a tremendous amount of punch. His ability to hit with power off his back foot might be the best in the game, and despite his size, he has a great running forehand which he places extremely well to both corners of the court. Perhaps the most amazing thing about his forehand is how well it plays on all surfaces. Historically a player with such flat groundstrokes struggles on clay, but Del Potro’s forehand plays exceptionally well on clay, as well as hardcourt and grass. Del Potro’s forehand is one of the only weapons in tennis that can consistently blast through the best defensive players in the world. If nothing else, Del Potro’s forehand possesses the most absurd, sheer point ending potential in the sport.
The only thing that limits Del Potro is the health of his wrist, which cost him an entire year and has recently flared up again. But when fully healthy, his forehand might be the most ferocious on tour.
1. Rafael Nadal
The sole lefty on this list, Nadal’s forehand is extremely atypical. He generates massive topspin on his forehand, sitting at 3,200 RPM and reaching as high as 4,900 RPM. In comparison, Pete Sampras hit around 1,900 RPM and Federer hits at 2,700. Nadal uses his incredibly heavy forehand to create offense through defence. He hits his forehand high over the net, creating a huge margin for error. And even if he drops these balls short, they possess so much spin and bounce so high that most players struggle to cleanly return them with consistency. Nadal’s basic forehand forces opponents to make mistakes that they would never make against other players. His ability to take the ball early and finish points quickly is something else he has greatly improved on, and he can blast his fair share of winners. He has especially developed a strong off-forehand in recent years. His running forehand and passing shot are currently the best in the game. Just being left handed is its own advantage and creates mismatches to right handed opponents.
However, the book on Nadal is that to beat him, you should try to break down his forehand. If a player can consistently hit a ball deep to his forehand, Nadal tends to compromise his swing and stab at the ball a little, which results in errors or easy winners for his opponents. That is a weakness exploitable by only a couple of players in the world. Nadal possesses the best defensive forehand in tennis, and his topspin creates a unique challenge for his opponents. His lightning fast footwork also allows him to step around many of his backhands and unleash his ever improving off-forehand.
Rafael Nadal has truly developed a forehand that plays at a high level on any surface, against practically any opponent. At this moment in tennis, he possesses the best forehand.
Make sure you check out Blindside Sport’s Top 5 Net Players in Tennis!