Tennis High Forehand – How to Handle the Highball
Whether you’re at the club level or you’re at the pro level, if you can’t handle the high forehand above your shoulder, there will always be those certain opponents that you just can’t beat whether they generate immense topspin or just hit moonballs.
When the ball comes high, you’re forced to hit out of your comfortable strike zone, which makes you more prone to mishits, unforced errors, and excessive energy expense on your shot.
That’s why it’s so important to make the proper adjustments from hitting your forehand at a normal height and returning a high ball.
In this post, we’re gonna cover the techniques used for dealing with the high ball on the forehand side and the goals or tactics when using these techniques.
The forehand is much better equipped to hitting high balls than the one hand or two-handed backhand.
- Your arm can extend across your body through the ball more easily
- The maximum height where you would have to switch to a continental to slice or overhead is higher.
Also, if you’re dealing with heavy balls that have lots of topspin, you need to build up lots of racquet head speed of your own to counteract the force of the ball, which is also easier for the forehand.
This is one reason why practicing the inside out forehand (running around the backhand side) is a standard movement used at the pro level and I recommend you add it to your training if you aren’t practicing already.
How to Execute
STEP 1: BACKSWING HEIGHT
Adjust the height of your take back and forward swing according to what you want to do with the ball.
If you want more topspin, your racquet will need to have a more vertical swing path. If you want to hit flatter and harder, your racquet needs a more horizontal swing path.
You can do this through the height of your takeback and your type of follow through. For the flat shot, you’ll need a high takeback and swing through the ball rather than up.
STEP 2: LOAD & POSTURE
On a normal waist height ball, you’re slightly tilted at about a 20-30 degree angle while loading on your legs.
When the ball is at your shoulder, you would have a more upright posture.
At this position, your normal backswing should naturally result in a higher takeback.
If you try to adjust your takeback height with your arms, you won’t be able to drop the racquet back below the ball, and this will lead to errors.
STEP 3: FORWARD SWING
As you initiate your forward swing and rotate your torso back into the shot, you should adjust the height of your contact again, by tilting your hitting arm shoulder up to the ball instead of lifting your arms.
If you take your arm above your shoulder, it will be in a weakened position because the chest muscles can’t help as much – instead, you’re using smaller weaker muscles like your frontal deltoid.
Adjusting with your torso is constant no matter what you’re trying to hit.
What you’ll notice about the swing plane of your normal forehand is that the racquet will travel around a rotational axis and become more vertical as it goes up.
When adjusting for the highball, you want to keep this natural rotational force.
This means the higher you make contact, the more vertical your racquet will be.
If you don’t adjust your racquet, you’ll be forced to adjust your arm or wrist into an uncomfortable position and most likely cause an error.
One thing that helps is to visualize your racquet head slightly above your hand on contact.
STEP 4: Follow Through
Depending on where you are on the court, you’ll want to adjust your swing.
If you at the baseline, keep your arm relaxed during and after the contact.
This will cause the ball to land deep while the slight topspin you’ve added should keep the ball from sailing out.
If you’re closer to the net, you can hit flatter and down into the open court because of the greater net clearance.
There is a specific shot for this called the dip drive which I’ll cover in another video.
For this shot, the follow through can end as low as at the waist.
The first is the tilt of your shoulders and torso. By starting your forward swing from a lower position, you can build up more vertical force coming into contact.
But with the normal follow through, your ability to generate topspin might be limited by the lack of space left to travel the racquet head up through contact.
Instead, you can use the buggy whip follow through.
Due to the increase in the vertical plane of this follow through and further space to travel up over your head, you can still generate topspin.
Depending on how much racquet head speed you generate this shot can allow you to return heavy balls with heavy topspin balls of your own.
One important note is that the follow through is only a natural reaction to what you’ve done before contact.
So instead of forcing this type of follow through, I recommend that you focus on increasing the vertical trajectory of your racquet and letting your racquet go up and around your head as a result of the momentum you’ve created in the racquet.
DRILL 1: SHADOW SWING + ISOLATION
Isolate the Torso. Get into your forehand open stance load position. Practice the core rotation and shoulder tilt without focusing on swinging.
Get the feel for getting your shoulders into this position for higher balls.
Once you are comfortable getting into the tilted position, start incorporating the rest of the swing.
DRILL 2: FED BALL
Option 1. Toss ball in front of you, high enough where it bounces above shoulder height. Practice the high ball motion.
Option 2. Have a feeder stand at the service line on your end of the court. Make sure the feeder stands to the side, away from the striking zone. Bounce balls high in the air and practice the high forehand variations.
- Don’t focus too much on results at first.
- Practice the flat shot from the service line first, then move to the baseline.
DRILL 3: ALTERNATE FEEDING
Alternate feeding will help you know when and how to adjust to highballs.
Alternate Between Height
Feed 1 Waist Level Ball >> Feed 1 High Ball
Alternate Between Depth
Service Line >> No-Man’s Land >> Baseline >> 4 Feet Back
Alternate Between Spin
Feed 1 Floating Highball >> Feed 1 Heavy Topspin Highball