It is no surprise that the game of tennis has evolved over the past 30-40 years. As lighter rackets came to market and different grips evolved, so did the pace of the game. As a result, players began experimenting with different stroke techniques that would allow for explosive forehands and backhands with the goal of optimize playing performance and diminishing injury risk. Let’s reflect on some of the topics that can be heard among players and coaches.
THE FOREHAND STANCE
It has been shown that 90% of forehands from advanced level players are played in an open stance. There is no doubt that the open stance allows for improved court coverage compared to the more traditional square or closed stances, but besides court coverage, why do players use an open stance technique? Does the open stance improve racket speed due to more trunk rotation, or does it diminish loading patterns in vulnerable joints such as the shoulder?
How would you respond to the following questions?
Q: “Is the open stance forehand more effective in generating racket speed because it generates greater trunk rotation (or what scientists refer to as angular velocity) compared to the square stance forehand?”
A: No, the evidence we currently have does not support this statement. In a group of coaching professionals and advanced players the open stance did not utilize greater trunk rotation when compared to the square stance technique. The same study investigated racket velocities at ball impact, and only found a 2 mile per hour difference in velocity when comparing the open and square stance. The big take home from this study is that regardless of the stance technique trunk rotation has a strong relationship with racket velocity
Q: “Does the open stance technique create greater loading throughout the shoulder than the square stance technique?
A: No, the majority of shoulder forces measured at the shoulder are similar between the two stances. One study conducted on male players found that the open stance generated greater horizontal adduction forces compared to the square stance. However, the reality is joint forces on the shoulder are large within both techniques and can create rigorous stresses on not only the shoulder but the upper extremity musculature which could potentially put a player at risk for injury.
While the forehand stance technique seems to be a commonly discussed topic in tennis, the backhand must not be neglected. In fact, quite often does this stroke strike heated debates particularly focused around which backhand is better: the one-handed or two-handed backhand?
After reviewing several articles, elite players performing either type of backhand have comparable horizontal racket velocities, post-impact ball velocities, and accuracy. As such, other factors, aside from velocity and accuracy measures should be considered when determining which backhand technique to use. For example, the joint positioning difference between each backhand stroke should be appreciated. More specifically, the positioning of the wrist at impact during the one-handed backhand. As a reader you may be thinking, why is this important or why do we care about the position of the wrist? Well, players with a history of tennis elbow (lateral epicondylalgia or extensor tendinopathy) exhibit a flexed wrist at impact while those without a history of tennis elbow exhibit a more extended wrist during impact. Indeed, a greater incidence of tennis elbow has been observed when the one-handed backhand is executed with a flexed wrist. While the incidence is higher in the one-handed backhand, tennis elbow is often a result of faulty stroke mechanics and mechanical faults, which also can be seen in the two-handed backhand if not executed properly.
In summary, we challenge all tennis advocates to exercise their inner inquisitiveness when it comes to expanding knowledge on the game. The questions posed and the research investigated within this particular blog is simple personal curiosity. Ignite conversation, investigate areas of interest, and share the findings.
Bahamonde RE, Knudson D. Kinetics of the upper extremity in the open and square stance tennis forehand. J Sci Med Sport. 2003;6(1):88-101.
Knudson D, Blackwell J. Upper extremity angular kinematics of the one-handed backhand drive in tennis players with and without tennis elbow. Int J Sports Med. 1997;18(2):79-82.
Knudson D, Bahamonde R. Trunk and racket kinematics at impact in the open and square stance tennis forehand. Biology of Sport. 1999;16(1):3-10.
Reid M, Elliott B. The one- and two-handed backhands in tennis. Sports Biomech. 2002;1(1):47-68.
Natalie Myers is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at Texas State University. Dr. Myers received her B.S. in Athletic Training from Elon University and M.S in Athletic Training from California University of Pennsylvania (2008 and 2009). Dr. Myers received a PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences from Kentucky University in 2017. She currently serves as the Associate Editor for the Journal of Medicine and Science in Tennis. Her research focuses on clinical management of overhead athletes with the goal of improving performance while controlling injury risk. Follow Dr. Myers on twitter @nmyers02.