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Breaking down Rafa’s forehand


Originally published on: 23/08/12 00:00

Rip it like Rafa
Rafa's forehand is a huge weapon on any surface. He uses somewhere between a semi-western and full western grip, allowing him to generate incredible topspin and stand out as an unstoppable force on clay. The culmination of his grip, technique and physical strength produce one of the most powerful forehands of all time, clocked between 1,800 and 4,900 revolutions of the ball per minute, with an average of 3,300. Here's how he goes through the motion…


Rafa is well positioned and the most impressive part of the technique is his footwork, which has allowed him to set up for ultimate power and precision. Rafa's big shoulder turn, helped by his right hand taking the racket back, allow for a semi-open stance and good hip rotation. He is focused on the ball and has slight bend in both knees.







Rafa's arms begin to separate as he continues his circular backswing, which contributes to generating racket head acceleration when striking the ball. His left foot remains firmly planted with his right heel just slightly off the ground. He is beginning to load weight on his back leg in preparation to release his hips and rotational force through contact.







Rafa is in the process of unloading his forehand as the ball approaches. His shoulders have opened up a bit more and his focus on the ball intensifies. His arms separate more as his hips and shoulders begin to turn towards the ball prior to transferring his weight on to his front leg. His head has not moved since the previous image.


Key point: Breathing technique is important in sport. Notice how Rafa's mouth is closed as he inhales through his nose prior to striking the ball.





Rafa has now dropped his racket head below the ball so he can swing violently from low to high, striking the ball in the so-called six o'clock position to produce an incredible amount of topspin and power. His hips and shoulders are open with his right foot slightly off the ground. This is a result of the rotational force he produces to transfer his weight forward.







Rafa has made contact with the ball and is close to finishing his follow through, emphasising the low to high swing to put a significant amount of revolutions on the ball. We see the ball but the racket is above his head. This demonstrates how quickly he has hit up the back of the ball to generate power and spin. His mouth is now open as he exhales.


Golden rule: Early preparation will enhance your chances of setting up properly. When you know where your opponent has struck the ball, move your feet and prepare your backswing. It's important to remain alert with your weight on the balls of your feet.




The ball is on its way and Rafa has completed the stroke with his hips and shoulders now fully rotated. His racket finishes on the left hand side of his body, showing how much he has swung from low to high to create more spin than anyone else on tour. Notice how his knees have remained slightly bent throughout the shot.






"The Rafael Nadal Forehand" featured in the July 2012 issue of tennishead magazine. For information on how to subscribe, click here.


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.