Juan Martin Del Potro is one of the stars of the ATP tour that many believe is poised to take the next step and rise to greatness as a dominant player on the circuit. One of the core strengths of his game is his booming, flat and powerful forehand, which he employed to incredible effect to his advantage to topple Roger Federer in his prime to clinch the US Open Championship in 2009 as one of the youngest ever to achieve the feat in an epic 5 set encounter.
In this article I’ll deconstruct that famous forehand and analyse how Del Potro gets the power, placement and technique to make it such a weapon on tour, based on the video below:
The first thing to note about the forehand of Del Potro is that it has a foundation in a slightly unconventional grip. While most players on the tour use a western or semi-western grip Del Potro uses a more unconventional eastern grip on his racquet. This grip was favoured by top players in the earlier eras of tennis. However, the use of the eastern grip went out of fashion as the game evolved. The reason was that the more powerful racquets allowed players to unleash shots that were laced with top spin and kick, and the eastern grip was not suited to dealing with shots that reared up on players after bouncing.
However, the fact that Del Potro stands at almost two metres tall is a primary reason why this is not an issue for him. He is able to negate the topspin of opponents by standing tall and making use of his incredible height and reach to get over the ball, rather than by using a western grip and a higher shot to return the ball as others do. Another player who uses a similar technique is Canadian Milos Raonic who like Del Potro is blessed with a two metre frame and the ability to stand tall when hitting his forehand.
Most junior players start with an eastern grip because of its relative comfort and natural feel, but as they progress coaches will generally lead them toward adopting a more conventional western style hold. This may vary where a player is of similar height to Del Potro.
The Shot Mechanics
The first thing to note about the Del Potro forehand is the high draw back of the racquet. This is common to tall players, and the reason is that the racquet does not need to start low to negate the spin. The result is that the eventual strike will be hit harder than a top spinning return, and much more flat.
Because of the high take back, the impact point of racquet to ball is also higher than is conventional, again to take advantage of hitting the ball at a higher point in its arc, rather than waiting for it to fall into the strike zone.
The follow through of the shot is straight through, with the shot beginning and with the high take back on the right hand side, the impact halfway up the body and the follow through occurring in a straight through action past his face and above his head, without the whip-like action that you would see from players like Rafael Nadal.
The result of this fairly unique blend of grip, shot and follow through is what may be described as a typical tall man forehand. The strengths are that it is hit enormously quickly, and can be hit deep in the court at pace. The result is the ability to penetrate the court and pass players without them being able to react in time to return the shot. It is a weapon used to great effect.
However, there are also weaknesses. The first is that the shot is high risk and high reward. Because it does not accelerate after it bounces like most top spinning forehands would, it has to be aimed deeper in the court to gain a winner as mobile players will get to the ball and return it. This means that Del Potro’s error count on his forehand side is higher than other top players. The other factor is that players with good court coverage are able to force Del Potro to hit more forehands and take greater risks, meaning that the balance tips in favour of risk of missing the shot rather than the reward for making it.
Nevertheless, I really love the way when Del Potro sets up his forehand and rip a winner off his opponent. He possesses a forehand of awesome power that is a result of his unique grip, height and shot technique which is capable of hitting a winner against any opponent. I think he has a great future and he will remain in Top 10 as long as he stays healthy and injury free.
Enjoy the video below and you will find that many of Del Potro’s winners came from his forehand wing.
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