Top 10 forehands in men's tennis today
Our love for lists and countdowns of all kinds dates back to prehistoric times. Even when humans did nothing except hunt and eat all day, the thoughtful ones among them (or the crazy ones – take your pick) probably spent a lot of time trying to put together lists ranging from ‘sharpest shooters of the clan’ to ‘most adventurous meat roasters of the tribe’.
It’s no wonder, then, that when it comes to the sporting world – that realm of bottomless numbers and dark statistics – we can never stay away from coming up with lists that painstakingly explain why player ‘X’ is better than player ‘Y’. So here’s me giving in to that temptation, as I attempt to come up with a list of the top 10 forehands in men’s tennis today.
10. Milos Raonic:
I know what you’re thinking: sure he can whale on the ball, but can he whale on the ball when he hasn’t spent an eternity setting himself up for the shot? You’d be surprised. The towering Canadian has proven over the last two years that he’s more than just a serve; he can seriously bring the heat with his forehand, and he’s not too shabby with the shot even when he’s put on the run. Just ask Roger Federer, who had to withstand Raonic’s forehand bombs in as many as three nail-biting matches this year.
9. Gael Monfils:
The Frenchman has a tendency to do what Frenchmen usually do: put on a show rather than play to win. But that doesn’t mean he is not capable of scorching the court with his forehand drives. Monfils can spend all day pushing balls back with his forehand, content to play the waiting game, and his consistency with the shot is admirable in itself. Still, when he gets in the mood to really hit one, the Monfils forehand is a sight to behold. It almost makes us want to barge on to the court, shake him up and yell at him to do it more often.
8. Tomas Berdych:
Effortless power – that’s what strikes you about Berdych’s game more than anything else. And while his forehand may not be as solid as his backhand, it has wondrous point-ending potential of its own. He can sometimes get predictable by going crosscourt once too often, but it’s not like his opponents can do much about his power-packed shots even if they know where they’re headed.
7. Fernando Verdasco:
He’s a lefty, and he’s from Spain. Sound familiar? Fernando Verdasco may be no Rafael Nadal, but every once in a while he does make it a point to show to the world just how destructive his lefty forehand can be. His heavy topspin shots divebomb all over the court, and his forehand exchanges with his more famous countryman in the 2009 Australian Open semifinal have already become the stuff of legend.
6. Novak Djokovic:
The forehand will never be the most solid groundstroke of the World No. 1 – we can rest assured about that. But the improvement that Djokovic has brought to his weaker wing is worthy of applause. He can widen the court with his heavy crosscourt shots in a way that few players can (note how effectively he pins Rafael Nadal to his backhand corner), and his running forehand may well be the best in the world since the days of Pete Sampras. If he irons out the occasional breakdown of this shot, he could easily up this list by the time his career is over.
5. Robin Soderling:
Extravagantly long backswing, ferocious cut, ball skidding explosively across the court – that pretty much sums up the Robin Soderling forehand. The Swede may not have played much tennis in 2012, but memories of his blistering forehand blasts are still fresh in our minds. Sure his forehand may always be susceptible under wind or on a skidding surface (thanks to that backswing), but under perfectly controlled conditions, the Soderling forehand may well be the perfect forehand.
Another Frenchman who has a tendency to do what Frenchmen usually do. But even with Tsonga’s showboating, his forehand can still do a lot of damage on the court. If anything, his showboating (that is, throwing up junk shots and moonballs just for the fun of it) can sometimes act as the perfect calm before the storm; after lulling everyone into a false sense of security by exchanging a bunch of off-pace forehands, Tsonga can suddenly unload on a bone-crunching one that leaves the opponent as well as the crowd gasping for breath.
It’s not for nothing that Del Potro is sometimes called ‘the Human Tank’ (not to be confused with the much less flattering nickname ‘Tomic the Tank Engine’ that has been bestowed upon a certain gifted Aussie 20-year-old). When Del Potro gets rolling, his opponents run for cover. Literally.
Standing 6’6″ tall and armed with a terrifyingly large wingspan, Del Potro possesses one of the flattest forehands ever seen in tennis history.
The sound that he makes when he unleashes one of his forehand missiles – a guttural grunt that cannot be fairly reproduced here – is disturbingly similar to the sound a lumberjack makes when hacking into a tree with a chainsaw. Maybe that’s just a sound you’re supposed to make when you have to warn people that you’re about to inflict a lot of pain.
2. Rafael Nadal:
If Del Potro’s forehand is one of the flattest ever seen, Rafael Nadal’s is probably the most topspin-heavy. It’s surprising how both ends of the extreme can be so comparably devastating. Nadal’s forehand curlers, specially when he hits them down-the-line for passing his opponents planted at the net, can seem like they defy the laws of physics.
But defying the laws of physics is just one of the perks that you get for consistently imparting 3,200 rpm on the ball. Among the other perks: being virtually invincible on clay, having the measure of arguably the greatest player ever, and making all of your opponents close their eyes in horror at the very thought of facing you on the court.
No one has ever been able to produce the kind of vicious spin that Nadal generates off his forehand; the acceleration that the ball acquires after bouncing makes it incredibly hard to return even if it is well within the reach of the opponent. Nadal doesn’t need to aim for the lines with his forehand; he can hit point-ending shots with it in an almost risk-free manner. Now that is a handy weapon.
1. Roger Federer:
It’s often been said that Roger Federer can do anything on the court. While that isn’t quite true (try hitting an overhead with your eyes blindfolded and a feather in place of your racquet, sucker!), the cliché may actually hold good when it comes to this one particular shot. Federer can exchange endless loopy forehands on a slow, high-bouncing surface; he can trade flat, powerful strikes on a quick, skidding surface; he can hit crosscourt, down-the-line and inside-out drives with equal aplomb; and on occasion he can even caress the perfectly disguised forehand dropper.
The Swiss can actually do anything with his forehand – anything except imparting 3,200 rpm on the ball, of course. Technically, the Federer forehand is, much like his overall game, a bit of everything – part old school (with his modified Eastern grip), part modern (with his mostly across-the-shoulder follow through) and part completely unique (the way he seems to hold the ball on the racquet for a fraction of a second longer, enabling him to generate tremendous topspin even with his conservative grip). But despite every intricate detail that we know and have seen of the shot, it can still surprise us with its sheer bombast.
His consistency with the stroke may have dipped in recent years, and at times it can break down completely in the face of pressure. But to do what Federer has done with a single shot and to sustain it for the better part of a decade, you don’t just need a technically flawless shot. You need a bit of magic.