The Spaniard's signature shot is excellent for a reason. (AP Photo)

The key to Rafael Nadal’s fabulous forehand is his extension. Nadal swings up and over the top of his head, with the racquet moving backwards and actually finishing on the same side of his body where the swing started. This is called “reversing” the finish, to use the term coined by the great coach Robert Lansdorp.


Nadal’s reverse finish results from his extreme grip and steep swing plane, which produces heavily arced forehands that can exceed 90 m.p.h. in speed and 3,000 r.p.m. in spin. The racquet has so much speed and lift that the natural follow-through is up and over his head, to slow the frame down.


Of all the top players, Nadal works the hardest to set up his forehand in a coiled, semi-western stance, with his shoulders turned to the net and the opposite arm (for Nadal, the right arm) stretched across his body and pointed toward the sideline.


At the moment of full extension, Nadal’s arm is roughly at shoulder level and pointing virtually straight ahead. This forward motion, with the racquet traveling along the path of the shot, is impossible to see with the naked eye but is critical to the stroke.

John Yandell is publisher of the digital magazine and an instruction editor for TENNIS Magazine.