Every Saturday, The Tennis Island will be evaluating a specific shot that has made the difference for a player during that week – its hits through its misses.
Deciding which of this week’s #SaturdayNightShots got the TTI treatment boiled down to two groundstrokes. Both have admittedly faced a vast share of criticism throughout the short careers of the players who employ them.
When these two shots were pitted against one another in this week’s Wuhan semifinal, both had flashes of brilliance. For Caroline Wozniacki, what has usually been a liability shone brighter than her normally reliable backhanded weapon. Yet while the atypically powerful “forehanda” of the Dane was exceptional in this first meeting between two athletic blondes, it was the “forehanda” of Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard that eclipsed her opponent’s and ultimately dazzled in a straightforward 6-2 6-3 victory.
With Bouchard having played full time on the WTA circuit for only two years, it is understandable that both the inner and outer circles of tennis fandom have yet to adjust to her forehand’s…unique aesthetics.
It’s not a pretty shot. People often toss around the word “ugly” – paradoxically so, given to the overall aesthetic Bouchard brings to her brand – but I prefer the term “unique.” Her commitment to taking the ball extremely early and on the rise in order to dictate points is facilitated by her – say it with me – unique forehand stroke production, thus making it an essential part of her rise to the top of the game this year – and why she is likely to stay there.
Worthy of note is how Bouchard’s forehand hasn’t always been, well, worthy of note. Before 2013 and throughout most of her successful junior career, it visually resembled the average forehand one might find in the WTA. It’s effectiveness, by contrast, was non-existent.
Almost overnight, thanks to Genie’s adamant and well-reported commitment to increasing her level of aggression, the forehand is a completely different shot. She doesn’t wait for the ball to come to her on that wing; she brings herself to the ball, painting an almost “lungey” picture of the shot.
Highlights against the same player three years apart illustrate the massive difference in her forehand stroke production.
As an attacking shot, she takes the ball more in front of her body than most players with better technique – see HALEP, Simona (ROU) – do. In order to generate more power and pace, she uses her legs and forward momentum to maximum effect. To create more margin over the net, she applies spin by bringing her racquet across her body (east to west) as opposed to over it (south-east to north-west), which is the more typical way of striking a forehand in the women’s game.
The following is a list of “hits” (or successes) that this shot, in spite of its broken aesthetic, is characterized by. No shot is without its faults, however, and an accompanying list of “misses” follows:
| HITS |
-For the amount of pace she is able to generate off that wing, the shot still has a deceptively high margin over net, which reduces net errors.
-If not hitting winners, the constant depth Bouchard is able to manage with this ostensibly wonky technique allows her dictate often and with more authority.
-It can be flattened out as an easy put-away shot.
-It is extremely effective at opening the court up for her lethal backhand, a shot which, unlike the forehand, has not changed over the years and has always been a weapon.
-It can generate acute angles or go for corners at ease, depending on the pace Bouchard puts on or takes off it.
-In perhaps the only benefit of the shot’s poor visual nature, it’s difficult to read. Bouchard’s record against counterpunchers is a testament to this, and after the Australian Open quarterfinal this year, Ana Ivanovic noted, “it’s sometimes very hard to read her game.”
-It can be a defensive shot, too. While her backhand can be poor under pressure, Bouchard’s defensive cross-court forehand has often turned points around for her. When she does need to make a forehand pass, she can come up with some sublime shots down the line. (see: 17:19)
| MISSES |
-Unconventional technique is unconventional for a reason, and when under large amounts of pressure, it tends to break down (see: the 2014 French Open semifinal third set).
-When it’s on, it’s on; when it’s off, it’s off: Bouchard’s high pressure Montreal homecoming against Shelby Rogers saw her forehand spray errors every which way. The depth that makes the shot so effective can backfire if her focus is off.
-The grip she uses on the forehand and her typical point of contact are not conducive to conventional volleys, meaning she has to make big adjustments at the net. The trouble with her hyper-aggressive game is that while she’s always moving forward, she doesn’t always know what to do once she gets there.
While it may look awkward, jerky, lungey or indeed ugly, the shot is among the most effective in the 20-year-old Canadian’s arsenal of shots and has been crucial in her development into a top player – and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.