On Saturday, January 30th, the tennis world watched in astonishment as world number seven Angelique Kerber defeated world number one Serena Williams to capture her maiden Grand Slam singles title at the age of 28. The German, who was making her debut at this stage of a major, played fearless but high percentage tennis, scrambling all over the court and creating sharp angles that caught the world number one off guard. However, it was Kerber’s forehand who did the real damage. One of the many keys to her victory against Williams was her deceptively effective forehand, a stroke that had barely put a foot wrong all match. The new world number two used the underrated variety that she possesses on her strongest wing to change the momentum of numerous rallies, which Williams said she struggled to deal with in her press conference.
How It's Effective
Despite not being naturally left-handed, Kerber’s forehand is extremely effective in many ways. The German number one uses a semi-western grip, which allows her to generate enough topspin with her signature leg strength to produce one of the flattest forehands on tour. One might ask, if her legs are so strong, why doesn’t she give her forehand more shape? The answer is simple. Kerber’s forehand has one of the shortest backswings on tour, which not only allows her to take the ball earlier, but denies her much shape on her signature stroke. However, one of the many reasons why the newly crowned Australian Open champion’s forehand was so lethal was because of how deceptively effective it was. Kerber’s compact swing allows her to hit with both speed and disguise, creating a whole new set of problems for her opponents.
Unlike the likes of Caroline Wozniacki and Sara Errani who are both classified as counterpunchers, the 28-year-old’s aggressive counter punching paired with her incredibly balanced and solid defensive game style makes her game extremely unpredictable. One point, she could hit one of her signature thunderous forehand down the line winners at incredible velocities, while on the next, she could hit the most outrageous forehand passing shot on the stretch.
While other counterpunchers posses a ruthless consistency, Kerber’s consistency paired with her proactive thinking and ability to change the outcome of a point with a single shot just simply can’t be matched by her peers.
Because of her counterpunching game style, the German’s fearsome down the line forehand works just as well when she is on the defensive, or engaged in a cross-court rally. With the help of her signature leg strength, Kerber is able to redirect her opponent’s pace down the line incredibly effectively when they least expect it, adding a whole new dimension of difficulty for her oppositions to face.
However, the 28-year-old’s forehand, like every other shot, still has its weaknesses. Most noticeably, her forehand cross-court seems to lack the same punch that her forehand down the line does. The biggest reason for this liability is because Kerber is not naturally left-handed; she writes with her right, but plays with her left. From a technical standpoint, it is easy noticeable that when Kerber hits a forehand down the line, she uses the strength of her entire body to hit through the shot, whereas she has an unfortunate tendency to rely heavily on her upper body strength when she hits forehands cross-court. It comes as no surprise that the world number two’s forehand cross-court hits a significantly lower number of winners compared to her forehand down the line, but can prove equally lethal when generating a sharp angle, one that can have her opponents running for the stands.
Credit to The Tennis Island’s Jeff Donaldson’s for his thorough breakdown of Kerber’s fearsome forehand and whose ideas were contributed to this piece, which you can read by clicking here.
What do you think are some of the reasons why Kerber’s forehand is so effective? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts by tweeting them to us at @VAVELUSATennis!