Peng Shuai's Cross-Handed Forehand

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Peng Shuai Forehand Photo #1: Backswing

Photo of Peng Shuai's Forehand - Backswing
Elsa / Getty Images

Peng Shuai (Chinese family name Peng, given name Shuai) uses a very unusual cross-handed forehand, with the pushing hand farther from the racquet head than the pulling hand. On the backhand, a two-handed stroke is by far the most common choice among WTA pros, but any kind of two-handed forehand is quite rare. A cross-handed one is rarer still, although Marion Bartoli, the most prominent player of recent years with a two-handed forehand, also hits it cross-handed.

Peng hits her backhand with two hands also, but like virtually every other player, not cross-handed. She simply turns to the other side of her body, leaving her hands in place. Saving the trouble of switching her hands may have been her original motivation to hit the forehand cross-handed, or she might have preferred the way the cross-handed forehand feels, despite its biomechanical awkwardness. The problem with a cross-handed forehand is that if the dominant hand, in Peng Shuai's case, her right, pushes harder than the non-dominant hand pulls, the racquet will pivot around the non-dominant hand so that the racquet head moves backward, not forward toward the ball. The solution is to hit the cross-handed forehand with more of a pulling motion than any other stroke uses. A standard two-handed backhand is driven mostly by the pushing hand, the one closer to the racquet head.

In this photo, Peng has set up in a very open stance. With her shoulders turned 90 degrees clockwise from her hips, Shuai is loading up the muscles in her core to uncoil with her swing, taking some of the burden of power generation off her arms. Peng's racquet face is less closed (turned downward) than would be typical of a one-handed forehand. Shuai drops her racquet lower than the ball on her backswing so that she can brush up the back of the ball to produce topspin.

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Peng Shuai Forehand Photo #2: Point of Contact

Photo of Peng Shuai's Forehand - Point of Contact
Elsa / Getty Images

Two aspects of Peng Shuai's point of contact in this photo are exemplary: she has her eyes locked onto the ball, and she's meeting it right on the racquet's centerline. Peng would get more rebound energy out of her stringbed by meeting the ball less far out toward the tip of her racquet, but she makes up for some of that reduced string rebound because all groundstrokes involve some rotational motion, and with any rotational motion, the tip of the racquet moves faster than the throat. Somewhat conversely, Shuai's two-handed forehand doesn't have the reach of a one-hander; therefore, her two arms plus racquet act as a shorter unit than one arm plus racquet. An essentially shorter arm-racquet unit would, in itself, move the racquet head with less speed, but having the strength of two arms makes up for some of that loss.

Peng has her left hand in a Semi-Continental grip and her right in essentially a Western forehand grip. The left hand's Semi-Continental position gets more of her thumb pad behind the racquet handle than an Eastern forehand position would, thereby providing more support for the major work the left hand must do. The right's Western position lends itself more to allowing the racquet to swing upward freely than to driving the racquet forward, as is appropriate, given the limitation on the right hand's forward contribution due to Peng's cross-handed arrangement.

The slightly closed position of Peng's racquet face on the backswing has resolved to a vertical stringbed on contact.

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Peng Shuai Forehand Photo #3: Follow-Through

Photo of Peng Shuai's Forehand - Follow-Through
Al Bello / Getty Images

Peng Shuai's forehand follow-through looks much like the average follow-through for a two-handed backhand. Many players find the follow-through on two-handed strokes somewhat constricting, as the chest gets in the way of the arms, but as this photo illustrates, Peng's build allows her a full follow-though without any evident constriction.