Beyond The Numbers

The Forehand Double-Edged Sword

Alcaraz extracted 239 forehand errors from his opponents, and 201 backhand errors across Indian Wells & Miami
April 27, 2023
Early forehand errors in points plays an outside role in winning and losing matches.
ATP Tour
Early forehand errors in points plays an outside role in winning and losing matches. By Craig O'Shannessy

Which shot breaks down more in today's game? The forehand or the backhand?

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of errors from forehand and backhand returns and groundstrokes uncovers a paradigm shift in the modern game. The traditional school of thought was to go after your opponent's backhand and hammer away at it until it breaks. Old-school logic makes perfect sense until you see a stats sheet.

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In today's game, the numbers tell you it's the exact opposite.

It's now about taking time away from the forehand and rushing it into early errors in the rally. Exploit the size of the backswing. Take time away to prepare. Put the offensive shot on defense and watch the errors flow.

The new school of Infosys ATP match statistics clearly shows that throwing heat at forehands in the 0-4 rally length extracts errors at a significantly higher rate than backhands in longer rallies of 5+ shots or even backhands in general. First-strike forehands are a much bigger liability than any of us thought.

The data set is comprised of Carlos Alcaraz's 10 completed matches at the 2023 BNP Paribas Open, which he won, and the recent Miami Open presented by Itau, where he lost in the semi-finals to Jannik Sinner.

Of the 1276 points played, 73 per cent ended in an error, while 27 per cent were winners. We clearly play a sport of errors much more than winners, and forehands dominate this landscape.

Alcaraz Points Won
The number one way (winners or errors) Alcaraz won points was by extracting forehand errors from his opponents in the 0-4 rally length, with 139, or 20 per cent of total points won. Those forehand errors are comprised of three specific shots:

• Forehand return errors
• Serve +1 forehand errors
• Return +1 forehand errors

Overall, Alcaraz extracted 239 forehand errors from his opponents, and 201 backhand errors. Below is the opponent error total.

• Opponent 0-4 forehand errors = 32% (139)
• Opponent 0-4 backhand errors = 29% (129)
• Opponent 5+ forehand errors = 23% (100)
• Opponent 5+ backhand errors = 16% (72)
• Total = 440 errors

Alcaraz forced 61 per cent (268/440) of forehand and backhand return and groundstroke errors in the 0-4 rally length and 39 per cent (172/440) in 5+ rallies. Attack first. Check the scoreboard for an update later.

Opponent Points Won
Alcaraz's opponents also won most of their points (winners & errors) by extracting forehand errors in the 0-4 shot rally length from Alcaraz with 149, or 26 per cent of their total points won.

Overall, opponents extracted 236 forehand errors from Alcaraz and 182 backhand errors.

• Alcaraz 0-4 forehand errors = 36% (149)
• Alcaraz 0-4 backhand errors = 29% (123)
• Alcaraz 5+ forehand errors = 21% (87)
• Alcaraz 5+ backhand errors = 14% (59)
• Total = 418 errors

Combined Points Won
Combining error totals from both players shows that forehand errors in the 0-4 rally length dominate the landscape.

• 0-4 forehand errors = 34% (288)
• 0-4 backhand errors = 29% (252)
• 5+ forehand errors = 22% (187)
• 5+ backhand errors = 15% (131)
• Total = 858 errors

Early forehand errors in the rally occur at more than twice the rate (34% to 15%) as backhand errors in an established point of five shots or more. The large size of the forehand backswing versus the compact backhand backswing is the key. The bigger forehand backswing can be rushed. Contact can be compromised. Forehands simply don't defend as well as backhands.

The modern backhand is built to survive. The modern forehand is built to attack. Therein lies opportunity. The ego of the forehand can be exploited.

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