Want to win more matches? Hit more forehands.
An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of 38,952 groundstrokes from all completed matches at the 2019 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells identified match winners possessed a greater thirst to hit forehands from the back of the court over backhands.
Forehands – 57% (10,971)
Backhands – 43% (8,313)
Forehands – 54% (10,663)
Backhands – 46% (9,005)
Forehands – 56% (21,634)
Backhands – 44% (17,318)
The grouping of match winners totalled 57 per cent forehands from the back of the court, while match losers were at 54 per cent. The combined breakdown displayed a significant 12 percentage-point difference, with forehands totalling 56 per cent and backhands at 44 per cent.
You don’t need to look further than tournament champion Dominic Thiem to find a player who tried to upgrade to his forehands at every opportunity. Thiem defeated Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the final, with both players hunting as many forehands as possible to reach the last match on Sunday.
To reach the championship match, Thiem hit 61 per cent of his groundstrokes as forehands, while Federer was not far off at 59 per cent. Both players were above the match winners’ tournament average of 57 per cent forehands from the back of the court.
In the final, Thiem’s ability to find his forehand, and limit Federer’s, was a key factor.
2019 Indian Wells Final
Forehands – 64% (164)
Backhands – 36% (92)
Forehands – 51% (131)
Backhands – 49% (124)
Thiem clearly won the battle to use his forehand more, hitting it 64 per cent of the time compared to 51 per cent for Federer. This dynamic was even more of a factor in the deciding third set in which Thiem hit 67 per cent forehands (70 forehands/35 backhands) to Federer’s 51 per cent forehands (54 forehands/52 backhands).
A big reason Thiem was always looking to upgrade to a forehand was the speed at which he hit it. Thiem’s average forehand speed for the match was a lacerating 77 mph, making it by far the biggest baseline weapon on the court. Federer’s average forehand speed of 69 mph actually ended up being exactly the same as Thiem’s average backhand speed. Federer’s average backhand speed was just 63 mph.
Thiem’s Round of 16 match against Ivo Karlovic at that event may have produced one of the most uneven totals between forehands and backhands ever in an ATP Tour match. Thiem defeated Karlovic 6-4, 6-3 in 58 minutes. Only two points from the 93-point total reached a rally length of double digits.
What’s astounding is that Thiem made Karlovic hit more backhands than forehands in the match, while hitting just eight backhands himself in two sets.
Forehands – 91% (58)
Backhands – 9% (8)
Forehands – 43% (29)
Backhands – 57% (39)
Our sport features a plethora of points with both players dueling it out from the baseline. If you get a chance to turn a backhand into a forehand in your own match, the metrics from the best players in the world fully support it.