Many players are effective at attacking an opponent’s middle with their backhands. (The middle is roughly the opponent’s elbow, the mid-point between forehand and backhand, which is usually the most awkward shot to react to.) This is because as they are lining up the shot, the opponent is in clear view. However, on the forehand, you turn sideways, and so lose sight of the opponent.
Top coaches often say that you have to learn to attack the opponent’s elbow early on to make it instinctive. Otherwise, it’s very difficult to develop this as a successful habit. However, I believe this is true more of the forehand than the backhand, and many players do learn to attack the middle with the backhand. So what can one do to learn to do so with the forehand?
The answer, unsurprisingly, is to practice it. The problem is that most players either don’t think about it much when playing games and so don’t develop it, or if they do try it, it’s not often enough to develop it as a habit. And so in game situations, either they simply don’t do go for the middle, or when they do, they miss this moving target, and instead give the opponent an easy forehand or backhand. So to learn to attack the middle with your forehand, you need to do it not just in games, but in drills.
The first step is to simply learn to hit there. Most players drill to the forehand or backhand corners, and so instinctively go there in games. To make a habit of going to the middle, do drills where your opponent literally sets up to play his backhand (or forehand) from where his elbow would normally be. For a righty in a typical ready position, this would normally be just to the left of the middle line. So do drills where you hit to that spot to make it a habit.
But the middle is a moving target – your opponent isn’t always in the same spot. His ready position should move relative to where you are hitting the ball from. So his middle is in a different location depending on whether you are hitting the ball from the wide backhand, wide forehand, or any area between. So you need to do free-play drills where you focus on going after the middle. For example, do serve and attack drills where you go after the middle relentlessly. If the opponent tries to cover for it, you simply move your target to where his new middle is. If he does to play one-winged, perhaps covering the entire middle area with his forehand or backhand, then you might go to the open corner just to keep things honest, forcing him to go back to a more normal ready position.
If you don’t already attack the opponent’s middle with your backhand, then start developing that habit – it’s relatively easy since you can see your target in front of you, and line up your racket, ball, and the opponent’s middle. But you really need to do this with the forehand as well, so develop that as well with some systematic practice - and turn your forehand into an even more formidable weapon!