There have been many great players in the open era and many players where certain strokes have been associated with them. I can think of the Jimmy Connors Sky Hook, the Ivanesivic lefty serve, the Boris Becker diving volley, Steffi Graf's sliced backhand and Monica Seles' double handed shots off both wings. The Pete Sampras Running Forehand comes into that category as one of the most famous and one of the most devastating shots of all time.
A shot that Pete performed over 14 years in his career, a shot that had precision, awesome technique, variety, angles and extreme topspin at tremendous pace, down the line and crosscourt. There are a few interesting things when discussing this particular shot: First of all, Pete was able to perform this shot under pressure, always the sign of a great player. He could hit this shot to break his opponents serve, to win sets at crucial moments and save his own service games. Sampras' great athleticism and strength also allowed him to reach and get to shots and hit outright winners when it looked like he had no business performing such magic.
Then there is the tactical scenario to look at. Pete often camped on the backhand side during rallying - it was by design and force of circumstances. Sampras really took this play from the Ivan Lendl book. Ivan also had a pretty devastating running forehand and often was prepared to exchange topspin backhands until he got a shorter ball to either hit inside out forehands to dictate the play or move to his right to hit a screaming running forehand winner. Sampras took that play from Ivan and elevated it to even higher levels. Sampras was also extremely skilled at the inside out forehand which he used to take the net or to stretch his opponent. Or Sampras moved out to his right to hit those incredible winners. The force of circumstances was that as time went on, the likes of Courier, Chang, Agassi, Muster and others would play to Sampras’ backhand as much as possible and only go to his forehand when they thought they were in control of the point – often to find they were sadly mistaken.
One thing I noticed was that in the last 12 months of his career, Sampras was more likely to go crosscourt with his running forehand as opposed to down the line when stretched - probably due to a slight decline in athleticism and increasing his margin for error over the lower part of the net. Down the line requires more topspin for higher net clearance, so precision is more vital.
I hope you enjoyed looking at one of the greatest Tennis shots of all time in some detail. I have a channel on Youtube so here are some great running forehands I've uploaded over the last 3 months for you to drool over!