Improve Your Backhand – Book Excerpt From “Tennis Made Easy”
Having trouble with your backhand? The following chapter from Kelly Gunterman’s book “Tennis Made Easy” may help you execute the shot better the next time you play. To improve your game, buy or download his book here https://www.amazon.com/dp/0942257715/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_x_BsAYybKY4RG27 via @amazon
The backhand has remained a bit more traditional than the new more open stance forehand. That being said let’s try to make some adjustments in the backhand to make it more of a strength on the court. No longer will our opponents say “just hit to his/her backhand and you’ll win the point”. Our goal is to be equally strong off both sides.
The forehand and two handed backhand are based on rotational swings with the dominate arm swinging across our body. We need the rotation of our hips and shoulders to clear our body from the path of the swing and allow the racquet to accelerate through the ball. The one-handed backhand is much more of a linear swing, with your arm swinging away from your body. Here, keep our body much more sideways and balanced to accelerate the racquet through the contact point of the swing.
One handed backhand;
Hitting the backhand with one hand is a little less stable than the two-handed backhand but with the proper footwork, grip and timing this can be a very graceful and effective shot with a lot of variety. We can drop the racquet head [photo] and close the face to hit with a great deal of topspin or we can start the racquet head higher [photo] and more open to hit through the ball with underspin or slice. Slice, topspin or flat backhands are similar in body movement. The difference is the starting position of the racquet, the plane of the swing through the ball and the follow through
[Sequential photos of one handed slice and topspin backhands]
Back to basics:
• Step first with the foot on the same side as the ball. ( the left foot for right handed players) This turns your hips and shoulders while preparing you to move to the ball. At this point the racquet should be prepared (take the racquet back) for the shot.
• Weight is back when the racquet is back. Try to hold your weight on the back foot until the swing starts forward, transferring the weight as the racquet moves through the contact point of the stroke.
• In the backswing close the racquet face to hit with topspin, [photo] or open it to hit with underspin. [photo] This can be done by rolling the knuckles toward the court for topspin and to the sky for slice. Dropping the racquet head much lower, below the contact point of the swing, allows you to generate a great deal of top spin. Use your free hand to pull the racquet back, this helps you control the angle of the backswing and generate the desired spin on the shot.
• Step into the court with the right foot (right handed players), not across your body. [photo] By having the weight transferring in the direction of the shot it allows you to swing faster through the ball, which generates a much stronger shot.
• Contact with the ball is slightly in front of the right foot. The more closed and down the racquet head is in the backswing, the more the contact point has to be front of the body. If the racquet face is slightly open and underspin is the goal the contact point is much closer to the body.
• As you start the racquet forward pull your free hand back (much like an umpire making a safe sign) to keep your shoulders sideways to the net. This simple move helps keep the racquet head moving through the contact point and allows you to follow through the plane of the ball to get the desired depth and spin.
• For topspin finish high and in front. Release the wrist on the follow through like throwing a Frisbee. The release of the wrist adds racquet head speed, which increases power through the full swing.
• When hitting the ball with underspin or slice avoid chopping at the ball. This swing feels as if you are sliding the ball off a table top with a very smooth motion through the ball. The wrist rolls under the contact point allowing the racquet to impart underspin. The racquet finishes up and slightly open on the follow through. [photo of finish]
• Recover back to the athletic ready position anticipating the move to the next shot.
If you are trying to develop topspin or slice backhand it is very important that you keep your body sideways through the swing. If your shoulders open on the swing, the racquet face will also open at contact and the ball tends to go high and long. Staying sideways through the shot helps keep the racquet head moving through the plane of the ball.
Practice drill; Standing sideways with a ball in your racquet hand, hold ball next to your left hip, for right handed players, now simply throw the ball across the net to the back fence with a backhand motion. Keeping your shoulders sideways and releasing the wrist on the throw will give you a great feel for the one handed backhand. [photo] This will give you the feel of a full follow through on the one handed backhand. This drill can also give you a feel of how to direct the ball from one side of the court to the other. With the same motion throw a few balls cross court and then down the line. This is exactly the feel you will need to direct the ball on your backhand.
Two handed backhand;
The biggest difference between the one handed and two handed backhand, besides the obvious second hand on the racquet is how much your body moves through the swing. As we discussed earlier, the one handed backhand is a linear swing with the hips and shoulders remaining somewhat sideways through the entire swing. The two handed backhand requires the body to rotate through the swing as if you are hitting a left handed forehand for right handed players.
As with the one handed backhand, we initiate the swing by turning the left foot parallel to the base line and placing it slightly behind the right foot. [photo] This move rotates the hips and shoulders preparing the racquet for the stroke. Keeping your hands for right handed players close to your left hip sets you up to take a rip at the backhand. Remember, this is a left hand dominate swing that feels as if you are driving the racquet through the ball. The weight transfers from your left foot to your right by pushing off from the left foot, rotating your hips and shoulders as you accelerate the racquet through the contact point of the swing. Finish over your right shoulder with the elbows high. Imagine you are wearing a watch on your left arm; now finish with your watch next to your right ear.
[Sequential photo of the two handed backhand]
Since this shot is very similar in structure to a forehand, work the rotation of the hips, direction can be gained by pointing the left elbow to the desired target (right handed players). By the time you point your elbow to the target the ball is long off your strings but this thinking does help with developing the proper rotation on the swing. Stay relaxed and allow the body to flow with the swing.
Back to basics:
• Preparation is similar to that of the one handed backhand. Always step first with the foot on the side that the ball is coming from. Turn your left foot and step to the side to prepare for the two handed backhand for right handed players.
• Keep the weight back when the racquet is back. Holding your weight on the back foot longer allows the transfer of weight as the racquet is moving through the contact point of the swing. This helps keep everything in balance as you swing. The “old school” thinking of step in and get your racquet back just doesn’t work.
• In the backswing start with your hands close to your left pocket for right handed players. This gives you a solid reference point to start the swing. For high or very low balls there will be some adjusting to this starting point but it is a great place to start when developing a new two handed backhand.
• Use your left hand!!! For right handed players. This shot is very similar to hitting a left handed forehand. If the right hand becomes dominate the swing will be a pull rather than a drive resulting in a weaker grip and consequently a much weaker shot.
• Avoid a big cross over step as it locks your hips and limits the swing. Rotate your hips and shoulders eliminating a lot of the pressure off on your lower back. The rotation makes the swing to longer, resulting in a faster more powerful stroke.
• Follow through over your right shoulder for right handed players, as if you were listening to your watch on your left wrist with your right ear. This little trick will guarantee a solid follow through and helps keep the racquet on a low to high path resulting in more topspin.
• Finish with the back foot on the toe, which assures you have rotated your hips and works as a balance point. This looks a little like the finish of a golf swing but don’t hold the position very long; just long enough to finish the shot and maintain your balance.
• Recover back to your athletic ready position.
If you hit a two handed backhand, topspin is your shot of choice. But to hit with slice use one hand or at least release the left hand as you swing forward. It is important to keep the shoulders sideways to the net to avoid the racquet face opening on contact.