Along with being one of the most elegantly graceful shots that denotes tennis, the one-handed backhand can also be a troublesome task to execute effectively.
If you watch some of the top pros, especially Federer, Wawrinka, and Gasquet, hitting their one-handed backhand, they always seem to be in position to hit the ball in their strike zone, at a perfect contact point, and completely follow through.
Their footwork, balance, and transfer of body weight into the ball seems effortless.
The trouble most of us mere mortals have with this is threefold:
- Position. Moving your feet in time to get sideways to the ball, dominant shoulder pointing across the net, dominant side foot at a 45-degree angle to the net, getting your body out of the way, while staying balanced, and ultimately moving your body weight from back to front as you strike the ball. (Whew! No wonder tennis can be tough to learn … there are so many moving parts just to make this one segment happen.)
- Contact point. Extending your dominant arm to make a “fist” at the ball allowing you to contact it at racquet and arm’s length out in front of your body.
- Follow through. Many recreational, club and league players use a short, or choppy type of follow through, trying to direct the ball and-or thinking they’ll avoid hitting it out.
Starting with position, as always, it’s about the “be prepared” factor (reference to many of my previous articles), seeing the ball, getting your racquet back as soon as it leaves your opponent’s strings, and moving to hit it comfortably in your strike zone (about waist high including a good knee bend).
There are two ways to avoid fielding a high backhand: either meet the ball early, on the rise into your “zone,” or move back to let it come down from the bounce into your “zone.”
Contact point is crucial to having success with this shot. Most players hit the ball too close to their body, almost like they’re fighting it off, usually resulting in hitting late.
Thankfully, there’s only one, one-handed backhand grip (another previous article) and it perpetuates you to emulate making a “fist,” punching toward the ball, meeting it by extending racquet and arm’s length out in front of your body.
Finally, following through fully completes the shot. After contact, your racquet should extend fluidly through the ball and end in one of two positions: The first, over your dominant shoulder, butt cap pointing straight down at the court. The second, fully over the dominant shoulder, butt cap facing your target across the net.
I highly recommend working and practicing to improve this shot in your game. When consistently well hit, it’s one of the most satisfying shots to make and definitely worth the “trouble” it took to fix it.
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides custom-hybrid racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area. firstname.lastname@example.org