When the ball comes to your left side, you have a choice of hitting your backhand with both hands on the grip, or with just one hand on the racquet.
Many adults choose a one-handed backhand because their right side is so strong that they prefer to do everything with that side. For children, the two-handed backhand is easier to learn. The two-handed support gives them more strength and it doesn’t require a grip change.
A two-handed backhand gives more power and also works out the left side of the body, making for a more balanced physical development overall. The only disadvantage is a slight reduction in reach compared with the one-handed backhand.
Most professional players have both backhands. They hit topspin two-handed, while they slice with a one-handed shot.
This chapter will teach you the two-handed backhand. The one- handed backhand is explained in the next chapter, and the backhand slice in Chapter Fifteen, “Special Shots.”
If you have already decided to hit your backhand one-handed you may skip this chapter and go directly to the next chapter.
The Two-Handed Backhand
Many professionals use this shot, which is really a two-handed forehand from the left side. The palm of the left hand does the driving, with the right hand just accompanying the process, without interfering with the left hand.
A few pros play a mixture of a two-handed and a one-handed backhand, in which the left hand lets go of the racquet at the impact time or right after.
This chapter will teach you the backhand in which you keep both hands on the racquet throughout. The backhand is easier to learn at this stage because by now you have plenty of experience as to how the ball bounces and behaves. You also know how to find the ball before swinging.
In the waiting position, a player with a two-handed backhand keeps his hands closer together than the player with a one-handed backhand. The contact will also be further back than the one-hander, and also closer to the body.
Keep both hands on the grip, near your bellybutton, while waiting in between shots. Get to the ball, find it well, and follow through over your right shoulder.
It is like a mirror copy of your forehand shot, except that you don’t release the other hand from the racquet. You can do a few two-handed backhands in front of a mirror. Let the right hand go sometimes. You’ll see how it resembles a forehand with the left hand. I would recommend to do this one-hander drill initially on court, so as to make the left hand more dominant in the two-hander shot. Below, on drill #2, switching between two hands on the racquet to just the left hand is some top players’ favorite backhand drill.
DRILL #1: Go on the court without a racquet and stand facing the net six to eight feet in front of the service line. Have your friend toss the ball toward your left side. Let the ball bounce, find it with the palm of your left hand, and push it over the net. Finish with the index finger of your left hand touching your right shoulder, or the back of your left hand touching your cheek. (If you have any difficulty finding the ball, do all the coordination drills of Chapter Five with your left hand.)
Do this drill until you are getting the ball over the net comfortably.
DRILL #2: Grab your racquet with both hands, as described earlier. Center your hands by your bellybutton, while standing in front of the service line facing the net. (You may “choke up” on the racquet as much as you like.) Have your friend toss the ball gently toward your left side. Wait until after the bounce, find the ball well with the center of your racquet strings, and push it up over the net, bringing both hands over your right shoulder, as shown in the pictures above.
Repeat this drill thirty or forty times, mixing sometimes with the one-hander om the backhand side. Get used to keeping your hands near your waist while waiting for the ball, then adjust to the ball as needed. Find the ball mostly with your left hand, and follow through over the right shoulder, leaving the racquet there for a split second, while looking where your shot has gone.
The following drills are similar to the ones you did while learning the forehand.
DRILL #3: Your friend tosses several short balls toward your backhand side. Get to the ball and hit it gently over the net.
DRILL #4: Hit backhands while walking backwards, from near the net to further than the service line.
DRILL #5: Hit backhands while walking forward, from near the service line towards the net. (You can mix Drill #4 and Drill #5, which make your stroke independent from the body’s moves.)
DRILL #6: Put the can of balls in the center of the court. Go around the can and to your left.
Your friend tosses the ball in front of you. Let the ball bounce, find it with the racquet, and lift it over the net, following through over your right shoulder. Turn right immediately and go back to the can, rounding it from the backcourt and turning to your left.
When you begin walking toward the left side of the court, your friend tosses another ball. Get there and hit another backhand, then return to the can of balls and so on.
Never turn your back to your opponent in your turns or after the hit. Turn to your right after your shot, to your left when you round the can.
Swing slowly at first, always in control. Leave the racquet at the finish position while you turn toward the center of the court, building up the relationship between the finish of your stroke and the placement of the ball in your opponent’s court.
The racquet face angle will determine the height and direction of your shot. After a while the stroke will become quite automatic, going from the ball to the shoulder, whether the ball is high or low, close to you or farther away.
It is important that you learn not to slap at the ball, suddenly changing the angle of your wrists. On the contrary, move your hands smoothly through the stroke, feeling the lift you are giving to the ball.
Preferably, the ball should have a forward roll after leaving your racquet.
When hitting comfortably from near the service line, move the can farther away from the net a few feet at a time. Have your friend toss the ball slightly farther each time.
Always step up the difficulty of the drill very slowly, so as not to lose the feel of the ball and the finish of the stroke.
DRILL #7: Same as Drill #6, except that your friend feeds the ball with a tennis racquet, but only if he can do it with control and without disrupting your own control.
DRILL #8: Get rid of the can. Now you can work out your shots to a medium pace and start brushing up on the ball, the same as you did with your forehand, to give the ball more of a forward roll (topspin).
Dropping the racquet head below the ball and lifting it up over your shoulder will increase your topspin. You’ll be able to clear the net at a good height and still get the ball in the court, even when you hit hard.
DRILL #9: When you are satisfied with your progress and are confidently hitting your backhand without a miss, you can start a one forehand, one backhand routine.
Walk naturally, first to your right. Your friend feeds a ball to your forehand side. Hit a forehand. Turn to your left. Walk. Your friend tosses a ball to your backhand side. Hit a backhand. Turn to your right, walk, hit a forehand, and so on.
Do this until you are completely comfortable on both sides.
Now your friend can mix up forehands and backhands as he likes, but always giving you enough time in between shots to turn and start to return toward the middle.
DRILL #10: You are ready to hit back and forth. You need to do this with someone who has good control of the ball.
Keep the ball in play at a medium or slow pace that allows you to find the ball easily and to get it back to the other player with a full and controlled stroke.
I say a controlled stroke because that is the emphasis when learning with this method. You’ll very quickly see the relationship between your swing and the ball’s velocity and placement.
You can experiment, but be careful not to stray very far from the essence of this technique. Should you make wild strokes, or the other player feed or return the ball wildly, it can severely damage both your swing and confidence.
Confidence is built by hitting the same shot over and over a few hundred times. You get to know that you caused it with a specific movement, a specific technique.
Trial and error as a learning method doesn’t work well in tennis. There are a million ways to strike the ball, but very, very few of them are really effective.
With the type of stroke I am teaching you, topspin is an easy thing to develop both for the forehand and the backhand. If you can hit topspin consistently from the backcourt, at a medium pace, three to six feet over the net, you are on the way to becoming a good player.
In following junior tennis at the world-ranking level for many years, I have seen that the great majority of top players in the last fifteen years are those who had plenty of topspin in at least one of their strokes in their developing years.
Although topspin has been widely accepted by the best players, most of the various teaching techniques seem to avoid it altogether.
On the contrary, I encourage you to use it right from the beginning. I like to provide students with the best equipment for their stroke, to teach them to play like a pro, to be as consistent as a pro.
You may be using topspin defensively to start with, but sooner or later you’ll learn powerful offensive shots that will need a lot of topspin to stay in the court.
I purposely took away the power in the early learning stages with my teaching methods. You focused on feel and control. Now the power will gradually come into your game.
As you gain confidence you’ll stroke harder. With a lot of topspin, you can hit as hard as you like. As long as the ball keeps clearing the net and going into the opposite court, this process shouldn’t be disturbed.