One handed backhand is one of the most gracious shots in tennis, beautifully kept alive by Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov on the tour. This shot is considered classy, old-school and by some even outdated. Lots of controversy over a single shot? There is a strong current in the world of tennis suggesting this shot is no longer viable and doesn’t stand a chance in the modern game. Replaced by two hander, which feels more secure, faster and sporty. Yet, one handed backhand is still a weapon for some of the top players on the tour.
Maybe because of all the shot beauty, one handed backhand is still one of the most respected shots. Recreational players learning how to play tennis often have a strong desire to learn it, even though it can get very technical.
Here are some of the most common mistakes recreational players are making when learning and practicing a one hander, and tips for overcoming them:
This is probably the most common mistake when hitting a one handed backhand. The weight of the player goes towards the back leg and the shot itself results in player falling few steps behind upon making the shot. Players feel this when hitting and usually define it as “the ball is pushing me” sensation.
There are a few elements which cause this issue, let’s address some of them. First of all, the player needs to be balanced. This means that the player needs to have both of his feet firmly on the ground before the contact with the ball is made. Load should move in such a way that weight is first on the back foot while setting up and then when preparing to go for the shot - transferring the weight to the front foot and leaning slightly forward. You can think of it like this: lean your right shoulder (if your are playing right handed) towards the ball. The goal is to “fall” forward, into the court, upon making the contact with the ball.
Players that are not confident with their one handed backhand shot usually have a tendency to position and wait for the ball passively. This gives a false sense of security thinking there will be more time to make a swing and hit the ball just right. Truth is, when we plant our feet and stop moving - we are actively assuming that the ball will fly through the air in a specific trajectory and that it will pass through our swing path just at the right height, speed and angle. This is a lot of guesswork and often doesn’t go as planned. No worries though, there is an easy fix: keep moving and try stepping into the shot. Make a step inside the court towards the ball to intercept it rather than wait for it to come to you. This active movement will result in player being in a much more favorable position and therefor hitting a better and more confident shot. Of course, player does need to stop moving and get balanced moments before making the shot in order to avoid running through the ball and having a late contact point.
This is one of technique related tricks that can have a tremendous consequence on the quality of the shot. It mostly involves the swing path and how we follow through. First of all, the backswing needs to be nice and big. There is a tendency by all players to make a really shallow swing on the backhand side, and it results in a weak shot where we just push the ball. Swing needs to take the racquet and hitting hand way back, this will also naturally rotate the body. Now, when hitting the ball the trick is to think about hitting forward and through the ball. On TV it looks like the player just swings from left to right across his body, sort of like he is spreading his hands apart. This is not what happens exactly though. Backhand (and forehand for that matter) swing path is three-dimensional. The most important part of it is the forward momentum and going through the ball with the racquet pushing forward, towards the other end of the court (and hopefully away from the opponent). The easiest way to try this out and correct yourself is to think of the follow through. Think of finishing the backhand shot with the hand raised over your head in a natural follow through. When practicing this on the court think of hitting through the ball forward, and finishing the shot with your hand and racquet over your head and not way across the body to the right (in case of a right hand player). Try this out and hopefully you’ll feel more power and control over your one handed backhand.
One handed backhand is here to stay hopefully for decades to come. The most beautiful shot in tennis must prevail. It’s great to see young players on the court practicing it. Yes, it is hard to learn, and yes it can get frustrating. Once all the pieces come into place though, it just feels so good hitting one of the most rewarding shots in the game of tennis and this is what makes all the practice so worth it.