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Beginners / Juniors
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Synergistic Training

By Richard Wigley


Backhand Information

Forget everything you have heard about the backhand for a moment.
There is too much over teaching on this shot.

Now ask what are the fundamentals.

  • Get the ball over the net
  • Placement
  • Depth
  • Spin
  • Power

and with some self-confidence you are ready to begin to work on the backhands.


The backhand has many variations based upon footwork, grip and use of one or two hands. We can specify the following types of backhand strokes; Classic One Handed Backhand topspin, Open Stance Backhand topspin, Flat backhand drive, Side Spin Backhand, Low Slice Backhand, High Ball Slice Backhand, Closed stance Two Hander, Open Stance Two Hander, Two handed Lift, Two Handed Slice Backhand, One Handed Block, and Two Handed Block. We have identified 12 variations on the backhand and there are even further differences with respect to grips and point of contact. In the above each has an optimum range and acceptable range to hit the ball as well as correct footwork to establish balance. Backswings and Follow throughs can and also have variations which will be discussed.

Classic One Handed Backhand Topspin

The best way to understand the one handed backhand is to determine to minimize the action. With the forehand the arm is behind the body and comes past the torso helping the action of the swing. The backhand is taken with the arm in front of the torso and does not allow for the variation of movement in the shoulder. The shoulder must act as a pivot and the arm must swing from it without wrist action. The action is simple and direct.

Begin by standing on the center strip holding the racquet with both hands in front of your body as loose as possible. By letting the arms hang and the knees relax then let the torso bend forward the same degree as the upper legs to get balanced. When the body is balanced the arms can swing freely. The free flowing movement of the one handed backhand is a beautiful stroke.

When setting up for a one handed backhand with a closed stance the footwork must be more perfect than most other shots. The key to getting in the optimal position is the left foot. In side stepping to the ball the left foot will plant and the body needs to pivot off this position with the backswing beginning as the right foot moves to its placement. The best players have the right foot reaching its placement just as the backswing is completed and ready to move forward off of the right shoulder. The left arm is quiet and relaxed as possible 180 degrees from the right shoulder. The left shoulder and arm must remain quiet and hold the torso and hips from turning through this shot. The power is generated on the classic forehand from the right shoulder in its swinging action.

On the backswing its important to learn to turn the racquet face down on an angle that allows it to be perpendicular or flat when striking the ball. The topspin will be gen4erated by the upwards swinging motion of the racquet to the ball. The ange will look like 1:00 to 2:00PM position pointing away from your shoulder and and the bottom of the racquet pointing at your left foot. In moving towards an on coming ball the topspin backhand move very naturally into it with proper timing and rhythmn to accomplish a clean hit. The foot speed required to get set up and move into the ball to hit it correctly is an absolute requirement. This shot is over used by medium level players.

Getting in the right position requires the ability to judge the balls speed and direction and balance your movements accordingly. The first movement entails setting the back foot and taking the racquet back by turning your shoulder into the on coming ball. This will naturally produce the desired balance with all the weight transferring to the left foot. Now the reaction to this is to move your right foot forward to the correct hitting position so that it becomes the balance point. When the front foot is set the motion is complete and the arm motion is a natural low to high flow.

Errors will come most notably when the player is not ready. If the player is ready he must be able to keep his head from turning too soon and hold the knees in a bent position through the shots. A jerky pattern shows typical bio-mechanical errors of allowing distal points to move in advance of promixmal points in the chain. Such as allowing the wrist to move ahead of the elbow, shoulder or elbow to move ahead of the shoulder. These types of errors will cause injury.

Open Stance Backhand Topspin
is a shot that is not taught much by pros but can be very effective for a player who just does not get the classic one handed form. The classic form is quite difficult to hit with consistency and power in today's game. This is because there is a necessity to make numerous aggressive movements forward while keeping the balance through the shot. There is just not enough time for most players to hit the Classic Backhand, recover and repeat the shot. Considering this lack of physical time the Open Stance Backhand topspin is a better solution to a block or slice especially when the opponent is attacking the net and forces a low percentage hard return.
The grip is the same as the classic, the eastern backhand grip but the difference is that you must lift the racquet from low to high extremely aggressively upward with your weight on your backhand side, for the right hander it would be the left side. The advantage to this shot is that you can look at the ball throughout the shot, you can impart heavy topspin making it difficult for a volleyer and you can also get a great deal of angle if necessary. The problems are that you may have trouble with timing and hit some frame shots until you gain confidence with the pattern.

Flat backhand Drive
This shot is pure enjoyment when hit with accurate timing and weight transfer. The power generated by the hip turn and racquet head speed can be devastating. What it requires is good focus, a ball in the strike zone and excellent timing. The Flat Backhand Drive is hit with a closed stance on the backhand side. The preferred grips are eastern forehand for the left or backhand the continental on the right or dominant hand. Many players use a semi-western or even western on the left of backhand which imparts more spin and less drive. The most powerful backhand is produced by the former methodology. One note about drives is the player must move through the ball with purpose and swing freely with the body turning in a fluid release through each successive link until the shot is delivered.

Side Spin Backhand
This is a backhand that is a bit of a block and bit of a slice. It is good to use to attack with as it will spin away or into the player depending upon which side you are attacking on. The side spin will keep the ball very low and very difficult to hit on the strings making it a good first approach shot. The grip is the continental but the player must be willing to pull the racquet accross the body rather than extending through the shot like a regular slice. It is not a shot that can be used a lot as it is easy to produce errors as the margin is very small. The reason for this is that the angle of attack is very short as the shotmaker is developing spin that is not natural to the ball trajectory.

Low Slice Backhand
This used to be the professional's favorite backhand when wood racquets were used. It is still a very widely used shot and extremely effective and consistent when used correctly. What the Slice proveds is a safe and accurate shot where the player can keep the ball from getting in the hitting zone of the opponent. What it does not provide is power. This is because the spin of the ball is underspin and if hit too hard will carry beyond the lines. Whereas topspin naturally will bring the ball down into the court the tendency of underspin is float or carry long. Players who have learned to throw a frisbee can take this experience to the low backhand slice and learn how to swing with consistency and extended followthrough. There is a natural grace to this shot as it requires that the player extend and lift the arms along a perpendicular axis so they are pointing in opposite directions. Once the swing pattern is perfected the ability to place a slice becomes easier than hitting a forehand. It is a very good shot to attack a top spin forehand with by keeping it low and forcing the opponent to hit over the net and into the court.

High Ball Slice Backhand
The High Slice is a bit different as it requires a shorter swing and a downward angle hit on a high ball. Whereas the low slice requires knee bend and extension the High Slice requires focus, quickness and a sharp chopping action to attack the ball before it bounces out of range. Once mastered it can be directed almost as well as the low slice. It resembles in some ways a one handed backhand volley yet depending upon where the ball is being hit from the angle of attack can be much different. When the ball is out of reach of a two handed backhand or a one handed top spin this is the only and best alternative. The high slice backhand can be a good place to hit a drop shot, or drive it down low to the feet of an attacking player. The High Slice cannot be hit very hard because it is out of muscle range or rather it can only work through the upper linkages and therefore it does not contain any legs or hip rotation in the shot production. This is a limitation. It is a defensive shot which can become offensive only upon accuracy and placement.

Closed Stance Two Hander
As stated earlier there are many different variations on grips which will change some of the elements of the two hander. It still comes down to a few very important points on proper technique. Central is the ability to go from low to high. It doesn't matter if the swing starts above the torso, even with the waist or below the waist what is required is that when the hips turn into the ball the racket is positioned to hit up and through the ball to impart some topsin and is relaxed and balanced enough to complete a full turn into the shot with the racquet and arms extending outward and over the other shoulder. Three Keypoint for this shot are first, letting the racquet head drop before beginning the swing, relaxation of the hands on the racquet and a loose follow through over the opposite shoulder. With the proper grip and correct closed stance footwork this shot can become extremely powerful and consistent.

Open Stance Two Hander
Two handed Lift or Lob
Two Handed Slice Backhand
One Handed Block

Two Handed Block


More to come = 5-01-2004

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