Saturday, March 19, 2011

By []Brandon Gabel

 What is a backhand? It is any shot hit from your non-dominant side. There are two main ways to hit a backhand: one-handed or two-handed. Most players decide which way they are going to hit their backhand early in their training. Both ways have various strengths and weaknesses. In general, people are "naturally" either one-handed or two-handed players, and I'll discuss why this is the case below...

 People are either "naturally" one or two-handed players. When I watch a student hit a backhand for the first time I start them with a two-hander and see how they react to it. If it is comfortable for them I keep them with it, but if they have difficulty a switch to the one-hander is in order. How do I know when to make the switch? The single thing I'm looking for is how much they extend their follow through. If they like to push their dominant hand through the court more they are almost always a "natural" one-hander. On the other hand, two-handers tend to have a more compact follow through that wraps around the body. It is important to pick the style that best compliments your natural hitting tendencies; hitting the wrong type of backhand can cause years of pain and frustration. Trust me, I know! Let's now discuss each type...

The One-Hander...

 The one-hander was the "traditional" way of hitting a backhand. Watch footage of most professional players from the middle of the 20th century, and you'll notice that most of them are hitting a one-hander. The one-hander is a beautiful stroke when done correctly; simply watch the fluidity of Roger Federer... And Federer is not the only example! Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Tim Henman, Justine Henin, James Blake, Martina Navratilova are only a few world class players that endorse the one-hander. One-handed players tend to enjoy attacking the net and moving forward into the court.

The importance of the one-hander is that it affords several advantages that the two-hander doesn't. It is much easier to learn how to hit an effective slice backhand. It is generally easier to hit balls below your knees, and balls that stretch you wide since your effective reach is greater. It is also often times easier to learn the backhand volley as well, since this stroke is also one-handed. Interestingly, many of the best volleyers in the history of the game (Stefan Edberg, Patrick Rafter, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova) all had one-handed backhands. However, on the other hand, it can be difficult to hit heavy topspin with a one-hander, especially when the ball gets high above your shoulders. For young junior players it can be frustrating to learn the one-hander because early on it puts you at a distinct strength disadvantage (this is part of the reason why many juniors nowadays learn two-handers).

If you've decided that a one-hander feels like the way to go the next question is how do you hit it? Let's start by discussing the appropriate grip. A continental grip is the way to go. The continental allows you to hit both topspin and slice without having to change the position of your hand on the grip. A more extreme continental will allow you to "brush" up the back of the ball to hit more topspin; a less extreme continental will help you flatten the ball out. You can also hit very effective slice using a continental. In essence, the continental grip is one-stop shopping for the one-handed backhand.

Once you've gotten the feel for the continental, there are a few key steps to hitting a great one-hander. The first is footwork. Like all great strokes in tennis, if the footwork isn't there then the stroke will suffer. The one-hander is no exception. Footwork on the one-hander is a little hard to get at first because it requires superb timing. The goal is to step into the ball with your front, or dominant, foot (right foot if right handed, and left foot if left handed). In other words, as the ball comes you are going to time your step with the ball strike so that they occur nearly simultaneously.

Once you feel comfortable stepping into the ball with your leading foot it is important to figure out where in relationship to your body you should strike the ball. Unlike the two-hander, which we'll talk about in a moment, the contact of a one-hander is well out in front of your leading foot. To hit an effective one-hander you need lots of room; if you catch the ball late it will cause you to tighten your shoulders and hit the ball wide.

With the superb footwork, step, and contact point out in front the final element to hitting a successful one handed backhand is the follow through. One-handed follow throughs should be long and directed towards where you are aiming. One of the biggest problems beginning one-handers face is they over rotate the dominant shoulder causing them to "whip" the follow through. An ideal one-hander finishes with the shoulder low and the follow through on a single linear path towards your target. If someone were taking a picture of you from the front immediately at the end of the stroke they should not be able to see your chest; your body should be facing the sideline. Watch Federer or old footage of Sampras and notice how they lengthen their follow throughs; very rarely do they over rotate or pull the shoulder away.

The Two-Hander...

If you're not convinced that the one-hander is the way to go then you may be a natural two-hander. The two-handed backhand has exploded in popularity in recent decades. Look at many of the top players in the world and you'll see that they are hitting two-handers. Rafael Nadal, Andre Agassi, Andy Murray, Jimmy Connors, Serena and Venus Williams, as well as Andy Roddick are only a few world class tennis players that hit the two-hander. Two-handed backhands tend to compliment players who prefer to play most of their points from the baseline.

Why the recent explosion in popularity? For starters the two-hander is a relatively easier stroke to use compared to the one-hander. It is also highly popular with junior players because they can develop significant amounts of power; and for many people, having the second hand on the grip gives them a greater sense of stability that the one-hander doesn't. Unlike the one-hander, you don't need as much room/space to hit it effectively. However, the two-hander also has a few draw backs. First, it can be much more difficult (although not impossible) to learn how to hit an effective slice backhand since the follow throughs are much different. Likewise, it can be harder to learn backhand volleys and it can be hard to hit effectively if you are stretched out wide.

Despite the disadvantages the advantages clearly trump in many circumstances which is why the two-hander is immensely popular in today's game. So how the heck do you hit the two-hander? Like the one-hander we'll start by discussing the appropriate grip. The dominant hand should be in the continental orientation. The non-dominant hand's palm should be pressed directly against the back panel of the grip during the swing (ie: the panel of the grip that is flush with the net). Having the non-dominant hand in this orientation will help you guide the follow through towards your target.

 The footwork of the two-hander is similar to that of the one-hander. In essence, the player should step forward into the court with their dominant foot. The differences with the one-hander now become more apparent. Rather than timing the step of the foot with the ball strike, instead you want to bend the knees and rotate the back hip through the ball (see image to the right). This is much more similar to hitting an effective forehand. In addition, you want to allow the follow through to rotate around the body rather than staying on a long linear path. You still want to push the palms of your hands towards your target, but you do so in a less exaggerated way compared to the one-handed stroke.

 Brandon Gabel is a former sectionally and nationally ranked tennis player with over 10 years of coaching and teaching experience. He has coached everyone from beginning "pee-wees" to collegiate level players. He has also given seminars on mental toughness and goal setting techniques. Brandon is available for private consultation by contacting the email at his website below...

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Article Source: [] The Backhand - One Handed Vs Two Handed - What's the Big Deal?


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