Which Is Better: One-Handed Or Two-Handed Backhand?
Thanks to Damir Popadic for this guest post. Damir is a tennis coach from Croatia who brought his daughter to #182 on WTA rankings and openly shares his ideas about tennis. You can contact Damir at damir.popadic (at) zg.t-com.hr (replace (at) with @))
Pros And Cons Of Both Tennis Backhand Techniques
A lot of discussion is going on about which backhand is better: the one-handed or the two-handed. So far I have never read of someone stating that one or the other one is better; they always state disadvantages and advantages of one and then the other, or their subjective feeling towards a particular backhand style.
Why? I really do not see any valid reason for it. If we agree on a definition of better (i.e., more efficient for tennis competition), than it is not hard to see which one is better by comparing both of their advantages and disadvantages.
One more thing: one-handed backhand means one-handed drive, topspin backhand. Do not confuse it with the one-handed slice backhand, because they are completely different in terms of muscle memory.
INTRODUCTIONThere were times when the two-handed backhand was an exception.
Before the 1970s, it would have been completely inappropriate to be having such a discussion. Nobody even spoke about the two-handed backhand. It did not appear even in the tennis handbooks.
In today's professional tennis, it is prevailing—especially in women's tennis. I think that this is a valid enough reason to find out which one of the two is better, and why.
Furthermore, this is very important to the up-and-coming future stars streaming in to make marks on professional tennis, because it can save them time by not having to figure it out for themselves, and it will put them on the right track right away.
A COMPARISON OF BOTH BACKHAND STROKESAt first I am going to explain a few well-known myths about the two backhand style.
1. Easier to learn – the two-handed backhand is easier to learn (e.g., children have no such strength of wrist, arm, and shoulder, so it is difficult for them to execute a one-handed backhand), and coordination of the one-handed backhand is more complicated.
These characteristics by themselves would not mean much, because the point I am trying to prove here is which backhand is better for professional play. If all other characteristics were in favor of the one-handed backhand, than this one would not count much.
2. More reliable – means which one will perform better in crunch situations. By common sense, it is known that in tight situations players have to use larger body parts to lessen the impact of their muscles tightening. Again, this is in favor of the two-handed backhand.
3. More consistent – means with which one you can hit more or less the same shot over and over again. The answer is obvious: two-handed backhand because two hands on the handle enable a more controlled backswing and more stable positioning of the racket at impact.
4. More precise – again, the two-handed backhand because of the things just mentioned, and also because the margin for error for the one-handed backhand is higher due to its requiring more precise positioning in relation to the ball (i.e., the ball has to be hit ahead of, and a bit to the left of, the front foot. Even a small deviation will cause big repercussions).
5. More versatile – the two-hander is much more versatile than the one-hander. With the two-hander, you can hit drive, different topspins, topspin lobs, short topspin crosses, half-volleys, balls on the rise, high balls with topspin or on the rise.
On the one hand, and all of these different shots are much easier to execute (and with a much higher percentage of success), and on the other hand, they can be executed with more variation than using the one-handed backhand. Furthermore, players who use the two-handed backhand easily transfer this technique to hit drive and topspin volleys (very difficult shots hit with one hand). The one-handed backhand is better suited to hit half-volleys close to the net.
6. Better disguise – again, there is no comparison between the two styles. The two-hander is far out because of the other hand, which will help to overcome different points of contact—and this is not case with the one-handed backhand. This luxury to commit a bit later is the main point in disguising a shot (keeping your intentions to yourself until it is too late for your opponent to react).
7. More power – the power of the one-handed backhand comes mostly by stepping into the ball. Rotation of the body and backswing are second in line. When hitting a two-handed backhand, power can also come from stepping into the ball (lateral force), but also from rotating the upper body around the head (angular force) to lessen the degree from the backswing. So, it is obvious that the two-hander has an edge over the one-hander.
8. Return of serve – it is almost impossible to return fast, flat serves on a fast surface using a one-handed backhand drive topspin, because while using the one-hander you cannot adjust your backswing length. By not adjusting it, you are late, and when you are late there is no way to hit a one-handed backhand (i.e., there is not a second hand to come around on the ball).
Also, because of the less difficult stroke mechanics, a player who uses the two-hander can prepare more quickly, which is of paramount importance for return of serve.
9. Running backhand – here again, the two-hander is superior to the one-hander because it gives the player a bigger margin of error. To hit a one-handed running backhand, you have to position yourself more precisely because you have a very narrow effective striking area (ahead of, and to the left of, the front foot).
It is true that you have greater reach with one hand as compared to two hands, but to no avail because if your hitting arm is too far away from the body, it produces an ineffective shot. On the other hand, when executing a two-handed backhand, the striking zone is larger because of the help of the second hand, and arms to body position are more tolerable. Here again, if the timing is not perfect, there is no comparison between the two.
10. Transition to the net – the two-hander is again better than the one-hander as an approach shot, because you can hit it from an open stance (the same as forehand), which enables you to move through the shot and gets the attacker closer to the net for better positioning.
11. Low balls – to hit topspin on low (slice) balls is difficult by itself, because you need to turn backwards to create forward rotation of the ball, and if the knee bend is not deep enough, the ball will finish in the net. Here again, the two-hander has edge because by executing a two-hander, the base of support is wider so the shot itself is more stable.
12. Short, low balls – for this kind of ball, neither of the two backhand styles is well suited. The one-handed backhand has further reach, but lacks body leverage (only wrist and arm), and because of this it is impossible to produce a satisfactory shot.
For the two-handed backhand, this kind of shot is beyond reach because of two-handed backhand mechanics, which determine the point of contact (point of contact has to be in the line with the body).
13. Really wide balls – neither type of backhand is well suited for these, for the same reasons as in the previous case. The only difference is that all of what has been said for balls ahead of the body now applies to balls to the side of the body.
14. Balls hit directly at the body – here, the one-hander has an advantage because, by using the two-hander, the second hand stops the upper body from moving away from the incoming ball.
THE TRENDS IN MODERN TENNISTo further value one backhand style or the other, it is very important to give a few hints as to where the game of tennis is heading in the future:
- newcomers will be physically stronger compared to today's players (faster, more powerful, and more agile), which translates into faster ball exchanges overall;
- based on this trend, more and more balls will be hit from dynamic balance (from movement);
- more and more balls will be hit from the air and on the rise;
- more and more balls will be hit (on both wings) from an open stance in order to recover as soon as possible for the next ball;
opening of the point will play an even greater role (solid return will be a must); and
- the trend of slower playing surfaces will cause the balls to bounce higher.
A DESCRIPTION OF BOTH BACKHANDS IN TENNISOne-handed backhand:
1. less stable racket at the moment of impact;
2. requires more time to prepare;
3. less controlled backswing;
4. full backswing is almost a necessity;
5. the point of contact has to be ahead and to the left of the front foot (otherwise, you are in trouble);
6. the upper body must be more than perpendicular to the incoming ball;
7. it is necessary to have very strong shoulder, arm, and wrist (more injuries);
8. after finishing, your body is still mostly sideways;
9. the most power is generated by stepping into the ball;
10. a lineal (close) stance is almost a must (less balanced); (all the others reflect seriously on the efficiency of shot); and
11. the elbow must be close to the body, otherwise the shot will be ineffective (narrow striking zone).
1. a more stable racket at the moment of impact;
2. quicker preparation;
3. controlled backswing;
4. with variety of backswings, it is possible to produce a quality shot;
5. the point of contact is in line with the body and bit to the left (if you are late, the other hand can help you);
6. the upper body must coil, but not as much as with the one-handed backhand;
7. because of the two hands, impact is more evenly distributed so it is not necessary to have such strong shoulders, arms, and wrists (less injuries);
8. after finishing, your body faces the net and you can easily move sideways;
9. power is generated by rotating your shoulders around your head and stepping into the ball;
10. all stances are possible (more balanced); and
11. because of the help of the other hand, the elbow can be in various positions in relationship to the body for the shot and still be effective (larger striking zone).
ONE-HANDED BACKHAND SLICE AS MANDATORYIt is clear that the two-hander is the stroke of modern tennis. As obvious as that is, however, the one-handed backhand slice is a must (in spite of the fact that topspin rotation dominates slice rotation).
The game of tennis is more and more attack and counterattack, but the one-handed backhand slice is needed for defense (for really wide balls and for blocking returns), for specialty shots (reaching drop shots and transition to the net on low, short balls), and as a surprise weapon by changing the rally's pace and spin. So, every aspiring player has to have one.
CONCLUSIONThe one-handed backhand can be a very effective stroke, but requires that all ideal conditions be met to their fullest (strong wrist, arm, and shoulder, complete shoulder turn, full circular backswing, very precise positioning, stepping into the ball, and optimal impact point).
If any of the conditions are not fulfilled, the stroke loses its effectiveness substantially. And often, it is impossible to meet these conditions (it is very difficult now, and will become even more difficult in the future) because of the trends in modern tennis (faster rallies, more balls hit from the air and on the rise, extreme importance of hitting from dynamic balance, need for fast lateral recovery, and high bouncing balls).
So, in spite of one-handed backhand evolution (it used to be that it finished with shoulders sideways to the net, and today it finishes with shoulders being able to turn quite a bit), this is not enough to stop the one-handed topspin drive backhand from becoming obsolete.
So, what is the answer? At first sight it seems difficult to find the best approach, but actually it is very easy.
One just has to look at the forehand and its evolution (different stances, different impact points, and hitting from dynamic balance) and then translate it to the backhand (and in many tennis handbooks, I read that these two strokes are mirror images of each other). Thus, all things combined point to the two-handed backhand.