Making The Best Of Your Weaker Groundstroke (Is it The Backhand?)
|Andy Roddick's backhand is his weaker shot, but definitely not a weak shot!|
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
There are various ways to make the best of your weaker shot. Almost every top tennis player has, or has had, a weaker shot.
For Federer, Nadal and Roddick this would be the backhand, and for Murray, Djokovic and Gasquet, the forehand.
Note that for these players, their weaker shot is not weak! It's just slightly weaker than their other groundstroke, and is, of course, still an excellent shot.
As you can imagine, players with a weak groundstroke find that opponents know exactly where to play and how to make the best of their weaker side. However, most have found a way to win despite their weakness.
|Some players are equally good on both sides. Nalbandian, Davydenko and Agassi come to mind.|
Here's how they do it, and what you need to do to start winning more matches if you have a weaker stroke. For the purposes of this article, I will use the backhand as an example.
Accept your weakness and play more conservativelyThe #1 reason for missing with your backhand is because you ask too much from it, and don't want to accept that it's really a weaker shot.
You may be afraid that if you start playing more conservatively, your opponent will realize that your backhand is weaker and your secret will be revealed. The truth is, 99% of your opponents already know this. They play to your backhand anyway and you present them with free gifts too often, by making unforced errors.
Your first step towards making more of your weaker shot is to use your weaker shot to stay in the rally. Your main goal at this stage is not to win more points, but to LOSE FEWER points!
Use smart offensive tactics, within your capabilitiesOnce you decrease the number of unforced errors and lose less points, you can start looking to win more points with your backhand. You can do that by using smart tactics.
Use your weaker shot mostly to put your opponent into uncomfortable situations, and then look to finish the point with your forehand or volley.
Use your backhand to;
- Move your opponent left-right (within your limits, of course), playing well away from the sidelines and baseline
- Move your opponent to the net and either lob (moving him forward-backward), pass him, or make him play a weak volley
- Change your rhythm by making top spin & slice, high & low, and fast & slow shots
- Surprise your opponent with an occasional drop shot or moon ball
All of these tactics can be used quite consistently, without many unforced errors, and can be used to set up a short and weak ball, which can then be attacked with your forehand, approach shot or volley.
Defend your weaker shot by neutralizing opponents strengths (and attacking their weaknesses first)Sometimes the above tactics will work to help you win more points, but your opponent will still have a secret weapon that allows him to continuously take advantage of your weaker shot. He could serve to your backhand and force a mistake or a short return, attack with a big forehand or use other tactics to force you to take weak shots on your backhand.
Here's what you can do:
a) If your opponent serves to your backhand and keeps forcing mistakes or weak returns, try;
- Moving back much more when waiting for a return, to give yourself enough time to judge your opponent's shot and make good contact. Possibly return with a high top spin shot or even a moonball, to see if that will neutralize your opponent's next shot.
- Moving in, shortening your backswing and just blocking the ball back. A simplified stroke can often improve your consistency.
- "Cheating" through your position. Move much more to your backhand side so that you can hit more returns with your forehand. You will expose your forehand side more but your opponent must also prove to you that he can punish you for that. If he is unable to serve accurately to your forehand, keep doing what works!
b) If your opponent has a big forehand and attacks your backhand, try;
- Defending with various shots to see what neutralizes your opponent's forehand. This could be low slices, high moon balls or slow balls with no pace.
- Running around your backhand and attacking more with your own forehand. Most aggressive baseliners are NOT good defenders. Get out of your comfort zone and attack more in order to push your opponent out of his comfort zone!
- Come to the net more often. A good way to avoid playing backhands is to play more volleys.
- Play a down-the-line backhand (to a right-hander's forehand). This often forces an opponent to change his attack to a cross-court shot, which goes to your forehand. This is what Federer changed early in his career after he lost to Hewitt and Agassi a few times.
They both had better backhands, so Roger kept playing a cross-court backhand (since, in theory, this is a better way to defend), but he never got out of the cross-court rally. He then learned to play an occasional down-the-line sliced backhand and, in most cases, received a cross-court shot to his forehand, with which he immediately attacked.
Learn from top prosAs mentioned above, Federer learned to get out of a backhand cross-court rally through a slice down the line and Rafael Nadal, with his improved backhand slice, is now able to do the same. Pete Sampras, Partick Rafter and Boris Becker, on the other hand, used a backhand approach down the line to come quickly to the net and make the best of their great volleys.
Study the top pros and identify their weaker shots. See whether their opponent knows about them, and whether he attacks that weaker shot. Look for the variety of tactics with which these pros neutralize their opponents' strengths, and see how they get out of defensive positions to use their own strengths.
Apply what you learn to your game, and then share your story on what worked for you!