Advanced Tennis Backhand Technique
The backhand in the game of tennis is typically weaker than the forehand - both at the club level and the pro level tennis.
Drills And Corrections To Fix The Backhand
While there are different reasons why your backhand may have become a weaker stroke, it doesn't have to be a weak shot. It can be a solid shot that can turn into a weapon if needed.
Helmut from Germany found my website through the Internet, bought my videos, and eventually decided to train with me for a week in Slovenia.
Helmut is a very solid club player with good technique on the forehand, serve volleys, and backhand slice - but not on the basic drive backhand.
So we decided that we'd focus on developing an advanced backhand in this one week that Helmut was training with me.
1. Assessment Of The BackhandThe key to changing the backhand technique (and tennis technique in general), is to have the right image of the shot in your mind. Helmut has clearly imagined the backhand technique differently than it really is.
Of course, Helmut still plays his backhand fairly consistently - because he developed a natural feel to control it, but he is now limited in his play and cannot progress further.
Because he doesn't lift the ball above the net, his shots are always very close to the net and that increases the risk of missing.
The ball is not spinning forward (it's spinning slightly around the vertical axis) and therefore Helmut cannot hit a fast AND safe ball, because the ball just keeps flying forward and doesn't turn down - which would happen with more spin.
So Helmut's backhand has to be played fairly slowly, and is an easy target to attack. It, of course, breaks down even more when Helmut has to move fast and is under time pressure.
Beside rotating in the shoulder which I mention in the video, he also hits from the elbow and the wrist. His arm breaks apart during the shot instead of being very solid and extended (locked).
|Tommy Robredo prepares his backhand with almost straight arm and his arm is fully extended and locked at the point of contact|
Photos from tennisserver.com
The key for Helmut is to use a different shoulder muscle (deltoid), feel his arm more locked, and that to lift the ball instead of going around it.
Compare Helmut's and Roger's backhands - note how Roger's arm is extended and locked at the point of contact, and how his deltoid muscle is lifting the ball and creating top spin.
2. Backhand Drills To Simplify The TechniqueThe purpose of the following tennis drills is to simplify the backhand technique and break it down to easy steps, from which a more advanced stroke will emerge later.
a) Short backswing, extend through the ball, mini tennis
The first step is to shorten the backswing, start with the racquet butt pointing to the net where the racquet is paralel to the ground, and just extend through the ball and push it over the net.
This drill should be played in the service boxes so that the player has no problems judging the ball and moving to it. The player also doesn't have to hit hard because of the short distance, so he can feel more relaxed and play with more feel.
The player should also try to hit only forward - so the follow through stays on the left side of the body (for right handers!) The feel that the player is looking for here is to just drive the racquet face straight through the ball without any spin.
b) Alley rally
Rallying the ball in the alley (between the singles and the doubles sidelines) helps the player keep the forward direction in mind. It also gives him feedback on every shot on how he hit the ball - well, or too much to the left, or too much to the right.
The player should play with the same basic technique as in the previous drill, except he now has the alley to help him - both as a guide for direction where to extend the arm and as the target.
c) Lifting the ball up
Once the player has a better feel on how to extend through the ball with a simple backswing, he needs to lift the ball in order to gain more safety above the net.
This is crucial for beginners too because they need to realize that there is no height limit above the net, and that you can play high above the net and successfully land the ball in the opposite court without big risks.
The keys are consistency, and starting to trust the backhand. Lots of players doubt their backhands because they are never sure whether they'll hit the court or not.
Playing high over the net and lifting the ball gives the player that peace of mind, because he knows that he can play a safe ball in the court any time he wants by just lifting the ball higher over the net.
Note how is Helmut now able to stay longer with the ball; he extends through the ball and doesn't follow through to the right side. He is also able to rally very consistently by lifting the ball up.
Mentally, the goal is that Helmut feels that his backhand is a solid shot and that he rarely misses. So when the ball goes towards his backhand, he won't worry during his preparation, instead he'll be calm, and will just execute his stroke naturally without self-interfering.
Too often players with poor backhands want to attack and hit winners. That's the same as if you werent's really good at driving your car at 60 km /h through road curves, and you wanted to race at 120 km /h...
Guess what would happen on the first or second curve?
That's exactly what happens on your first or second attacking backhand - you run off the road. ;)
In order to develop an attacking backhand later, you must be able to rally consistently without any problems at lower speeds.
d) Developing Spin: Under and Over
Once the player feels the lifting of the ball and is able to rally consistently, he needs to add spin to the shot. Spin allows you to hit faster and still keep the ball in the court, because the spin forces the ball to turn (curve) down towards the court.
Some player get the right feel for spin without any correctional drills, but Helmut had a slight problem on his backhand side - he would slow down the racquet at the point of contact.
He had to do that with his previous technique because he didn't hit the ball in the correct way, and was not able to accelerate the racquet and hit a good spin.
So, if he accelarated, he felt that he was playing a more risky shot.
Now he needs to learn that moving the racquet faster gives you MORE safety, because the ball will want to go down into the court.
Once you combine lifting the ball over the net and hitting with lots of spin, you get a very powerful but safe shot. The master of such shots is of course Rafael Nadal...
Part II - one-handed backhand drills to correct most common mistakes