Making The Best Of Your Weaker Groundstroke (Is it The Backhand?)

Andy Roddick's backhand
Andy Roddick's backhand is his weaker shot, but definitely not a weak shot!
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
If you have a weaker groundstroke (typically your backhand) and you're struggling with it, especially during matches, don't give up. There is hope for you yet.

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 conservatively

The #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 capabilities

Once 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;
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;
b) If your opponent has a big forehand and attacks your backhand, try;
Note the relentless play of Hewitt to Federer's backhand and all the different tactics Roger tries to get out of that - changing pace, spin, playing down the line, moving around to play the forehand, etc.

Learn from top pros

As 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!



Win More Matches When It Matters Most

Most tennis matches are decided not by a better stroke but by a better tactical play and by a stronger mind.

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