Backhand Groundstroke Clarified

Here are the answers to five common questions relating to the backhand groundstroke.

  1. What are the control variables for the backhand groundstroke? Not to appear redundant but the control variables are the same as with the forehand groundstroke. The variables controlled by the hitter are direction (cross-court or down-the-line), depth (as defined by proximity to the baseline), height over the net or net clearance, spin (topspin, underspin and sidespin) and the degree of spin, pace, trajectory and to a lesser extent court positioning at the point of contact (where on the court the hitter takes the ball on the bounce). Ultimately, these control variables should be your main focus when competing in match play and are the basis for all point patterns.
  2. Why is the swing pattern for a topspin backhand? The path of the swing is inside-out with the racquet face extending out towards the target. The path of the swing is also from low to high, with the racquet head dropping at least one foot below the point of contact and then extending up and out through the hitting zone. The racquet face should be closed at the bottom path of the swing and then perpendicular to the court at the point of contact. A loop from the set position will add racquet head speed (and potentially more topspin) and more fluidity and rhythm.
  3. What is the swing pattern for a slice or underspin backhand? The path of the swing is outside-in (as compared to an inside-out path for a topspin backhand) and from high to low. The racquet path should actually take more of high-low-high path for depth and drive. The extent to which the racquet face is angled or open and the speed of the racquet head at the point of contact determines the degree of spin.
  4. What are the main components for a two-handed backhand groundstroke? For a right-handed player, the stroke mirrors a left-handed one-handed forehand in terms of the path of swing from the set position through the finish. In fact, a great way to get a feel for the two-handed groundstroke is to hit one-handed, left-handed forehands (right handed forehands for lefties). The left hand should be the dominant hand with the hand and wrist positioned behind the ball at the point of contact. The left hand should then drive the racquet and racquet face through the hitting zone and out to the finish. Another point of emphasis is the unit turn and coiling action (shoulder and hip rotation) in preparation for the stroke and the loading of your weight on the back foot. Just like the forehand, the hips lead with a lag of the wrist and racquet face. The hips then lock allowing the shoulders and then the arm, hand and racquet to drive up and out through the hitting zone and to the finish. The supporting right hand (or left hand for lefties) should be positioned with a Continental grip. The Continental grip promotes an earlier contact in relation to the hips and shoulders and better enables the left hand to get behind the ball.
  5. In terms of mechanics, what are the influences that dictate the quality and characteristics of the backhand groundstroke? As with all strokes, it’s important to keep things simple. The three major influences or determiners are the path of the swing (i.e. low to high), angle of the racquet face at the point of contact and speed of the racquet face at the point of contact.
  6. What are the main components for the one-handed backhand groundstroke? For a basic topspin backhand, the stroke follows an inside-out, low to high pattern. The racquet and the knuckles extend up and out through the hitting zone to the intended target. The hips and shoulders rotate together from the coil position as the racquet face extends through the stroke. The non-hitting hand should support the racquet at the racquet throat in setting the grip and rotating to the set position. The non-hitting hand should separate from the racquet and extend back and down as the racquet head crosses the hips. The action with the non-hitting hand helps to lock the hips and accelerate the racquet through the hitting zone. The racquet head should be pointing up to the sky (or ceiling) with the arm extended at the conclusion of the stroke. Topspin is best achieved with an Eastern backhand grip. With the Eastern backhand grip, the two reference points (the base of the index knuckle and the heel of the hand) are placed on the top or number bevel of the racquet.
  7. What are the main differences between a one-handed backhand and two-handed backhand? The hips and shoulders rotate more in alignment (together) for a one-handed backhand versus a pattern where the hips lead for a two-handed backhand. The point of contact (or hitting zone) in relation to the body is further out in front for the one-handed backhand. The earlier contact for the one-handed backhand is more critical since there is less support on late contacts with the one-handed backhand. Although there are variations, the grip for the dominant hand (right hand for a right-handed player) positions the two grip reference points more over the top of the racquet. Best results are normally achieved with an Eastern backhand grip for the one-handed backhand and with a Continental grip for a two-handed backhand. The finish for a two-handed backhand faces the hips and shoulder out to the target whereas the hips and shoulders are more closed at the finish for a one-handed backhand. Comparisons between a one-handed and two-handed backhand when hitting with underspin are not as relevant since very few players successfully hit slice with two hands.
  8. Does hitting with an open stance apply for the backhand groundstroke? Although the position of the hitting shoulder (particularly for the one-handed backhand) allows for a more closed stance, there are good reasons to use an open stance for the backhand groundstroke. Extending wide (and sliding on clay composition courts) to hit an underspin backhand is best achieved with an open stance. Use of the open stance with two-handed backhands has the same advantages for recovery back into the court as the forehand.
  9. How do you hit a backhand when taking the ball well above your preferred strike zone? If forced to hit a ball above the shoulders, it’s important to shorten your backswing and open your hips and shoulders in relation to the ball and court (i.e. hit from a more open stance). Still try to incorporate the loop and maintain a low to high pattern if hitting with topspin and extend the racquet head out through the hitting zone. For the two-handed backhand, remember to bring the racquet through completely so that the butt end of the racquet is pointing to the target at the finish. The best response to a higher bouncing ball hit with a higher arcing trajectory is to counter with heavier spin and a similarly hit higher arcing type ball (i.e. trade a high ball with a high ball).
  10. How do you similarly respond to a ball taken well below your preferred strike zone? Again, the best response is to mirror the shot you are receiving. It’s best to hit with more spin when taking the ball below (as well as above) your standard strike zone. The shot requires a wider stance and in most cases, a more closed stance. Use of underspin with one-hand is a great way to reply to low hit balls.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s