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Backhand Repair

Part I: Hitting Long

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The one-handed and two-handed tennis backhands are much more distant relatives than one might guess. In fact, the two-handed has more in common with an Eastern forehand than with a one-handed backhand. Despite their differences, the one- and two-handers often go astray for identical reasons. Assume that the repairs explained below apply equally to both forms of backhand unless otherwise noted.

These instructions are oriented for a right-handed player. Reverse directions such as clockwise if you're a lefty.

Problem: Hitting long too often.

Repairs:

  1. Your wrist(s) might be turning your racquet upward just before impact. (This is more likely for one- than two-handers.) If you grab your handle more tightly just as you start your swing, this will help to keep your wrist(s) from turning.
  2. Tilt the face of your racquet down more on your backswing. Your racquet face naturally opens up (tilts upward) as you swing forward. You need to start your swing with it facing somewhat downward in order for it to end up at vertical as it meets the ball. Hold your racquet face vertical at the point where you normally meet the ball, then, without turning your wrist(s), pull the racquet back to your normal backswing position. It should face somewhat downward, and that's the angle you want at the start of each swing.
  3. Your racquet head might be drooping below your hand(s) at the point of contact. The long axis of your racquet should be horizontal on impact. If the head is much below your hand(s), you'll tend to "golf" the ball upward.
  4. Hit with more topspin. If you brush up the back of the ball, the spin you'll create will make the ball fall faster as it flies forward.
  5. One-Handers: Try rotating your hand slightly counterclockwise , so that the base knuckle of your index finger is more on the plane of the racquet handle that is perpendicular to the plane of the strings. This will make your racquet face open up later in your swing and will help you generate more topspin.
  6. Two-Handers: Try rotating your right hand slightly counterclockwise. The best grip combination for most players is left hand in an Eastern forehand position and right hand Continental. If your left hand is already at Eastern, but you're used to a Semi-Western or Western forehand, you can try moving your left hand closer to that position, but most players find it easier to adjust the right hand. Very often, players who use an Eastern forehand grip with both hands do much better just by moving the right hand to Continental.
  7. You might be leaning back when hitting. Although some players nowadays hit off their back foot, it's still advisable for most of us to hit with our weight on our front foot.
  8. You might be hitting too far in front of your body, causing your racquet to open up too far. Try meeting the ball slightly farther back. Most one-handers have trouble meeting the ball sufficiently in front, but it is possible to meet it too much so.
  9. Backspin (commonly called slice) is a very important shot for one-handers, but it's used more for keeping the ball low than for hitting really hard. If you brush down the back of the ball, the backspin you create will have the opposite effect of topspin: it will make the ball float farther in the air. Use topspin when you want to hit hard, then when you want to hit backspin, try a more forward and less downward swing, which will create less backspin and thus less floating effect.
  10. If you're hitting a slice backhand, you might be tilting the racquet face upward too much, given the amount of downward angle in your swing. The less downward you swing, the less you should tilt. If you want to hit fairly hard, you should hit more forward than downward and thus also tilt the racquet face less.
  11. Try using a racquet with tighter strings or a smaller string bed. The racquet's usually at fault less than we'd like to think, but a powerful hitter using an ultra-oversize or very loosely strung racquet will have legitimate equipment problems.
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