Last month, we address the importance
of developing the one-hand, backhand slice. Whether you hit a two-handed
backhand or not, the one-handed slice is an essential shot to have in
Although many in the modern game of tennis use the two-handed backhand,
there are many of you who prefer to hit the one-handed backhand, exclusively.
There are some good reasons for using this one-handed backhand. First,
you have increased reach in comparison to the two-handed version. Second,
it is easy to switch from a driving backhand (one that is hit flat or
with topspin) to the slice variety. Finally, I think that those who
hit the one-handed backhand are normally better volleyers. Why? Well,
I think because of the brain similar “software” and grips. Certainly,
Pete Sampras believed this to be true when he switched from a two-handed
to one-handed backhand in his teens.
The downsides to the one-handed drive exist, but shouldn’t discourage
anyone from adopting this stroke. The one-handed drive requires a bit
more strength to hit with pace in comparison to the two-handed version.
The timing on one-handed backhands is a bit more critical and a little
less forgiving. Finally, one is a bit more limited in terms of what
stances can be used effectively when hitting the one-hander.
Having said this, I am dedicating April’s column to the one-handed,
backhand drive. Again, by a “drive,” I mean those one handed backhands
that are hit flat with pace, or with topspin. The sliced backhand is
a very different stroke.
As always, let’s begin with a discussion of grip. There are only
two grips that I recommend for hitting the one-handed drive: the eastern
backhand and the severe (sometimes referred to as western) eastern backhand.
Now, one can hit a flat drive using the continental (the preferred grip
for the sliced backhand), but hitting topspin with a continental grip
is to say the least difficult. Why? To hit a one-handed drive, you
need to get your palm “behind” the ball. The continental grip puts
the palm more on top of the racquet handle than is desirable.
Here is a picture of the eastern backhand grip. Don’t forget to click
on these images to enlarge them. Please note that the black areas represent
the handle’s bevels and the blue areas represent the top, sides and
bottom of the handle.
These two grips illustrate how to hold the racquet for the extreme
eastern backhand grip (sometimes referred to as the western backhand
To further help you lock onto these grips, let’s take a look at a few
images of pros who hit the one handed, backhand drive. Here, we see
Alexandra Stevenson using the eastern backhand grip.
In the following picture, we see Gustavo Kuerten setting up using the
severe eastern or western backhand grip.
The one-handed, backhand drive is normally hit with a closed stance.
One needs to get her/his body sideways to the net when hitting these
strokes. In the photo below, we see the South American pro, Hernan Gumy,
using a sideways stance to hit what will be a one handed backhand drive.
Given the position of his racquet (up around shoulder height), he is
likely to be hitting a hard, flat backhand drive.
Here, we see Alberto Costa as he gets into position to hit the backhand
Although it appears that he will hit using an open stance (in truth
he is fairly sideways to the net), in fact, he will lean forward and
transfer his weight to his right foot when he makes contact with the
ball. You can see that setting up properly for the one-handed backhand
drive requires some critical timing…especially when you are on the run.
Still, if needed, a player can hit a one handed drive from an open
position. Here, we see Petr Korda finishing his one-handed drive.
Note that his stance is very wide open. I remember when I took this
shot. I was amazed that he could get such pace when using this open
stance. One-handed, topspin drives hit from open or semi-open stances
require some serious arm strength and/or perfect timing. Petr’s timing,
when he was active on the tour, was phenomenal. However, when hitting
topspin, it does become a little easier to hit the one-handed shot from
an open stance.
In my previous articles dealing with groundstrokes, I have deliberately
avoided any discussion of contact points. Why? Well, it has been my
experience that players have some “play” in terms of contact
points when hitting modern forehands, two handed backhands, and even
to some degree, one-handed slice shots. I would rather see players focus
upon shorter backswings and full finishes (too many things to think about cloud the mind). However, with the
one-handed, backhand drive, you must hit the ball in front of your
body and you must use a full backswing.
Look at the following shots:
In each of these two shots, the player will make contact at a point
that is about 2 to 3 inches in front of her body. By varying the position
of this contact point, one can direct the ball crosscourt, or straight-ahead.
Hitting an “inside out,” one handed backhand is difficult to execute
and control. Generally, one wants to have the body weight going
forward when hitting the one-handed backhand drive. However, on very
high bouncing balls (as would be seen at on clay surfaces like those
at Roland Garros), be prepared to hit the ball off the back foot with
the weight going backward. Again, these are likely to be topspin
drives. Thomas Muster was a master at hitting off the back foot. I suspect
that Pete Sampras has difficulty on clay, in part, because he is not
as comfortable hitting a backhand with his weight going backward.
If you are attempting to hit with topspin, you will definitely need
to get “under” the ball. However, flatter shots require some “lift”
as well…but, not as much as the topspin drive. Look at how low
Pete Sampras and Greg Rusedski get low in order to be able to get “under”
and lift the ball.
If you read my column regularly, you know how much importance I place
on finishing the stroke properly. It is my firm belief that, when
it comes to groundstrokes, the finish is extremely critical. The
one-handed backhand drive is no exception.
To finish this stroke properly, you need to finish
with the racquet forward and high…much higher than one would finish
if hitting the one-handed slice.
Let’s take a look at some great finishes.
When teaching players the one-handed backhand drive, I have found that
the following elements make the success rate jump precipitously:
- Setup (racquet back, body in position) as early as is possible.
Try to use more closed stances whenever possible.
- Use an eastern backhand grip for flat drives, use the severe eastern
backhand grip for topspin drives. If you are only going to use one
grip, I suggest the severe eastern backhand grip.
- Make certain to make contact with the ball in front of your body.
- Finish with the racquet moving forward and upward. I suggest that
you try to “push” the ball forward at the moment of contact, and then,
lift the racquet up…finishing over your head. Don’t forget that if
you are hitting topspin, you must “lift” the ball. With the severe
eastern backhand grip, you may be able to use a little wrist action
to help you impart topspin.
The one-handed, backhand drive is one of the most beautiful and deadly
shots in tennis. Don’t be deceived into thinking that it cannot be
hit with pace! Just watch Mark Philippoussis as he strikes his one
handed drives shot…they go off like a cannon!
I promise you that, should you adopt the above guidelines and practice
this shot, in no time, you will become a tennis overdog.