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The Integrated Approach
to the Backhand:
The Two-Handed Backhand

Ron Waite Photo
Ron Waite, USPTR

There was a time when the two-handed backhand was an exception…today is more often the rule. The modern game of tennis has certainly seen the rise of the two-handed backhand. In fact, I would dare say that if one looks at the top 100 players on either tour, one would find the two-handed backhand more common than the one-handed variety.

There are some clear advantages to the two-handed backhand:

  1. It is a bit easier to learn for most players… especially children. It requires less perfect timing and is a bit more forgiving with respect to quick alterations in delivery that occur when the ball takes an unusual or unanticipated bounce. For weaker players and kids, the racquet is a little more likely to be wielded with control when two hands are on the grip.
  2. For most players, the two-handed backhand permits one to hit with more power…albeit one-handed backhands when timed and executed properly can be equally powerful.
  3. Two-handed backhands generally allow a player to hit both lower and higher bouncing balls with efficacy. However although the "strike zone" is wider, the waist high ball is usually the best height for the two-handed player.
  4. Two-handed backhands can be very deceptive. Because they do not require as much backswing nor as precise timing, a player can literally wait until the very last second before he/she decides to go cross court or down the line.
  5. Generally, players do not acquire many, if any, wrist or shoulder injuries from hitting the two-handed backhand. I have found that some older players have adopted this stroke simply because it is less likely to cause them an injury or because they experience pain when hitting the one-handed backhand.
  6. Usually, two-handed players have better returns of serve than one-handers. Shorter backswings, more forgiving timing and a variety of grip combinations make the two-handed backhand uniquely well suited for returns.
  7. Two-handed backhands allow you to hit effectively from a variety of stances…from very open to completely closed. In fact, you can be somewhat off balance when hitting the two-hinder and still make an effective shot. One-handed shots usually are less forgiving with respect to stance. For those who do not always setup perfectly with respect to stance, the two-handed backhand is made to order.

The major disadvantages associated with the two-handed backhand are:

  1. The two-handed stroke does not provide the same length of reach as one-handed varieties. In fact, every player needs to be able to hit a one-handed slice backhand when she/he is stretched, and when approaching the net. Usually, the one-handed slice is the best approach.
  2. The two-handed backhand is usually not hit with backspin or slice. Now, that is not to say that it cannot be hit this way (Jimmy Connors was very effective at hitting a flat and slice two-handed backhand). But most players will find hitting slice a bit more difficult with a two-handed backhand.
  3. Most two-handed backhanded players find the change to a volley grip a bit cumbersome. Taking the second hand off the racquet and moving to a continental or "hammer" grip are usually a bit awkward for two-handed players. However, Todd Martin belies this statement. Still, most two-handed players are ground strokers and are not at their best when serving and volleying.
  4. Very low bouncing balls are usually difficult for two-handed players. Again, this is a reason why every player who hits the two-handed backhand really needs a one-handed slice, as well.

I, myself, use a two-handed backhand and have learned to integrate the one-handed slice into my game. I use the slice to vary my spin, to hit lower bouncing balls, to approach the net off the backhand wing, and to block return of serves when the ball forces me wide. However, about 80% of all my backhands are hit with two hands. For me, I find hitting the short cross-court angle to be a bit easier with two hands than with one. However, I know players who profess the opposite to be true.

In our Integrated Approach to Tennis, we always begin with grip. When one looks at the numerous ways in which players use two hands to grip the racquet, there are fewer "rules." Any combination of grips that feels right and allows for power and control is acceptable. Every player who tries a two-handed backhand needs to experiment with different grip combinations. Eventually, each player will find a combination that works best for him or her.

However, most players who play on the tours use one of two combinations. Their dominant hand will be in either a continental/hammer or eastern backhand grip. The non-dominant hand is usually in what would be an eastern forehand grip.

Please remember that blue area of the grip represents the top, side and bottom. The black areas represent the bevels.

Here is the continental grip:

Here is the hammer grip. This is really a closed fisted continental grip:

Here is the eastern backhand grip:

Most players use one of these three grips with their dominant hand because they allow for the non-dominant hand to be taken off the racquet to hit a backhand. This will invariably happen when stretched wide for a shot. However, it may occur deliberately when disguising a drop or approach shot.

In his prime, Bjorn Borg would take his non-dominant hand off the racquet the moment after impact. He would finish his stroke using one hand. Watching him play on the Master’s Tour, I was struck by the fact that he now finishes his stroke with both hands on the grip. I suspect that this is why his backhand is less effective than it used to be…but I could be wrong.

The non-dominant hand is adding support and is usually in an eastern forehand grip. Here, is the eastern forehand grip:

Some players hit a two-handed backhand with both hands in an eastern forehand grip. Although this does not require any severe grip changes when going from forehand to backhand, it is not a combination I would advise a player to adopt. Quite frequently, the balls are hit without much spin when using this combination, and if you are stretched wide or on the run, your shot is likely to travel long.

Now in reality, the non-dominant hand does more than add support. In fact, it is often times useful to envision yourself hitting a forehand with the non-dominant hand. This visualization will help make the two hands (and arms) work in better unison.

How close your keep the two hands together on the grip can vary greatly. I have seen players on both tours who deliberately leave a space of almost an inch between each hand. However, the vast majority of pros who use the two-handed backhand are likely to keep the hands close together. The non-dominant hand should be on top of the dominant hand.


You will note in the above that the eastern backhand and continental grips respectively are being used by the dominant hand, and the non-dominant hand is in an eastern forehand grip in each picture.

Regardless of what combination you decide to use with respect to grips, the important part about the backswing is that there should be very little. If one looks at Andre Agassi, he does not take his racquet back very far. Still, he is able to crush the return of serve off of either wing.

When one uses a shorter backswing there is more margin for last second adjustments and less likelihood that something will go wrong with the stroke. The two-handed backhand lends itself to shorter backswings. In the modern game of tennis, this is a clear advantage.

When hitting the two-handed backhand there is a wide strike zone. Contact points can vary greatly when hitting the two-handed backhand. Thus, this backhand is a more forgiving shot. Now, every player will find the ideal contact point that allows her/him to really tee off on the ball. However, when it comes to making a decent shot, there is a lot of latitude with respect to contact points and the two-handed backhand.

The most important ingredient that is common to all two-handed backhands is the finish. I tell my students that they should imagine that they are throwing a sack of potatoes over their shoulder. This cue usually results in a proper finish.

Below, we see Brent executing the proper finish for the two-handed backhand:

Here are some shots of the pros executing proper finishes:

Although I believe the two-handed backhand to be the "ideal" backhand for the modern game, there are plenty of pros on both tours who would challenge this statement. Look at the "Spanish Armada." Most of these young men from Spain are using one-handed backhands…with great effectiveness. It should also be noted that Pete Sampras changed from a two-handed backhand to a one-handed backhand when he was in his early teens. Why? Well, he wanted to win Wimbledon and he believed that a one-handed backhand would enable him to volley better. I think his record at this Slam event speaks to the veracity of his belief.

Still, I think for most players that the two-handed backhand is the quicker, easier and more effective stroke. I say this with some trepidation, but one must realize that even the two-handed player needs a one-handed slice to play effectively on all surfaces. This is exactly what Mat Wilander did to improve his game when he was on the men’s tour.

If you are using a one-handed backhand and believe that it is ineffective or causing you arm, wrist or shoulder problems…you should consider adding the two-handed shot to your arsenal. It is my belief that Pete Sampras could have won Roland Garros, if he had resurrected his two-handed backhand for those high bouncing balls.

So, give this wonderful stroke a chance. I am sure that if you add it to your arsenal, or work to improve your existing two-handed backhand that you will in no time become a tennis overdog!

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Turbo Tennis Archives:
1996 - 2002 | 2003 - 2014


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This column is copyrighted by Ron Waite, all rights reserved. Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ron by using this form.

Ron Waite is a certified USPTR tennis instructor who took up the game of tennis at the age of 39. Frustrated with conventional tennis methods of instruction and the confusing data available on how to learn the game, Ron has sought to sift fact from fiction. In his seven years of tennis, Ron has received USTA sectional ranking four years, has successfully coached several NCAA Division III men's and women's tennis teams to post season competition, and has competed in USTA National singles tournaments. Ron has trained at a number of tennis academies and with many of the game's leading instructors.

In addition to his full-time work as a professor at Albertus Magnus College, Ron photographs ATP tour events for a variety of organizations and publications. The name of his column, TurboTennis, stems from his methods to decrease the amount of time it takes to learn and master the game of tennis.


 

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