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Q. My 10 year old daughter doesn't lean forward when hitting her two handed backhand...(hits them leaning back)...what is a tip to get her into the right model?

A. Have her “land” on her front foot before contact. Presuming that she is a right-handed player, remind her to set her right foot down on the court BEFORE contact with the ball on her backhand. This will help her timing and, eventually, become a useful “trigger mechanism” to launch her backhand with conviction.

Q. On my backhand, what should I do to make my shot go deeper?

A. To hit with more depth, you have two options:

1. Aim higher. If the ball clears the net by a greater margin, it will have a greater chance of landing deeper into the court.

2. Hit harder. If the ball is hit with greater pace- and at the same height as a slower ball- it will travel further.

Q. Been watching the Australian Open and been really amazed at how Fernando Gonzalez has used the slice backhand to great effect. After watching his matches, I’ve been thinking that the slice backhand has been getting short shrift.

Do you have any tactical tips on using the slice backhand much in the way Gonzo has in winning his matches? I am interested in this tactic because, like Gonzo, I have a one handed backhand and my forehand tends to be a bigger shot.

A. This is a great observation. Especially in contrast to Gonzo’s explosive, topspin forehand, the slice backhand is an entirely different ball. By the way, his opponent in the final, Roger Federer has a pretty nifty and versatile slice backhand as well.


Ways that a slice backhand would help you tactically:

1. Keeps the ball low.

2. Takes pace off the ball.

3. Used as a neutral shot hit from deep in the corner, designed to allow extra time for recovery.

4. As a shot used to draw an opponent forward and into the net on your terms.

Make sure that you practice a few sliced backhands every time you practice or, before matches during the warm-up. This applies whether you use a one- or two-handed backhand.

Q. I have noticed that Nadal has a one handed backhand that has some power to it. I have tried every tactic I know in order to have the same effect, but have failed. How can I develop a one-hander with some power, and not a little twinker?

A. You may have noticed that Rafael Nadal has a powerful physique. He also takes a good rip at the ball. If you want to hit hard, then you need to swing hard. This means that, during the learning process anyway, you will miss frequently. Over time, with good technique, you will develop control over your shots.

For a more penetrating slice backhand, try to hit a “flatter” ball. Emphasize the forward acceleration in your swing, and not the high-to-low motion. This is a common mistake. If you hit a “flatter” slice, then it will skid through the court; if you contact the ball with an open racquet face and a slower swing, then your ball will not penetrate though the court. (By the way, there is a time and place for either of these options).

Q. Sometimes when I go to hit my one-hand backhand my racquet slightly tilts downward and I end up hitting the into the net is there a way to avoid making this mistake?

A. It sounds like you might need a stronger grip on the racquet. It is ideal to hold on loosely, but not so loosely that the racquet twists at impact. Try to squeeze the handle a little more firmly with your ring and pinky fingers. Also, consider adjusting your grip so that your knuckles are more on top of the handle so that your hand is “behind” the racquet when you make contact.

Q. My backhand is generally pretty solid. On return of serve, to my backhand, when the ball is above my waist, I have trouble hitting with pace or directing the return. Sometimes I chop the return, but I don't like the “fung shway” of that. Do you have any suggestions to help my backhand return of serve?

A. This particular shot troubles a lot of players, including Roger Federer (witness the 2006 Roland Garros final). If you have time, then move forward and play the shot earlier BEFORE it gets too high to handle comfortably. If this is impractical, then resign yourself to playing the shot defensively and look to win (or allow your opponent to lose) later in the point. No matter how good you become, there ARE always situations that require clever defensive tactics and during-the-match adjustments.

Q. What's the likelihood an ambidextrous person, who uses a left and right hand forehand, could play just as well as a person with a normal backhand, such as a one handed or two handed backhand and a normal forehand? I understand there is an issue of transition from left and right hand forehand, so I was not sure if ambidextrous players could be as successful, and also considering the rare amount of ambidextrous talent on the tour.

A. There have been some rare examples of this exact scenario. In fact, Maria Sharapova (a natural lefty) often plays a left-handed forehand when she is stretched wide on her two-handed backhand. I would not be surprised to see this “style” occur more frequently in the future.

An old buddy of mine, Marty Devlin of West Trenton, NJ, plays with two forehands. The running joke on how to beat him is to hit to his backhand, a stroke which does not exist for him. Marty has won USTA National titles on every surface (hard, clay and indoors) but grass. He has proven that ambidextrous tennis can be played at the championship level.

Q. I'm a 4.5 player and I'm trying to adjust my slice backhand to be more of a weapon in addition to a defensive stroke. Currently though I can hit it deep in the court and low, but it really just "sits" as it lands deep, instead of "skipping" off the court in a penetrating manner. What can I do with my stroke to not get the ball to just "sit"? I'm trying to have my wrist firm through stroke, as well as using my shoulder more, but it's just not working. Is it the hitting zone? I'm a right-hander... should I be hitting the right side of the ball?

A. Try to hit a “flatter” slice. In other words, instead of emphasizing the high-to-low racquet path, focus on driving through the shot a bit more. When you “chop” the shot, it will usually sit up and beg to be returned aggressively. By keeping a more level swing path, the ball will carry more and “skid” through the court- like the shot you are seeking.

Q. It seems that Federer's backhand is not as consistent or deep as his forehand. I have noticed that sometimes he totally miss hits a backhand, but rarely on the forehand. Is there technically something that he is doing on his backhand wing? Is there a lesson to be learned for other one-handed backhanded players?

A. Hmmm… It is always a slippery slope to criticize Roger Federer’s game. He does everything extraordinarily well. It would be fair to say that every player, even Roger, has shots that they prefer to play under scrutiny. He has, arguably, the best forehand in the business these days. If you told him that he could choose either one forehand or one backhand to play in order to defend his world ranking, I suspect that he would opt to hit a forehand.

Like Pete Sampras before him, Federer seems to struggle with backhands when the ball gets above the level of his chest. This is fairly common among one-handed players. The elusive challenge among players is making Federer have to defend against this ball (although Rafa Nadal has proven highly capable of this in each of his encounters against the world’s #1). Because Federer is so darn fast, he gets in ideal position to play the ball more often- or so it seems- than anyone.

What can we learn from this?

1. Really move your feet so that you play more shots in your “comfort zone.”

2. When you have a difficult shot to play, become more conservative. Wait until you get a more manageable ball before you choose to rip it.

3. Every player- even the great Federer- has shots that they are less comfortable playing.

Q. What is the proper grip for the two-handed backhand and is this shot for everyone ? I have been playing for quite a while and this is one aspect of tennis I just cannot seem to grasp.

A. There is not One Correct Grip for any shot. You should consider two options:

1. Experiment with different grips until you find your comfort level.

2. Find a certified teaching professional (USPTA or PTR) and take a lesson where you focus on grips.

The most common two-handed backhand grip is the continental grip with bottom (dominant) hand and the full eastern grip with the top (non-dominant) hand. There are plenty of examples of players with strong two-handed backhands who use grips that are different than this though.

Q. To improve a particular stroke (i.e. my backhand) what is the best way? I’ve been taking some group classes, I went to an adult tennis camp, and I am joining the TeamTennis program. But my topspin one-handed backhand is not improving as fast as I would like. Is a private lesson the only way to go?

A. A private lesson is one way to shore up some weaknesses. Approach the private lesson with a specific plan though. In other words, tell the teaching pro exactly what your goals and expectations are prior to walking on-court. This will help the coach immensely in pinpointing what you are missing and assure that you find what you are seeking.

Another option is to really devote some time to practicing your skills. Repetition is crucial to the development of sound technique for your strokes. There is no magic formula for this.

Q. My 9 yr old son decided to play tennis with a one-handed backhand. He has had success, is quick and can run around the ball, but also likes to slice the ball. I entered him in a tournament and he did well with the slice but I can see a weakness on hard hit balls to his backhand. I just recently was talked into teaching him a two-handed backhand and he took two lessons reluctantly. He has a tournament coming up. Should I wait to see results and what he decides to use before I get talked into moving him into a two-handed backhand?

A. I am a firm believer that a one-handed backhand (or a two-hander, for that matter) is personality driven. If your son wants to play with a one-hander, then let him play with a one-hander. Tennis is a sport where he will need to make over 1000 decisions an hour, so leave these fundamental choices up to him. As a nine-year-old, he will definitely struggle against pace and, especially, high balls to his backhand. You better believe that Roger Federer, Boris Becker and Pete Sampras all went through these same struggles though. Eventually, he will grow stronger and quick enough to handle these challenging shots.

I would never advocate that a one-handed backhand is “better” than a two-handed backhand, or vice versa. Both options have their potential strengths. The biggest key is in deciding what will best fit his game-style and his personality.

Q. I have a really good forehand (placement and power) but when it comes to my backhand I can't seen to get the ball over, it just hits the tape. I have tried to not hit as hard and a different stroke but it never helps. How can I get my backhand over?

A. Aim higher. If you are going to miss a shot, be sure to miss long or wide, but never into the net. I have read research indicating that, believe it or not, 75% of all mistakes come from balls that are hit into the net. Take the net out of play and you will improve immediately.

Q. Thanks for the great tips. I have a good slice one hand backhand, but struggle to drive the backhand down the line especially on the run. Any thoughts?

A. My initial thought is that you are already on the right track because you have proven capable of defining what you do NOT hit well. This is as important as knowing what your strengths are. Because your "down the line backhand" is suspect (and you are not alone with this problem), you should aim nearly all of your backhands cross court. Only hit down the line when you know that there is an inviting opening. In other words, be steady as a rock on the backhand side and look for other ways to, when practical, hurt your opponent.

In the meantime, when you are on the practice court, work on this down the line shot until you develop a feel for it. It is, basically, the same as a cross court backhand, only your point of contact with the ball ought to be a fraction less early. By practicing this weakness, you will eventually develop the feel for the shot and become confident enough to rely on it during the pressure of match play.

Q. I have been having difficulty handling the pace on my one-handed backhand. I often end up hitting off my back foot. How can I learn to keep my weight going forward on a backhand especially if a ball is coming at me quickly?

A. Get that front foot down.

In other words, if you are right-handed, make sure that your right foot lands before you begin your swing on the one-handed backhand. That is a good trigger mechanism which helps assure that you are getting your weight transferred forward and your swing started on time.

If the ball is coming really fast, then shorten your swing a little and concentrate on good contact in front of your body. Of course, this is all easier said than done and will require a bit of practice.

Q. I'm wondering if I should keep my one-handed backhand, or try to force myself to use a two-handed one. I've heard it is beneficial to use a two-handed one. Any thoughts?

A. I believe it depends a lot on your personality. Do you like the way the one-handed backhand feels? Or do you prefer the way the two-hander feels?

In my observation, players with one-handed backhands are usually better in transition. They also tend to have more versatility. Those who use the two-handed backhand are often stronger on the return of serve, and many have more extreme forehand grips. Of course, these are both generalizations, but they may help in guiding you on your decision.

Of course, you could return serve with a two-handed backhand and play the rest of your shots with a one-hander.

Q. What do you think is important for a young junior player (11-14 years old) to have in order to be successful developing a one-handed backhand? The reason for my question is that I see fewer and fewer one-handed backhands among older junior players.

A. Good timing is the most important ingredient to a strong one-handed backhand. The contact point for a one-hander is typically much further out in front than for a two-handed backhanded.

I believe that the biggest reason that there are fewer one-handed backhands in junior tennis is because it is easier, from a strength perspective, to develop a reliable two-handed backhand at a young age. As players mature, they become very comfortable with their strokes and even reluctant to change. There will always be some one-handed backhands though, and I expect that the Roger Federer influence will inspire more young players to opt for the versatility that the one-handed backhand offers.

Q. I'm having trouble with my backhand. My coach is teaching me a two-handed backhand, but I find a one-handed chip shot more comfortable. Which should I learn?

A. Maybe you should learn both? There is definitely a time and place to hit effective chip backhands. You will also need to drive the ball though, especially on return of serves. Every player is different, but I believe that two-handed returners definitely have certain advantages.

Decide what works best for you. Your coach will guide you, but the design of your game is ultimately up to you.

Q. I'm 52 years old and am currently a 3.5 player. My goal is to one day become at least a 4.0 player. I've never learned a two-handed backhand but am considering it. At my age, should i learn a two-handed backhand or spend my time and energy tuning up my one-handed backhand?

A. This depends on a few factors.

How much time do you have to devote to your training and practice? If you are able to hone a new stroke by taking lessons and then practicing it a lot, then go ahead.

Do you have another stroke or strokes that you consider to be a weapon? If you already have a good forehand, then maybe you would want to structure your game around that strength. Tennis is all about maximizing your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses. If your forehand is a weapon, then just keep the backhand in play until you get a forehand to hit. Remember, no player does everything well- relative to their level of play- excepting, maybe, Roger Federer.

By the way, 52 years old is not an advanced age for tennis. You have another 33 years to train for the 85 and over division of National tournaments! Good luck.

Q. I am a right-handed player. I used to play with one handed-backhand. I got tennis elbow three months ago. Now, I try to play with two-handed backhand. My question is with two-handed backhand, when I hit the ball, should I use the force from my left hand or my right hand?

A. It depends on your feel for the shot and your grip. As a right-hander, if the top (left) hand on your two-handed backhand is an Eastern grip- meaning that your hand is fully behind the racquet during contact- then perhaps you should play the shot more like a left-handed forehand. In fact, a lot of players practice the occasional “lefty” forehand to hone their swing for the backhand.

If the knuckles on your right hand are placed more atop the handle during the swing and you follow through toward the target, as opposed to wrapping the racquet around your opposite shoulder, then the swing should be dominated more by your dominant- or right- hand.

Regardless of how you ultimately choose to play the shot, you might experiment with both styles. In fact, incorporate your own style if you so choose. When you decide HOW you want to hit the ball, try to repeat this motion until the swing becomes grooved.

Q. My skill level is 4.0-4.5. If I have time to set-up my topspin shots are ok but not formidable. I am working on the inside out forehand attack but as soon as my opponents realize this they wear out my backhand. If I am rushed on the backhand should I practice the backhand slice or focus on driving the backhand and accept the errors?

A. As far as I am concerned, you are asking a “style of game” question. You need to evaluate what shots you hit well and what shots you struggle with when playing. For example, if you have a strong forehand- and can use your “inside out” forehand as a weapon- then you should rely heavily on this shot to WIN points. Be certain to maintain a steady backhand. Keep the ball in play consistently with your backhand and wait for the opportunity to play aggressive forehands. In other words, do not LOSE because of your weaker side and look to WIN points with your stronger side.

Now, in the meantime, on the practice courts you can work on making your backhand more versatile. Develop the ability to hit aggressive and defensive slices, some looping topspin shots, an occasional flat down-the-liner, etc. During matches play only the shots that you KNOW you can make on the backhand. At the same time, also look to make your weapon even stronger during practice with some repetition drills. Too many players neglect to hone their strengths during practice, instead opting only to improve weak areas of their respective games. Remember, it is usually these “go to” shots that give a player the chance to win matches, so you’ll need to make sure that these weapons are well prepared.

Q. Hey Bill, because of nagging tennis elbow I decided to go two- handed. I’m a USTA 4.0 player. I’m in a weekly tennis clinic and the instructors have been very helpful getting me on the right track. Any tips that can help me nail the two-hander? It is still a bit strange and I’m hitting quite a few balls long. Also my body seems to “spin out” when making a shot. That is my right foot (I’m a righty) slides open when I hit.

A. If you are switching to a two-handed backhand, then you should consider the role that your non-dominant hand (the left hand, in your case) plays in the shot. In effect, the two-handed backhand is like a left-handed forehand.

A good tip is to practice some left-handed forehands (holding the racquet handle with your left hand where you would for normal backhands). By doing this, you’ll develop more strength in your non-dominant hand and the ability to accelerate. This motion will also assist you in learning muscle memory and how to “turn through” the ball.

Q. What do you do when you get a high backhand, at head level? I have an all right backhand, with topspin and that, but when I hit a high one, it’s like a lob going over. Any suggestions? Thanks.

A. Even our game’s all-time greatest champion, Pete Sampras, struggles with this shot. When the ball bounces high, and out of your “comfort zone,” then you need to play the shot more conservatively.

The best options to avoid this awkward shot involve moving your feet quickly so that you play the shot at a more comfortable height. You can either move forward, cutting the ball off, and hit it on the rise. Andre Agassi is, perhaps, the greatest ever at doing this. Or, you can move back quickly and play it “on the fall,” which is how many of the world’s best clay court players prefer to hit.

Good luck in making these adjustments. And, be patient. This is a deceptively hard shot.

Q. Given the advantages and disadvantages of the one-handed and two-handed backhand, is it ever advisable for a player to use both? For instance, using a two-handed for the return-of-serve and put-aways, and one-handed backhand at all other times? Just curious.

A. Actually, I believe that it is essential for ALL two-handed players to know HOW to hit a one-handed backhand. It is completely necessary on certain wide shots, for sliced backhands, for low mid-court shots, for lunging defensive shots, etc. I doubt that I would advocate “different” backhands for “put away shots” -- instead, I would urge you to choose one and then try to master it. However, tennis certainly permits unconventional wisdom to prevail when developing strokes. If this idea seems to work for you, then go ahead and use it.

I will say that every player with a two-handed backhand seems to have a strong return-of-serve. This is a sweeping generality, but, with two hands, players can wait with (essentially) a forehand grip with your dominant hand and your non-dominant, top hand in its backhand grip position, so making the quick grip change is easier. Two-handers also seem stronger on high return-of-serves and against really fast, hard serves.

Conversely, the advantage of the one-handed backhand seems to be in transition. Generally speaking, players who are excellent volleyers usually play with a one-handed backhand. This is not an absolute, but name a great volleyer who has won Wimbledon who plays with a two-handed backhand. There have been a number of players who have won Wimbledon with two-handed backhands, but they were not known for their volleying ability (as compared to Becker, Edberg, Sampras, McEnroe, Navratilova, Novotna, et al).

Everyone has his/her own individual style, so continue to tinker with how you prefer to play until you find a perfect fit for your own game. Good luck!

Q. Since most people hit their forehands with a semi western grip how important is it to hit a slice backhand and when should it be used?

A. Great question! I have given presentations on “Coaching Modern Tennis” and a shot that I consider to be essential in today’s game surprises a lot of people. That shot is the old, tried and true, slice backhand.

As more players tend to use a semi-western (or western) grip on their forehands, you will find that playing sliced backhands is an excellent option to keep the ball away from the respective “comfort” zone of your opponent. Players with a semi-western grip forehand prefer the ball around waist level, while a skidding, sliced backhand will force them to hit shots from below their knees. Also, a slice backhand is highly effective against two-handed backhands, especially when you can slice the ball wide. Stretching for wide balls becomes even more difficult for the two-hander when the ball stays low.

Incidentally, ALL players- but especially those with two-handed backhands- should learn to hit a one-handed slice. It can be used offensively (low skidding shots and approaches), defensively (when you are stretched wide and need to “buy” some time), and to simply neutralize your opponents (with off pace or low shots).

Q. I have a hard time driving my backhand shots with any consistency. Either they're too short and wind-up in the net, or too long and land way beyond the base line. As a result, I wind-up hitting "floaters" just to get the ball over the net and my opponents, sensing this weakness, usually take advantage by pounding shots to my backhand side. What can I do to be able to hit a solid, consistent backhand? HELP! I'm desperate.

A. This is hard to answer without taking a look at your strokes. If you hit with a one-handed backhand, you might consider switching to a two-hander. Or, you might consider modifying your grip a little to assure that your hand is in a strong position when you make contact. Lastly, how is your footwork? Are you usually on balance and in position when you play your backhand? If not, then your troubles may have more to do with this then your actual stroke.

I would strongly urge you to find a good, certified professional who can break down your backhand. Often a one-hour lesson will get you back on track. Visit either of these web sites (www.uspta.com or www.ptrtennis.org).

Q. I have been playing for many years using a single back hand. My son's high school team is using the 2 handed back hand very effectively. Can an old timer like me (age 42) switch to a 2 handed back hand?

A. First of all, 42 years of age is not THAT old. In another 23 years you will be eligible for the 65 & over Nationals. Twenty years after that, you will be a grizzled veteran in the 85 & over division.

I would strongly encourage you to try some changes with your game. You will stay fresh and maintain enthusiasm if you are always striving to get better. Besides, it’s fun. Martina Navratilova just won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title (her 20th Wimbledon title at the age of 46). She has DEFINITELY changed her forehand dramatically in the past ten years. She has moved her grip toward a more “modern” semi-western style. I can assure you that Martina played a lot more tennis with her “old” continental grip forehand than you have with your one-handed backhand. So… give it a whirl. What have got to lose? You might even actually get a lot better.

Q. I use both a two-handed and one-handed backhand in my game. I can't decide which one I prefer, but I feel I perform both very well. Should I focus on one or the other at some point down the road?

A. This is a call for your teaching pro to make. However, should a two-hander become your basic stroke, you will still need to be able to “let go” and hit some shots with one hand. Therefore, until you get on-court professional advice from a good certified teaching pro, hitting with one hand will be helpful. The caveat is if you continue to play for awhile with one-hand and delay proper instruction; the teaching professional may find it more difficult to help decide which way is really best for you.

Good luck on the backhand wing!

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