The Backhand Shot might feel like an unnatural one but when it is mastered it can elevate a player’s game into the highest realms. It’s an unnatural stroke to play because, when a right-handed person attempts any kind of body movement, they instinctively move towards their favoured side (right for right-handed and left for left-handed). We all do this because we often have the time in which to do so but, on the tennis court, there is often no time in which to chose your natural side so a Backhand Shot is used to give the player more versatility on court.
The Backhand Shot is simply when a ball approaches the player on the opposite side to their favoured hand and is returned over the net by moving the racket and playing it across their body. It is often used as a defensive move, with only top professionals able to generate the sort of power and accuracy necessary to end the rally conclusively. However, with enough practice, it can become an integral part of your arsenal and add another dimension to your game.
The technique adopted for a successful backhand requires very accurate and rehearsed body movements. As the ball approaches the player at waist-height, they are usually positioned between the base-line and the centre-line. Before the ball arrives at the player, they must position their body on their toes, with their knees bent, gripping the racket with their preferred grip. The grip in preparation for a Backhand Stroke will normally be with their favoured hand at the base of the grip, holding the racket as though they were shaking hands with it and the other hand just above it, touching the neck of the racket to give the player more control and power.
The shoulders are then turned forward and sideways, with the body’s weight pivoting on the opposite foot to their favoured hand (left foot for right-handed players etc). Their toes turn with the body so that they end up at around 90 degrees to the net. The dominant foot (right for right-handed etc) should then step slightly in front of the other foot to produce a shielding posture (the right side of the body being the shield for right-handed etc).
The elbow of the dominant arm is close to the body, around the waist, and the racket is brought back behind the opposite side of the body, with the face of the racket looking at the net ready to strike.
The big tip for a successful backhand is that the entire body should do all of the work collectively when pulling back and when striking the ball. When the ball reaches about a foot in front of the player’s body, the racket swings forward and should meet it there. The racket must meet the ball face on and not be tilted in any direction. If it is tilted then it could make the ball fly off in an unexpected direction.
When the ball is struck, the favoured arm propels it forward but the entire body provides the force. The eyes of the player must remain on the ball at all times, even just after the ball has been struck, to ensure it remains on course. The follow-through then mirrors that of the forehand and results in the racket rising over and above the opposite shoulder.
Here is a good example of a Backhand Stroke.
A One Handed backhand shot is very similar except the non-favoured hand acts as a balance rather than adding more force to the shot by holding the racket. The body movement doesn’t differ though.
Many players use the Backhand Shot (especially One Handed) to generate spin on the ball. By providing topspin, the ball will rise dramatically at first but drop rapidly towards the end. This is achieved by using the racket to clip the top of the ball and almost push it down.
Alternatively, to give the ball backspin, the racket is brought under the ball and shaves it. This slows the ball down considerably but it will land while still spinning in the air, making it hard for your opponent to return.