The One Handed Backhand Guide
The age old debate when teaching an up and coming tennis player is, should they play with a one handed or two handed backhand.
Tennis was historically played with one hand only when players used wooden and aluminium rackets.
However, the modern game has added more power and athleticism to tennis and we see a lot more two handed backhands at both recreational and professional level.
There was a time not so long ago that many tennis fans thought the single handed backhand would die out.
What with the dominance of players such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray (leaving Roger Federer one of the last top players to have a one handed backhand for a number of years), it is fair to say the double handed backhand has become a dominant force.
However, in recent times the one handed backhand has had a resurgence in the professional game.
Tsitsipas, Thiem and Dimitrov have all reached the top of the men’s game with one handed backhands and there are more and more young players coming through the rankings with single handed backhands nowadays.
However, the one handed backhand is still a notoriously difficult shot to perfect.
It often takes young players a lot longer to develop a solid one handed backhand than it does to get a grasp of the two handed backhand.
So, the question still remains… should you try to play with a one handed backhand in the modern game?
Well, we think it is still a good choice to make and we can explain why.
Of course, you should play with whichever backhand feels the most natural for you.
However, playing with a one handed backhand is not something you should rule out through it being too difficult to master.
So, we will break down the key differences between the one and two handed backhands and then delve deeper into some of the key pointers you need to be aware of when hitting a one handed backhand.
One Handed vs Two Handed Backhand
Naturally, the main difference between the single and double handed backhand is the number of hands you use to strike the ball.
However, there differences go a lot further than just using one or two hands to hit your backhand.
There are a number of factors that differentiate between a single and double handed backhand, making the decision as to which one you should use less straightforward than you may have previously thought.
Spin and Angles
When hitting your backhand with just one hand, you will actually find that you have more space to take a longer swing.
Taking the non-dominant hand off of the racket gives you more flexibility and allows you to actually hit more spin and more acute angles if you use the correct technique.
This is because the additional freedom to swing gives players the option to start lower and finish higher than a player gripping the racket with two hands.
In some ways, the two handed backhand almost locks the arms in a position that may be very robust, but lacks the same flexibility in the wrists as the one handed backhand.
Therefore, the one handed backhand allows you to whip up the back of the ball very quickly, using the natural flexibility and strength of the wrist to impart more spin on the ball and create sharper angles than the two handed backhand.
We have mentioned that taking one hand off the racket gives you more room to swing, and this naturally allows for a longer backswing than when using two hands to hit the backhand.
Again, this means you will be able to generate more spin, angles and potentially more power than a two handed backhand due to the rapid uncoiling of the shoulder, arm and wrist.
However, this can make the one handed backhand more susceptible to errors when dealing with faster incoming balls.
This is because it is harder to time a longer swing than a shorter swing, so timing the topspin one handed backhand first serve return or half volley can be a lot more tricky than when using two hands on the racket.
Comfort Using One Hand
One of the major benefits that a lot of one-handers tend to feel is that they find hitting single handed backhand volleys and slices more natural.
This is simply due to the fact that they are more comfortable taking one hand off of the racket when hitting the ball, so will have built up additional confidence and forearm strength.
This gives them the edge when it comes to knifiing a slice backhand or carving out an angled backhand volley.
Time after time we have seen professional players hit amazing one handed backhand passing shots from seemingly impossible positions.
This is thanks to the additional reach that you get when hitting a single handed backhand.
Players are able to stretch further with one hand and flick passing shots that a player using two hands to hit over the ball simply could not produce.
Again, the proficiency in using the wrist and additional forearm strength that one-handers tend to have gives them more confidence to go for these shots when they are on the stretch.
One area that a lot of players cite as a weakness of the single handed backhand is its consistency.
This is where the two handed backhand comes into its own, as gripping the racket with both hands makes for an overall more solid shot.
The additional weight and body that two handed players get behind the ball, combined with the more pronounced use of the left side of the body in the shot really helps them stay consistent for a long period of time.
Many recreational players struggle to grasp the proper technique needed to hit a one handed backhand consistently.
This is because a lot more elements need to be done correctly when hitting a one handed backhand compared to a two handed one.
The long swings and lack of stability when using one hand mean that the contact point needs to be way out in front and the backswing needs to be perfectly timed to hit the ball well.
However, most players using a two handed backhand seem to be able to hit high balls more easily, have a more consistent stroke and can redirect a fast oncoming ball with a lot more ease than players hitting a one handed backhand.
How to Hit the Perfect One Handed Backhand
Okay, so we have discussed the key differences between the one and two handed backhand. But, how exactly do you hit the one handed backhand?
Well, here are a few pointers to get you off to a good start!
Most players who hit a technically sound single handed backhand will use the eastern backhand grip.
This is because it is a very versatile grip that can be used to hit the ball with a lot of topspin, create angles or flatten the ball out with ease.
The eastern backhand grip also lets you manipulate the wrist with ease, so hitting aggressive shots on the run is an option a lot more of the time.
To find the eastern grip, you want to hold your racket such that the frame is pointed at a 45° angle and the strings are closed off.
This will allow you to hit the ball with topspin as you drive the racket up the back of the ball with your low to high one handed backhand stroke.
By all means feel free to play around with it and find a grip that feels comfortable for you.
But, in our opinion the eastern backhand grip gives you the best of both worlds when hitting a one handed backhand.
Early preparation is crucial when you are looking to hit a great one handed backhand.
The naturally longer swing compared to a two handed backhand means you really need to nail the timing and ensure that you contact the ball in front of your body.
If you can’t do this, the ball will veer off wide and you won’t have a second hand available to steer the ball back into court.
So timing really is everything when it comes to the one handed backhand.
You want to make sure you use large steps in your footwork to get over to the ball in plenty of time, as this will allow you to set up early and have the best chance of timing the ball to perfection.
Once you have made up this ground, take small adjustment steps to get inside the court and take the ball at the top of the bounce if you can.
This helps with your timing, increases your power and takes time away from your opponent all at the same time!
In terms of your racket and body preparation before you actually contact the ball, you want to make sure you have a big shoulder turn so you can generate as much power as possible.
This is a really important step as you will want to make sure you can unleash as much coiled up energy as possible and make the most of the long swing and free wrist action.
As soon as you see the ball coming over to your backhand side, make sure to turn your shoulders and start with your racket nice and high behind your body.
This will give you the most leverage and power possible when you strike the ball.
The one handed backhand swing can truly be a thing of beauty.
There is a lot of artistic licence when it comes to hitting the one handed backhand, however there are a few key fundamentals that you will need to follow to hit it as effectively as Roger!
First things first, make sure that you start the racket nice and high and as the ball approaches, drop the racket below the height of the ball.
This creates a whipping effect that gives you more room to wind up your backhand swing and generate both more power, and more spin.
As you drive the racket through the ball, you will want to strike it with a fast upwards motion as you make contact. This is important if you want to generate topspin.
Top Tip: Make sure to keep your wrist nice and loose throughout the one handed backhand swing. This is essential if you want to generate as much power and spin as possible, as it helps increase your racket head speed and gives you more leverage over the ball.
If you want to drive through the ball with a lot of power, then simply adjust your swing path accordingly and let the racket strike through the back of the ball in a straight line.
The aim here is to keep the ball in contact with the strings for as long as you can so you can really pocket the ball and fire it down the other end of the court.
However, if you are looking to rip the ball with spin or hit a high topspin lob, you want to start the racket even lower and really brush up the back of the ball with a ‘thin’ contact.
You’ll hear a raspy cutting sort of noise compared to the thick ‘thud’ when you flatten the ball out.
This is a great sign that you have hit the ball with a lot of spin as you will get it rotating a lot!
Ultimately, the one handed backhand is a technically difficult shot but one that you can most certainly master if you put your mind to it.
Both one and two handed backhands have their strengths and weaknesses, so it is important to pick the shot you feel most comfortable hitting.
However, don’t be put off from giving the one handed backhand a go as it can offer a lot of variety over the two handed backhand.
We hope you give the one handed backhand a go next time you’re out on court!
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