This article will go over everything you need to know to have a solid tennis backhand.
You can always improve your groundstrokes and especially your backhand stroke by developing a stronger foundation in terms of tennis technique and overall confidence, whatever your skill level.
- What Is a Backhand in Tennis?
- One-Handed vs. Two-Handed Tennis Backhand
- Two-Handed Backhand
- Forward Swing
- One-Handed Tennis Backhand
- One-Handed Backhand Grip
- One-Handed Backhand Take-Back
- One-Handed Backhand Forward Swing
- One-Handed Backhand Contact
- One-Handed Backhand Follow-Through
- Different Types of Backhand
- Final Thoughts
What Is a Backhand in Tennis?
In tennis, the backhand is the other of two types of groundstrokes. It is possible to use a one-handed or two-handed stroke. The basic swing pattern, like the forehand, begins on one side of your body, moves forward and across, and ends on the opposite side.
The tennis backhand, however, is hit with the back of your dominant hand facing the direction of the stroke instead of the forehand.
One-Handed vs. Two-Handed Tennis Backhand
For beginners, deciding whether to use a single-handed or double-handed backhand can be challenging because each has its pros and cons.
Although switching from a single-handed to a double-handed backhand or vice versa is not impossible, the backhand you decide to begin with is likely to be the one you keep for the rest of your tennis career.
Pros of a One-Handed Backhand:
- more power generated on average
- better slice as less time is needed for grip change
- greater reach
Cons of a One-Handed Backhand:
- high balls are harder to hit
- possible over-reliance on slice
- harder to execute with sound technique and proper timing
Pros of A Two-Handed Backhand:
- easier to learn initially
- high balls are easier to hit because of the extra non-dominant arm support
- greater overall consistency because of better control
Cons of a Two-Handed Backhand:
- less reach
- slice preparation takes longer because of grip change
At the end of the day, whether you use one-handed or two-handed backhands will not prevent you from developing a strong tennis game. Even stars like Roger Federer, who has always used a one-handed backhand, recommend that juniors begin with a double-handed backhand as they have an easier time learning it because it requires less strength.
Both the one-hand and two-hand backhands have pros and cons. Players at the top levels use both, so there is no right or wrong answer. It takes a lot of practice to learn either technique, and you should work with a competent coach who knows how to hit whichever shot you choose.
The basis of good body preparation is good footwork, especially when it comes to two-handed backhands. Try to time your split step so that your feet touch the ground immediately after you notice your opponent’s shot moving in the opposite direction.
You want to respond to the ball now that you’ve noticed it’s moving toward your backhand side. The first phase is to shift and put your weight onto your outside foot before starting to rotate your shoulders and hips.
Once finished, you can push off with your outside foot and react to the ball. You will notice that as you rotate your shoulders and hips, your racket will also be taken back.
There is no magic grip for the two-handed backhand that you should use for your non-dominant hand; however, a continental grip is the best choice for your dominant hand.
Your dominant hand should grip the racquet at the bottom end, while your non-dominant hand should be placed directly above it. Your non-dominant hand should have a forehand grip, preferably an eastern or semi-western grip.
Also, check out our article on all possible grips in tennis!
There are two types of backhand stances: the traditional neutral stance backhand and the modern open stance backhand. Both types of backhands are used by professional players today and can be effective at all levels of competition.
Unlike the forehand, most tennis teaching pros think that both stances are useful for players to have in their repertoire.
You need to ready your feet and upper body to hit through the ball now that you have the proper grip and the ball is in your comfort zone. Put your weight onto your back foot, which should be your left foot if you’re right-handed, and step into the court with your right foot.
Your feet should be lined up as if riding a surfboard, allowing you to uncoil your hips and shoulders well. This stance directs your shoulders and hips where you intend to strike the ball.
The racket takeback should be performed with the racket head low, and you can add a slight loop (but not a loop like on the forehand)! Adding a loop or shape to the stroke allows the racket head to be lower to the ball before contact, allowing for more topspin. Think fluid motion here.
That loop or inverted C shape typically aids in getting low below the ball and allows a lot of wrist to come over the ball on contact, keeping the topspin sharp. Another major issue is that players believe they have the racket fully back, but it is only halfway back, promoting only half a swing!
After making contact with the ball, the player’s left-hitting arm extends and moves upwards to the right side (we started on the left side for right-handed players). Continue to rotate your belt buckle until it finally returns to the net.
Remember, never swing from high to low unless you’re trying to hit into the net. The arms will ultimately bend and finish over your shoulder as everything rotates.
When you meet the ball just out in front of your body, your ideal contact point is around hip height, and your dominant arm should be extended. As you accelerate your racket, head forward, keep your wrists loose, and naturally extend your hands forward into the court during and after contact.
Extend your racket forward through the court after contact with the ball as if someone were pulling your hands forward. This will help you make good contact and avoid prematurely bending your elbows.
On the follow-through, your elbows should remain off your chest, and the racket head should finish high around your right shoulder if you are right-handed and around your left shoulder if you are left-handed.
One-Handed Tennis Backhand
The backhand has grown from a one-handed to a two-handed stroke in the last 50 years. However, the single-handed backhand has seen a resurgence at the top of the modern game in the last decade, demonstrating that a good single-handed backhand can be as effective as, if not more effective than, a two-handed backhand.
It’s difficult not to enjoy watching a well-placed one-handed backhand. Younger tennis players, such as Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov, show that the one-handed backhand player still has a lot to offer.
One-Handed Backhand Grip
One of the most common errors on the one-handed backhand is attempting to hit the shot with the incorrect grip. The eastern backhand grip is used by the majority of tennis players who hit a technically good single-handed backhand.
This is because it is a highly flexible grip that can be used to hit the ball with a lot of topspin, creates angles, or flattens the ball out easily. The eastern backhand grip also allows you to easily manipulate the wrist, allowing you to hit aggressive shots on the run a lot more of the time.
To find the eastern grip, hold your racket so that the frame is at a 45° angle and the strings are closed. This allows you to spin the ball while driving the racket up the back of the ball with your low to high one-handed backhand stroke.
Feel free to experiment with it and find a grip that is comfortable for you. However, we believe the eastern backhand grip provides the best of both worlds when hitting a one-handed backhand.
Tightly gripping the racquet creates tension and slows down your racquet head. As a result, I always emphasize to my students the importance of keeping their hands as loose on the racquet as possible.
One-Handed Backhand Take-Back
Returning the racket by rotating the body as a whole, not just the arms, is critical. Ideally, you should take the racquet back with your non-dominant hand on the racquet’s throat, your arm fairly straight, and the racquet head pointing upwards.
One-Handed Backhand Forward Swing
You must lower the racquet head under the ball at the end of the backswing, allowing you to move up and through the ball from your original high-shoulder turn.
Ideally, your arm should straighten during the motion. Your belt buckle should point to the side fence as your shoulders turn. At this point, you begin to let go of the non-dominant hand.
Ensure you’re swinging as a unit rather than just using your arm. To hit topspin on your one-handed backhand, swing the racquet upward from low to high.
One-Handed Backhand Contact
The most critical point is the point of contact. The player’s arm should be straight and fully extended. At contact, all great backhands have the right arm fully extended and straight at the elbow.
Extension promotes maximum power as well as good ball feel and control. Even if the racquet has approached with a slightly closed tilt angle, the racquet face must be square to the ball at the contact point. For crosscourt shots, the point of contact will generally be a little bit more in front than on down-the-line shots.
One-Handed Backhand Follow-Through
Hitting a one-handed backhand in tennis is all about the follow-through. After you make contact with the ball, your racquet head should remain steady and continue to move upward and forward as you keep driving through the ball.
As your body finishes its rotation, the racket head will keep moving up, wrapping around your body. The arm remains straight with the racket pointing up, resembling the serve “trophy position”.
Different Types of Backhand
To hit the balls with topspin, the player must first hold the racquet in their dominant hand with a continental grip and their non-dominant hand with a semi-western grip. The player should prepare for the backswing by holding the racquet upright behind them; a horizontal position will result in a shot that’s more flat.
Because of the upright racquet position in the preparation, the rest of the swing will inherently force the player to move the ball from low to high as the motion is completed. This is followed by the player pronating the wrist and shifting their body weight forward.
When should you create topspin with your backhand in tennis? It all depends on the type of player you are. However, I can provide some general guidelines. With this information, you may be able to refine your decision-making in future matches. Under the following conditions, a higher percentage of topspin backhands is a good idea.
- You’re hitting it from behind the baseline (deep ball).
- You are playing tennis on clay courts or other courts with a slow surface.
- You’re attempting to return a slow-moving ball.
- You must place the ball at your opponent’s feet (once they are at the net).
- You want to create a sharper angle by dipping the ball near the cross-court net.
- Your topspin backhand outperforms other shots in your repertoire; even if it doesn’t make strategic sense, it produces better results.
Slice backhands are a valuable weapon on the tennis court and can be used offensively (i.e., drop shots) and defensively. A backhand slice in a tennis match is lower to the ground and moves slowly toward the opposing player. When a player intends to advance to the net, this change-of-pace shot is frequently used as an approach shot, usually on the backhand side.
Moreover, drop shots, lobs and other high balls, and other changeup strokes with a slice backhand disrupt the opponent’s flow which is to your advantage. Consequently, this stroke is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Because the slice backhand moves from high to low, your first movement should be up above the shoulders.
Turn your hips and shoulders, shift your weight to your back leg, and bend your arms slightly upward. As you swing, you will shift your weight onto your front foot, which will be placed either across or in front of your body, depending on where the ball is. The swing should go from high to low, not high to low to high.
The strings will slide down the back of the ball as you swing, creating spin and chopping the ball low across the net. The racket will come up on the follow-through, but usually, after the ball has left the strings.
The contact point should ideally be just in front of your lead knee. You’ll stay sideways on the follow-through and keep everything very linear, coming through with your arms straight down the court. Your racket hand does not come through with your non-dominant hand. Instead, it splits on contact and thrusts behind you.
Both one and two-handed backhands have advantages and disadvantages, so choose the most effective shot you are most comfortable hitting. However, don’t be put off by trying the one-handed backhand because it can provide more variety than the two-handed backhand, and keep in mind these general reminders:
Swing and rotate as a unit:
Recreational players have a tendency to concentrate too much on their arms and hands rather than using their entire bodies. To hit the ball, make sure to use your legs and upper body turn.
Firm hands at impact:
Many tennis coaches teach their players to have loose hands. Forget that. Feel as if you’re firmly squeezing the racket grip at impact. This will keep the racquet head in place during contact, enhancing your control.
The belt buckle trick:
Begin the swing by turning your body and pointing to the side fence with your “belt buckle.” Finish a proper backhand by pointing the belt buckle to the net.
Determine your perfect shot style:
Do you prefer hitting flat or with spin? Decide on a strategy and stick to it. We all feel more at ease with different ways of hitting the ball; figure out what works best for you.
What backhand grip does Federer use?
Roger utilizes the standard backhand grip, also known as the eastern backhand grip. When he slices the ball, however, he changes it slightly. Federer can use this grip to hit his backhand with power and topspin. The top knuckle (the index finger) is almost parallel to the racket’s frame.
What grip does Djokovic use for his backhand?
Novak uses a Continental grip with his right (dominant) hand and a Semi-Western backhand grip with his left hand (non-dominant) to hold the racket. It is one of the most effective ways to hold the racket for maximum power and spin.
Who are the great single-handed backhand players?
Many tennis greats use the one-handed backhand. Such players include Roger Federer, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Justine Henin, Simona Halep, Stan Wawrinka, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov, Grigor Dimitrov, Richard Gasquet, Daniel Evans, Dusan Lajovic and Lorenzo Musetti.
Who are the great two-handed backhand players?
Players with great two-handed backhands are Kei Nishikori, David Nalbandian, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Nikolay Davydenko, Rafael Nadal, Alexander Zverev, Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Lleyton Hewitt, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Li Na, and Jelena Jankovic.
Christoph Friedrich is a German tennis player and coach currently residing in Oakland, California. He began his tennis journey at the age of eight and has since dedicated his life to the sport. After working as a tennis coach and hitting partner in New York City for eight years, Christoph decided to share his knowledge and experience with tennis players around the world by creating the My Tennis Expert blog. His goal is to make tennis education accessible to everyone and help players select the best equipment for their game, from racquets and strings to shoes and overgrips. Christoph's extensive research and expertise in tennis technology make him a valuable resource for players of all levels.