Preparing for a single-handed backhand
The single-handed backhand was the more popular backhand for the majority of tennis players of former generations. As the game has evolved, the two-handed backhand has become more popular among younger generations. However, the single-handed backhand remains an elegant stroke appreciated by all players. Many champions past and present impress audiences with their single-handed backhand, for example; Federer, Wawrinka, Tsisipas, Edberg, Sampras, Lendl, Becker, Thiem ou Dimitrov.
To prepare for a single-handed background, let’s look at the details chain of events needed more closely:
- Single-handed preparation: definition
- Grip during in the ready position
- Arm level in the ready position
- Trunk rotation: the release of the preparation (Early Opening)
- The dual journey of the forearm and racket from the ready position to the armed position
- Hip shift, movement, and anchoring of stance
- The armed position, the final position of the preparation
The definition of single-handed preparation:
As with all movements in tennis, the player must prepare their strike before swinging and hitting the ball. For hitting from the back of the court and for a backhand, we need to start with our hand and our racket in what we call “position zero”. “Position zero” is the moment when the hand stops moving backward and starts to move forward to strike the ball. It’s the moment where the movement stops and there is zero inertia. From this moment we can say that the strike has started and the hand and racket are moving forward.
Grip in the ready position:
There is a lot to be said about grip during a strike from the back of the court. Personally I believe that for all players using either a single or two-handed backhand is to use their forehand grip. Why? For two reasons, firstly because the grip for a forehand can be grouped with the same grips for a single-handed backhand slice. The second, is that for the majority of players, their forehand is their best and most used swing. Because of this, the left hand, positioned towards the throat of the racket, will rotate slightly to take its final position. Despite the fact the Semi-Western backhand grip is often recommended, an Eastern backhand grip will allow you to swing the racket head more easily. Wrist action can be used to its full extent in terms of extension and flexibility.
Arm level in the ready position
Like all movements in tennis, the release of the upper limbs is very important for the flow of the strike. When in ready position the arms should be relaxed and slightly bent in front of the body. The opposite hand should be on the throat of the racket, to enable a forehand grip.
Trunk rotation: the release of the preparation (Early Opening)
From the ready position, before moving, you should start with trunk rotation around the waste, using your spine as the axis. The hips should stay straight. Throughout the rotation keep your eyes forward to understand the ball’s trajectory. These are the conditions of the Mouratoglou Method’s ‘Easy Opening’. Your arms shouldn’t change position relative to your body (ready position). Your arms should be outstretched, relaxed, and slightly bent at the elbow. Whilst rotating your hand should change grips from your forehand grip to an Eastern backhand grip.
The dual journey of the forearm and racket from the ready position to armed position
The journey of the racket and forearms is linked to three criteria. The first is the height of the ball. Even if the player tries to position themselves to be able to strike to the ball at a comfortable height, they may still need to adapt it. The second is the speed of the ball, the amount of preparation can change accordingly for a fast or slow ball. This dual movement is a backward movement integrated into the rotation. By pulling slightly with the left arm we can accentuate the movement when the ball allows for this extra time. The third criteria is the preparation style. This can be a curved movement from high to low or the opposite or even a downward straight path. Throughout the journey the racket should stay vertical, this position will allow the power of your wrist when you release and hit the call, which will give the racket head a lot of speed when you strike.
Hip shift movement, and anchoring of stance
When the rotation of the trunk ends, and in the case of a “classic” strike, requiring little movement, the hip shift to the side is performed, allowing the body to turn fully. The left foot is positioned in front of the body. The spacing of the feet can vary depending on the ball. The feet are positioned at a 45° angle to align with the shoulders. The right foot in front is placed using the heel. This small detail will optimize the transfer of weight to the front when striking (This is an example of Weight Dispatch from the Mouratoglou method). The forefoot will support a significant part of the bodyweight and anchor it.
Armed position, the final position of the preparation
The armed position is the final position of the preparation of the backhand. What I call “position zero”. The characteristics of this position are as follows:
- Head looking forward, chin above right-shoulder.
- The shoulders, hips and foot position are aligned 45° from the net
- Your weight should be on the heel of your right foot and on the front of your left foot.
- Your arms should be slightly bent and pulled back. Your elbow, hand, racket and should be in the direction of the strike (90° from the net)
- Your left hand should be on the throat of the racket
- The head of the racket should be raised, ready to come down with speed
The preparation of a backhand is comprised of many complex actions, all of which are important to an effective strike. Treating the upper and lower body separately is key to this.