The Thumb Theory
Little Tom Thumb,
Lives Behind the Racket…
My Thumb Theory is to the one-handed backhand what the Palm Principle is to the forehand – your thumb replaces the palm as the primary provider of strength.
Actually, it’s more fact than theory – I just like the way the T.T. alliteration flickth off the tongue.
And if you’re teaching kids, the Tom Thumb Theory might help wedge it more firmly between their ears.
Little Tom Thumb
Lives behind the racket
From where he provides
The strength to whack it!
Not exactly William Blake, but you get the idea.
Semi-Thumb Tuck Grip
We’ve previously seen the thumb parallel to the back of the racket for flatter drives.
In this 2 image click thru we see Boris Becker’s topspin thumb-tuck – or semi thumb tuck – which tucks the top half of the thumb (from the knuckle up) under the racket grip.
Here, he’s at the end of the stroke, with the semi-thumb tuck on top of the racket in frame 2, and also in the image below.
As we’ve seen on the forehand, when hitting upsy topspin, it helps greatly to have strength under the racket and for one-handed topspin and the end of the thumb (from the knuckle upwards) can provide such a service.
This is the moderate thumb-tuck option, which is good enough for most of us.
But he wanted to be
A topspin wonder
So Tom made sure
He was always tucked under
Full Thumb Tuck Grip
Here we see Guga utilising a full thumb tuck.
The full thumb is now (almost) parallel with the bottom of the racket grip and – like the Full Palm Under – a Full Thumb Under grip is as extreme as you can get on a one-hander.
It’s an advanced grip and not for beginners (unless you’re a phenom) but players of every standard should at least know that it exists as a technical final destination – you can compare the two types of thumb tuck below.
The difference can me measured in millimeters, but the effects of tucking further under can be radical.
You should also be aware that the further under with the thumb, the further forward your contact with the ball should be – unlike on the forehand, this is a non-negotiable rule (see one-handed Connect 3 soon).
Let’s see some thumb tuck action.
First up is the elegant former world no. 2 and French Open finalist Mick Stich.
You can tell by the shape of his hand in 1 that he ‘clicks’ the top of his thumb under the racket handle (and if you can’t, you will be able to by the time I’ve finished with you), which tells us he won’t be hitting slice – he now has the capacity to hit either flat drives or topspin.
Click thru the sequence and note a moderate low-to-high swing, which delivers a mix of power and topspin.
The end of the stroke confirms the degree to which he’s ‘thumb-balled’ (see later) the racket head upwards, and I’d say that here he’s using a moderate amount of ‘thumb’ for controlling topspin, as opposed to the all-out ‘kicking’ topspin of whippy-rippy baseliners.
Let’s look again at the grip of technically under-appreciated Gabriela Sabatini, though on these pages she’s a Grade A Stroke Model.
In 1 & 2 we see the thumb tuck before and after contact, when the fruits of her cloth -ripping, thumb-ball topspin become apparent.
In fact, we may as well take a look at her Thumb Tuck in action, as Bella rips the thumb upwards from under the racket – few better examples of thumb-tuck topspin than Gabby.
Worth comparing Gabby’s backhand to the more moderate topspin efforts of Mick Stich, but I’m getting ahead of myself again.
Speaking of Stroke Models, the player who inspired Gabby’s full-on topspin backhand is fellow Argentinian and former French, Australian and US Open Champ Guillermo Vilas: recognise the grip?
Jimmy Arias is a good backhand to compare to each of the above backhands.
In his heyday Jimmy had a thumping topspin forehand and in this click-thru, he’s hitting upsy topspin with his one-handed backhand.
It’s a nice enough shape and you don’t get to a Grand Slam semi final without world class talent and skill.
In the fourth frame I’ve zoomed in on Jimmy’s grip and there’s no thumb tuck in evidence.
What do you reckon?
Is he using the right tools – the best available tools – for the job?
I’ll leave you to decide if he got to 5 in the world in spite of – or because of – his backhand grip…