Upsy and Downsy
Two Shapes for the One-Hander
Unlike the forehand, a one handed backhand has two general swing shapes, which govern the two main types of stroke, and I’m going to highlight them with two sequences of the same player.
I think it fair to say that a one handed backhand (unlike the two-hander) is intrinsically weaker than a forehand.
Or to be more precise, achieving forehand type power and topspin – overcoming the inherent weakness – is a more skilled operation.
Upsy Topspin requires nothing short of perfect timing of the various elements.
- The thumb theory can (at first) be testing for the majority.
- Thumb-under topspin requires much practice.
- There is no forgiveness for under-cooked topspin contact ‘forwardness‘.
Downsy Slice, by contrast, feels – and is – naturally stronger
- You don’t need to master a thumb under grip and…
- It is more forgiving of contact variations than topspin.
For the above reasons, the majority of swing shapes, amongst the world’s club-level players, is the downwardly mobile, high-to-low slice.
In these frames we see the Boris Becker slice backhand and he has taken the required full turn of the body and pulled the trigger back.
Throughout the first three frames Boris’ racket head stays high above the Connect 3 zone and in 4 & 5 he cuts the back of a (lower) Connect 3, along the downward path.
For now, just commit the shape of the shot to your understanding of a backhand.
For this stroke Boris only needs the thumb (slightly beyond) parallel to the back of the racket grip, which is visible in frame 7, and has no need to utilise a thumb under (even if it’s already there).
The second overall shape of a one handed backhand is the favoured low-to-high upsy swing of topspin.
In 1 & 2 we see the ‘grip click’ as Boris tucks the top of his thumb under the racket – he’s now put potential strength below the racket grip.
Unlike on the previous backhand, his racket head has been made to take a dip before he starts the swing towards contact.
Head Below Hand & Ball
In frame 6 Boris’ racket head is:
- 1: below his hand and
- 2: below the approaching ball, which confirms the upsy shape of the forthcoming stroke in advance.
This isn’t the steepest of low-to-high upsy swings, which tells us that it’s less of a heavy topspin backhand than a pounding, aggressive stroke, which, similar to Michael Stich earlier, contains a controlling amount of topspin – topspin helps harness the power to the court.
Where the racket head ends up also tells us how much thumb Boris has put into the shot. But we’ll look at this as we progress.
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