Thursday, January 21, 2010

One Hand or Two Handed Backhand in Tennis

The backhand tennis stroke has transformed incredibly since the 1980's and now the majority of men and most of the women players use a two handed backhand. In fact in men's Tennis only Federer of the top players playing the 2010 Australian Open this week, uses a one handed stroke.

The backhand can be used for a variety of shots and there are distinct advantage of a two handed backhand over a one handed backhand in most instances.
Damir Popadic breaks it down shot by shot on the ITF coaching website and suggests which shot is better and why.
  • Return of Serve - Two handed is better as it allows the player to use a short back swing and to play the stroke with an open stance (hips facing forward).
  • Running backhand - Two handed is better as a single handed stroke requires better positioning. A one handed stroke requires a rotation of the hips and shoulders and a longer back swing making it more difficult to hit on the run.
  • Approach shot (to the net) - Two handed shot allows the shot to be hit with an open stance which gives the player more time to approach the net. The player does not need to complete his rotation before approaching the net as he would with a one handed shot.
  • Low balls - Two handed shot allows for more stability and it is easier to scoop the ball up with a stable base. The one hand shot will be difficult to control.
  • Short low balls - Popadic suggests that neither shot has the edge here, but the one handed shot has the advantage of reach and with a strong wrist a satisfactory shot could be played.
  • Very wide balls - here again Popadic gives no advantage either way, but just like the short low ball, the one handed shot has the extra reach and a strong wrist action (such as Federers) could produce a fantastic shot.
  • Balls hit at the body - Here the single handed backhand has the definite advantage. With a single handed shot the player is able adjust his racket position enough to block the ball back.
  • Slice shot - Now here is a shot that can only be played one handed. This is also an important shot for defense and staying in a rally. It is also a great shot to use to change the pace of a point. There is no good way to play this shot two handed and therefore even a player with a two handed backhand will need to play the slice one handed.

It seems from Damir Popadic's analysis that the two handed stroke must be far superior to the one handed backhand. However we all know the world number 1 tennis player, Roger Federer, uses one hand and seems to have as much power and precision as the other top 10 players using two hands.

Most pundits though believe that Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray's two handed backhand is better than Federer's one handed version. But lets take a look at two down the line drives, one from Federer and the other from Andy Murray. Although I believe Nadal has the best backhand in tennis today, it is more difficult to make a comparison because he is a left hander.

Although both these videos show a backhand drive down the line, you will notice that they are not filmed from the ideal position and Federer's shot is from a waist high ball, while Murray is hitting a ball around chest high.

It is interesting to note that with a backhand drive both players need to setup correctly, turning their hips and shoulders 90 degrees to the direction in which they are going to hit the ball and taking big backswings. It looks as if Federer's backswing is bigger than Murray's, but with the different camera angles it is not possible to be definitive here. So the two handed advantage of a more balanced, open stance does not apply when comparing these two backhands as both players use a closed stance.

Watching the shot itself, we see Federer rotate his hips and shoulder further away from the court to create potential energy (wind up) just before the shot. He then swings through the ball using both his hips and shoulders to create power, hitting the ball almost in line with his body to ensure that it goes straight down the line and not cross court.

Murray on the other hand rotates 90 degrees to the court in preparation for the shot but then does not rotate further away to increase his potential energy. This is a result of the two handed grip he uses and possibly also because the ball is bouncing high. You will see that although he does rotate his shoulders toward the ball, it is not nearly as much as Federer's rotation. Instead he create power by using both arms to hit the shot. He too meets the ball with the racket in line with his body.

The follow through of both players is also of interest. Federer follows through all the way opening up his shoulders and finishing with his racket above his head. Murray's follow through is almost as big but he does not take the racket high above his head because both hands are on the racket.

So which backhand is better?
Federer is using his whole body, with a big back swing and follow through and lots of rotation to create power. He needs, and does have a strong wrist and forearm and is able to control the ball with that strength.
Murray uses his two hands to control the shot, but also needs to take a big back swing and follow through and to rotate his shoulders in order to create power. He supplements that rotation power by using both hands.

Both backhands are powerful and precise. When Federer's backhand goes wrong though it can go horribly wrong, but if he gets it right with timing and position he is often hitting a winner. Murray is less likely to hit a wild backhand shot.

Federer though seems to have a much wider variety of backhand shots than Murray or even Nadal for that matter. Nadal and Murray may hit heavier backhand topspin shots, but Federer seems to be able to flick and block and change his shot whenever he pleases.

As the two handed backhand seems to be more efficient and better for players with less racket control and wrist strength (everyone other than Federer), it is likely that we will see less players using a one handed backhand. For now we can enjoy watching Federer's backhand mastery and compare it to the awesome power and control of Nadal's and Murray's.

Have a great week.


Anonymous said...

This article is very one dimensional. The fact that you included "Damir Popadic" views shows that you are not very educated about the current state of tennis. It is a personal opinion of course for you to say one is better then the other, but if you actually think 90% of the advantages goes to the two hander thats just silly. Low balls are not easier with a two hander. Balls further out of reach are not easier. Slices are easier for people with one handed backhands. Haas, Federer, Sampras, Gasquet all seem to do just fine. Nalbandian, Murray, Safin, Agassi are great too. So for all you readers don't be fooled by this article and learn the advantages and disadvantages of each stroke yourself. Hope this helps.

Dudley Tabakin said...

Thanks for your comment. Although I believe (yes, my opinion) that more professional players are gravitating toward a two handed backhand because of the power and control, I did not intend to give the impression that a one handed backhand does not have it's advantages. In the article I write "It seems from Damir Popadic's analysis that the two handed stroke must be far superior to the one handed backhand. However we all know the world number 1 tennis player, Roger Federer, uses one hand and seems to have as much power and precision as the other top 10 players using two hands. "
On this website we promote that athletes use video to analyze their performances and learn the advantages and mechanics of their stroke, one handed or two.

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