Develop More Power on your Backhand – Shoulder to Shoulder Drill

If you constantly struggle to hit your backhands aggressively, and never quite feel like you can hit through the ball, one drill I like to do to get myself in an aggressive mentality is to practice touching my right shoulder to my chin on the preparation phase, and after I hit the ball, touch my chin with my left shoulder on the follow through.

With each backhand, the physical contact of right shoulder / left shoulder will give you immediate feedback as to whether or not you are (a) turning your shoulders properly and (b) hitting through the ball.

It may feel different at first, but like Agassi’s dad used to tell him – ‘just keep whacking that ball hard and one of these days it’s going to go in’. But in all seriousness, it will help you break through the mental barrier of having a ‘weak’ backhand, and help you feel like you can attack the ball from both sides.

Check out this slow mo of Djokovic – 36 seconds for the right shoulder touch, and 2:40 for the left shoulder touch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed3S-X1Xiv4

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Agassi Backhand Front

likes: Keeps the racquet on his left side throughout the stroke, nice an compact motion, phenomenal balance, good extension, relaxed motion, drops the racquet nicely.

dislikes: very stiff legs, not great rotation, toe is closed off, putting pressure on the knee and stopping forward body momentum.

Also check out this video for some wicked mullet action:

What’s Hidden in your Backhand?

The two-handed backhand is a left-handed forehand in disguise.

backhand

Here’s a sample of a normal backhand I’d hit. (Good rotation on this one, but my head goes up too much as I’m a bit too jumpy. Good extension of my left hand and shoulder through the shot.)

bh lh focus

Slowing down, if I take my right hand off the racquet, the motion would be identical to if I were hitting a left-handed forehand. On the two-handed backhand, it should be a predominantly left-handed shot. The left hand is directing the shot, and the right hand is there to stabilize.

lh forehand

If you backhand is feeling too wristy, loopy, or just bad, then practice hitting a bunch of left-handed forehands. It will force you to eliminate wasted movement, and focus on the 3-step forehand.

Neutral Stance Backhand

Hitting Demo

Analysis and Instruction (Slower)

  1. Splitstep
  2. Shoulder Turn
  3. Move to the Ball
  4. Step directly into the court with your right foot, making sure to point your toe towards the net as much as possible, and rolling from heel to toe with this last step.
  5. Swing is initiated by pushing off with your legs, rotating 180 degrees with your shoulders, and then hips and legs.
  6. Recover to the proper court position

Open Stance Backhand

Hitting Demo

  1. Ready Position
  2. Turn Shoulders
  3. Stutter-Step if necessary
  4. Step out with left foot, point toe at target, roll from heel to toe. In the below video my toe is not pointed all the way at my target, and it is pointed a bit too much towards the sideline. Because of this, you can see how my body momentum carries me to the side instead of right through the shot, and my rotation is not perfect.
  5. Rotate body with left foot landing in front, sideways to the court
  6. Maintain good balance throughout whole shot. Look at my minimal head movement up and down in the below video.

Edit: In the video above at one point I say ‘I take shuffle steps to get into position’. What I mean to say was “I take stutter steps to get into position”. The reason to take short steps at the beginning when you move to the ball is that your acceleration is faster when you are taking many short quick steps. Many coaches use the analogy of using 1st gear on a bicycle for rapid acceleration, and then you can use longer strides (10th gear) for maximum speed. It’s the same thing with sprinting – right after the starter’s pistol, you aren’t taking huge leaping strides. You have to take many small steps in rapid succession to accelerate, then as you build speed your stride length increases.

Should I hit a One-Handed or Two-handed Backhand?

People will argue forever over whether the one handed backhand or two-handed backhand is “better”. Ultimately it’s all about the player and their execution of the stroke. Both Agassi and Federer are great players with fantastic backhands – Agassi hit a two-hander and Federer hits a one-hander. The majority of players are now hitting with two hands, and I think part of the reason is that it just a much simpler stroke to teach properly.

The two handed backhand relies on a compact turning motion, and using body rotation to extend through the shot. It’s easy to get juniors quickly confident and hitting the ball well with a two-hander.

The one hander is more complex, and I would only recommend trying to learn the one handed backhand after mastering the two-hander. The one-handed backhand depends more heavily on following the correct kinetic chain of events – that is – you must coil your hips and shoulders, then unleash on the ball first with your legs, then hips, then shoulder, then extend through with your hitting arm, while keeping your left shoulder back and using your left hand for a counter-balance. It is more difficult to maintain complete control of the racquet, as there is the tendency for it to float behind you. There is also the tendency to have an incorrect angle of your shoulders, overutilization of the wrist, and the hitting arm too straight. In other words – I just feel like more can go wrong here. But that’s not to say that it can be a devastating shot. The one-handed backhand has some major benefits – you can extend your arm further and manipulate the ball in different ways. Hitting sharp angles is easier with a one-handed backhand, for instance, as are hitting very low balls.

I will occasionally use a one-handed backhand for sharp angle passing shots, low balls out wide as I approach the net, or short-hop half volleys.

Here is my attempt at a one-handed backhand.

Notice:

I still step with the proper heel to toe movement, and in a neutral stance rather than closed.

I keep my head down and watching the ball, even a split-second after I make contact to ensure that I do not lift my head up early, causing over-opening of my shoulders, or a mis-hit of the ball. It is only well after I have hit the ball and extended out into the court that I allow my shoulders to open up, and my body to recover. “Staying down on the ball” ensures good contact.

By tilting my front shoulder down during the coiling motion, it facilitates a higher trajectory of the ball. As I begin to swing at the ball, my right shoulder will naturally lift, and the racquet will travel a low-to-high trajectory for more of a rolling topspin backhand. I’m not sure if this is traditionally taught for the one-handed backhand, but I find that it helps me when I do hit one.

When I am hitting a one-handed backhand, I find it is extremely important to bend my legs, and use them to generate power. Using your arm to generate power on the one-handed backhand is a great way to hurt your arm, tire yourself out, have inconsistent shots, and no power.

Notice I do not use my wrist. It stays in basically the same position for the entire shot, just like a forehand or two-handed backhand.

It’s also vitally important to hit the ball well in front of your body with the one-hander. Allowing the ball to pass your front foot is the kiss of death, as it is extremely difficult to generate any kind of spin/pace/control over the ball.

Here’s a video of Federer if you don’t want to rely on mine as an example!

Contact Point

(Backhand view)

(Forehand view)

If you are having trouble controlling the ball on the court, it may be related to where you are hitting the ball relative to your front foot. If you are hitting the ball too far in front of your front foot, it will zoom out crosscourt. If you hit the ball too late – too close to your body, it will spray out down the line. If you feel like your contact point is always off, but you can’t help it, then it’s probably due to bad footwork. Practice taking lots of little stutter steps before you hit the ball, and visit the footwork section for drills.

Next Lesson: learn to carve up your opponents by mastering spin.