If I recall correctly, it was Confucius that said, “Sometimes you need to go backwards to go forwards.” Either that or I read it in the rulebook for Candyland. Can’t remember which. Such is the case for my current tennis game, more specifically, my one-handed backhand. It has always been an uphill and ongoing battle to get my backhand to the same level as my forehand. Like a lot of tennis players, my forehand side is much stronger than my backhand.
The old me and my one-hander
I’ve always just dealt with the fact that I had a significantly weaker side. Even when I played on my high school tennis team, I never really worked on making my backhand stronger. Luckily, and not so luckily, the competition was never that great, so I could get away with constantly running around and hitting forehands and occasionally slicing my backhand.
Ever since I started working at Tennis Warehouse and started playtesting product, I’ve been able to hit the courts with more regularity. With a consistent hitting schedule and a multitude of hitting partners who were better than me, I started making a concerted effort on working to improve my one-hander. It took a long time, but I finally got my backhand to a point where it was no longer that big of a liability. It didn’t necessarily win me too many free points, but it was able to keep me in rallies long enough so I could finally rip my forehand. And rip it I did! I don’t want to brag, but my forehand was once clocked at 36 MPH. And boom goes the dynamite.
I finally had a reliable backhand that I wasn’t ashamed of. All was good in my tennis world. Then the Santa Maria Comcast Open happened. Like the Santa Claus at the mall who gets his beard pulled off by some kid during a picture shoot, I was exposed! Short story shorter, I played an opponent who broke down my backhand, and eventually, my game. He would hit short, chip shots to my backhand, approach the net, and all I could do was slice it back or hit a lob, to which he would put away. Three-and-a-half long hours later, I lost the match. I was convinced that if I had a 2 handed backhand, I would’ve been able to get under the ball more and hit it back with pace and angle.
The following week after the tournament, I began my 2 handed experiment. After receiving plenty of pointers from members of the playtest team, I hit the court for the first time with the mindset of only hitting 2 handed backhands. What an eye opener! I couldn’t get anything going. Face too open. Face too closed. Hitting the bottom of the net. Hitting the back wall. That was day one.
Hard to tell, but that's me hitting my newfound 2 handed backhand
I’m noticing for the first time, the difference in racquet handle lengths. I was oblivious to them before because of my one hander. As luck would have it, my own racquet, the Boris Becker Delta Core London, has a handle long enough for a 2 hander with room to spare. Such is the case for the Yonex, Prince, Volkl and Pacific racquets that I’ve tried. But when I tested racquets from Dunlop and some from Wilson, I noticed my hands were pretty close to the edge, and I don’t have big hands.
A couple more hitting sessions, and I’m finally hitting with some consistency. After getting diagnosed by a couple of backhand doctors, I realized that I wasn’t stepping into the shot and my upper body was leaning back when I made contact. Back to the drawing board. A few more weeks in and I’m feeling even more confident, but still in the process of tweaking my stroke. Next step: shortening up my backswing. I was taking it so far back that it made it difficult to get the timing down.
At the beginning, I spent most of my time focusing on the fundamentals of the swing from take back to follow through. So much so that I forgot one main element: footwork, footwork, footwork. A 2 handed backhand requires footwork that is so different from that of a one-hander. The balance is different, the transfer of weight is different. Once I started focusing in on my footwork, things started to come together. I was hitting with much more power, hitting through the ball and not offering up lollipops for my opponents to crush. Another eye opener. So much work, so little time.
This is what’s so great and yet so frustrating about this transition. On one (back)hand, I’m excited to try something new, something that can potentially help my tennis game. When I receive pointers, I want to immediately go to the courts to try it out and see if it works or not. I love the trial and error process and seeing myself steadily improve. That’s the fun stuff. On the other, learning to walk again sucks. All that hard work I put a few years ago on my one hander has gone to the wayside.
Although I’ve had to take multiple steps back (2495 to be exact), I feel like I am starting to go forward again. With high powered, NASA grade binoculars on, I feel like I can see the finish line. I believe it was Confucius that also said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Let’s just hope this journey is not anywhere close to a thousand miles. I don’t do well walking.
Have any of you tried making the switch from either a one handed backhand to a two or vice versa? I’d love to hear about your stories and tips.