In the last 50 years the backhand has evolved from a predominantly one-handed stroke to a two-handed.
However, the last decade has seen a resurgence of the one handed backhand at the top of the game demonstrating that a good one-handed backhand can be as effective or even more effective than a two handed backhand.
The goal of this guide is to help you understand and improve your one-handed backhand so that you can take your game to the next level.
We will explore the following concepts:
One-Handed Topspin Backhand Technique & Fundamentals
The reason the one-handed topspin backhand is so challenging to master is because it requires perfect timing and stroke mechanics.
While on the two-handed backhand you have the non-dominant hand to help you adjust for late hits or situation where you missed the ideal contact point, on the one-handed backhand you do not have that luxury.
Your perception, timing and footwork have to be spot on to hit a good shot. The following slider will help you visualize the mechanics of a solid stroke.
Now that you have seen the various segments of the shot, let’s review the proper grip, technique, and fundamentals for this groundstroke.
The One Handed Backhand Grip
One of the most common mistakes on the one-handed topspin backhand is trying to hit the shot using the wrong grip.
Unless you are holding the racquet with an Eastern backhand grip, you are always going to struggle. In recent years some professional players will even turn the grip more, using a Western Backhand grip, however, for most players the Eastern backhand grip will be the best option.
For this grip, the knuckle of your index finger will be on top of the grip as the picture shows.
The Footwork & Stance
On the one-handed backhand the preferred stance is a closed stance, with the player stepping slightly across the body to hit the ball. Here is an example:
It is important to take the racket back rotating the body as a unit and not only with the arms.
Ideally, you will take the racquet back keeping your non-dominant hand on the throat of your racquet, your arm should be fairly straight with the racquet head pointing upwards.
The Racquet Drop or End of the Backswing
From the initial high shoulder turn you have to drop the racquet head under the ball at the end of the backswing enabling you to swing up and through the ball.
As you can see from the picture below, the racquet head should point towards the ground before swinging forwards. The arm remains straight.
Forward Swing and Contact Point
To hit topspin on your one handed backhand, the racquet has to swing upward from from low to high.
The contact point is in front of the front foot but with the shoulders still sideways. The racquet head at contact should be parallel to the net when making contact with the ball.
The following video will clarify the contact point for you.
The Follow Through
After contact your racquet head will remain stable and continue moving up and forwards as if pushing the ball. The racquet head will continue moving up and around as the body finishes rotation. The arm stays straight. The racquet will finish on the opposite side of the body, with the racquet head pointing up.
Roger Federer hits a one handed backhand.
The follow through for the one handed topspin backhand.
Pro Tips to Improve Your One Handed Backhand
If you already have the basics down for the one handed backhand, focusing on the tips below will help you improve your backhand further.
How to Use Your Off-Arm to Stabilize the Backhand
Also very important on a one-handed backhand is the role of the non-dominant arm during the swing because it helps to stabilize the stroke.
In general, the non-dominant arm will help take the racquet back and will move opposite to the swinging arm during the stroke as explained in the video.
How to Increase Topspin on Your One Handed Backhand
At this point it is also helpful to talk about the role of the forearm during the swing.
As I mentioned earlier, the hitting arm is mostly straight during the swing, however it will also rotate as it approaches the ball. This helps accelerate the racquet head and increases the amount of spin.
Take a look at the video to better understand the path of the racquet head as it swings forward.
Now that you have a clearer picture of the key components of a solid one-handed topspin backhand, let’s take a look at some common mistakes.
Common Mistakes on the Topspin One Handed Backhand
The following section will help you understand and correct some of the most common one-handed topspin backhand problems.
Bending the arm
As mentioned above, the player should maintain a fairly straight arm through the shot, starting with the preparation.
Bending the arm somewhere on the backswing, as a way to adjust to the contact or in the follow through will lead to inconsistencies.
The following video will explain why keeping your elbow straight is so important.
Rotating too early
This is arguably the most common mistake on the one-handed topspin backhand.
In contrast to the forehand where the player rotates to hit the ball and is basically facing the net at contact, the contact point on the one-handed topspin backhand occurs while the player is still sideways.
What makes this error so common is that the stroke does start by turning the body into the shot. However, the upper body slows down to let the arm swing through.
Let’s take a look at how to avoid this common mistake.
Now that you are more familiar with the whole structure of the one-handed topspin backhand, it’s time to go practice.
One great way you can look for areas to improve your one handed backhand is to take a video of yourself hitting the stroke. Then compare your technique with our slider at the top of this page to make sure you’re getting in the right positions for your one handed backhand.
For more advanced one-handed backhand tips, lessons on technique, and drills become a member of the TennisGate Online Academy!