Analysis of the David Nalbandian Backhand Technique

The David Nalbandian Backhand is a effortless, explosive and powerful two handed backhand shot.

The David Nalbandian backhand has set marks in the professional tennis history not only for the flawless backhand technique, but for defeating the best tennis players in the world of professional tennis. One of the elements that sets Nalbandian’s backhand apart is his ability to generate a powerful and explosive backhand with one of the most efficient swings on tour for the two handed backhand stroke.

Not only has Nalbandian’s backhand stood up against the best two handed backhand shots in the world, he has also been able to outmatch his one handed backhand predecessors. David Nalbandian’s backhand has it’s own place in professional tennis and his two handed backhand will stand as a role model for many tennis players worldwide.

History Behind the Nalbandian Backhand Domination

Roger Federer is widely considered as the greatest tennis player of all time. When he was a junior, his talents were already praised and people predicted huge things for him, especially after he won the 1998 Junior Wimbledon crown. But there is one player who totally owned him during his time as a junior up until his early years on the pro tour. This player’s name is David Nalbandian.

In the early part of the new millennium, David was one of the highly touted young guns on the men’s tour, along with Federer, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt. He surprised everyone when he reached the 2002 Wimbledon finals, losing to then number one Hewitt.

Variety in Nalbandian’s Backhand Shot

People were impressed with the Nalbandian backhand. It was precisely timed and he could hit any kind of shot with it – angles, looping balls, drop shots, flat powerful drives – in any direction. Proclaiming that he wasn’t going to be a one-hit wonder, people expected great things from him, anticipating that he would soon join his contemporaries as a grand slam champion. But it didn’t turn out that way.

While all his major rivals won grand slam titles and got to spend time at the top of the rankings, Nalbandian kept stalling in the semis and sometimes even getting ousted in the early rounds of the majors. His best ranking was number 3 and he never again got into another grand slam final. He was plagued with injury, fitness and motivation problems. But somehow, he would come up with excellent performances at the most unpredictable times.

At the Tennis Masters Cup in 2005, Nalbandian lost a one-sided round robin match to Federer but was still able to qualify for the final where they faced off again. This time, he beat Federer in five sets after coming back from two sets down. It was one of only four losses for Federer that entire year and it prevented him from tying John McEnroe’s single season win-loss record. Nalbandian’s backhand was one of his biggest weapons in that match.

David Nalbandian’s Backhand Analysis

In the fall of 2007, after spending much of the year battling injuries and posting mediocre results, he defeated both Federer and Rafael Nadal to win the Paris Masters tournament. Again, it was his backhand that was simply divine in that tournament. He created severe angles and cracked unreadable down-the-line winners. Neither Federer with his inside-out forehand and slice backhand, nor Nadal with his lefty topspin forehand and relentless retrieving could break him down, especially from that side.

Nalbandian may never become the great player people predicted he would be but his two-handed backhand will go down in history as one of the most technically perfect shots in the game. It has power but he generates it effortlessly. The whole stroke is smooth and efficient because he has perfect balance. His extension on the follow through is also ideal. Beginners would be well-advised to model their double handed backhands after Nalbandian’s.

The Nalbandian backhand, like all great shots, begins with proper preparation. As soon as David sees which side the ball is coming over to, he begins his stroke. His adjusts to his backhand grip which is a combination of an eastern backhand grip for the right hand and a semi-western grip for the left hand.

David Nalbandian Backhand Grip

David Nalbandian Backhand GripThis grip is ideal for players who like to hit the ball with topspin, and the Nalbandian backhand sometimes does feature heavy topspin.

Nalbandian likes to use this topspin to loop the ball if he wants to slow down the pace against a player who prefers flat balls, create sharp angles and make the ball dip quickly below the net if his opponent is trying to take control of the net.

The Nalbandian backhand can be hit from any stance, but most commonly, he hits from a semi-open stance. His feet are comfortably apart, providing a good base for balance and proper weight transfer.

His knees are bent and the right foot is in slightly in front as he begins to load up his weight on his left leg. He will be stepping forward with his right foot as the stroke unfolds. The take back of the racket is a bit high and the arms are fairly straight. His head is up with his eyes firmly focused on the incoming ball.

Nalbandian Backhand Backswing

As the ball comes closer to him, David continues the circular backswing bringing the racket down below the level of the ball. However, he does not bend the wrist too much. In fact, his arms and wrists are kept relatively straight. Although he will be hitting with topspin, he is not going to execute this shot in a very wristy manner.

He will be driving firmly through the ball, so there will be a highly potent combination of topspin and speed. His shoulders are completely turned sideways and he is almost showing his back to the net. He has coiled completely. His weight will now be shifting toward his right foot which has now begun to step forward into the shot.

David Nalbandian Backhand: Forward Swing

David Nalbandian Backhand: Forward SwingThe next phase of the Nalbandian backhand is the forward swing where contact occurs. He swings hard at the ball with arms still straight but loose and relaxed. The racket hits the ball from behind and pushes upward (creating topspin) and forward through the ball (for speed). David’s right leg straightens out as it lifts his entire body up. This adds power and topspin, making the shot that much heavier.

David Nalbandian Backhand: Use of the Non Dominant Hand

All great double handed backhands have a common feature. The power of the shot comes mainly from the non-dominant hand and the control comes from the dominant hand. The Nalbandian backhand is no exception. His left hand is the one that has driven through the ball with great power, while his right hand has guided the racket head as to the direction of the ball and how much topspin he has put on it.

As he continues his forward swing, his left arm remains straight and extends fully out into the target after contact. The shoulders open up followed by the torso, hips and the left leg which comes back around to face back to the net. The racket head does not stop but rather, it continues its fast motion and wraps up finishing over his right shoulder. All of these motions are occurring in one big, connected and smooth chain.

David Nalbandian Backhand: Recovery Position

The last part of the Nalbandian backhand is the recovery. He brings his left foot back down to the court parallel to his right foot. He keeps light on the balls of his feet. He is not ready to move back to the centre of the court and get set for the next shot, if there’s going to be another. This is another aspect of this shot. Even if he has hit it aggressively with the intention of putting the ball away, he is always finishing the shot with balance and good recovery. He is always ready to hit another shot.

David Nalbandian Backhand: Conclusion

As regular players, we all have our own idols and frequently strive to be as much like them as possible. We copy their attire and shoes. We try to use the same racket they use. Most of all, we try our best to imitate their strokes. Nalbandian is not one of the most popular players anymore, having fallen away from the top 10 for a while now. There are younger, fresher and more exciting players that have come along since.

Some of them have already posted better results in their brief careers than Nalbandian has in more than 10 years as a pro. But no one can deny the technical superiority of the Nalbandian backhand. It is, and will remain, a model for all players who wish to improve their own two-handed backhands.

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