The modern game of tennis has become dominated by powerful topspin ground strokes. Since the rise of the double handed backhand, players have learned to control rallies off this traditionally weaker wing by using heavy topspin shots. They’ve also learned to hit very aggressive shots and go for outright winners.
For club players, the backhand shot is often the weaker side and becomes a liability in game point situations. This article will discuss the topspin backhand technique and how you can use this shot to your advantage.
Characteristics of the Modern Tennis Topspin Backhand
In the past, players could only hit with either only heavy spin or only speed. Today’s rackets and strings allow players to combine both in their shots. The two handed grip has become the easiest way for players to hit topspin backhands.
There are still players who use one-handed backhands but in order for them to survive the modern game, they need to be able to hit this shot aggressively with topspin just as they would on their forehands. This is not to say that flat or sliced backhands have no more room in the game today. The thing is that players today cannot get away anymore with exclusively slicing their backhands.
Physics Behind the Topspin Backhand
Topspin is created when the strings of the racket brush upward along the back of the ball. The effect of topspin is to drop the ball back down to the ground. Because of the way the ball is spinning in flight, the top surface of the ball seems to be moving faster relative to the air than the bottom surface. Therefore, the top surface creates greater air friction or resistance, leading to greater pressure.
The increase of pressure on top of the ball makes it drop back down to the ground faster. When the ball bounces, it pitches forward and upward. The ball seems to be livelier since it is bouncing higher and further than a flat or sliced ball. In practical terms, players who hit with topspin have the ability to hit harder and higher over the net without too much fear of hitting the ball long.
Benefits of Using the Tennis Topspin Backhand
They can create really high bouncing shots that are difficult for their opponent to handle. Or they can hit hard shots that seem like line drives but then drop back down within the boundaries of the court at the last second. This is usually seen when players go down the line off a cross court ball during a baseline rally.
Alternatively, topspin can be used to dip the ball low over the net after crossing it. This is one of the best tactics to use against a serve and volley type of player. The net rusher will have to volley up or hit a defensive half volley, making it easier for the baseliner to pass him or her. This is one reason why net rushing has become almost a forgotten art among the pros.
Another use of topspin is to create sharp angles. Players can now hit hard shots that dip and bounce before going past the side line, thereby opening up the court.
Topspin Backhand Technique: Learning from the Topspin Tennis Backhand
While all of these options are readily available on the forehand, players are now doing likewise on their backhand sides. The topspin backhand can now be just as effective as the forehand. One of the reasons why Novak Djokovic has become the new dominant world number one is that he can hit hard and heavy topspin backhands just as easily as on his forehand.
A two handed topspin backhand is created by simply brushing up the back of the ball from low to high. For the more common two handed topspin backhand, it is usually hit this way:
- The hips coil and the shoulders turn completely. The weight of the body is loaded on the back foot as the racket is taken back. The stance may be closed, open or semi-open.
- The take back of the racket can be looped or straight back.
- As the ball approaches, the racket head is dropped below the level of the incoming ball. For the straight take back, the racket may already be below the level of the ball.
- The hips and shoulders uncoil while transferring weight on to the front foot. The ball is hit out in front of the body. Depending on the grip and style of hitting, the torso may be facing the net on contact or slightly oblique.
- With respect to the arms, there are two ways of hitting the ball, same as with the forehand. One is to have both arms bent at the elbow. The position of the non-dominant arm is almost exactly the same as the position of the arm on a double-bend forehand. The dominant arm, meanwhile, is bent at the elbow but the forearm and wrist are aligned with the handle of the racket. The other method is to have both arms straight at contact. The non-dominant wrist is laid back at this point.
- The racket head is driven through the ball forward and upward to create topspin. As a consequence, the non-dominant forearm and wrist pronate after contact.
- After extending towards the target, the follow through continues over the shoulder of the dominant side. However, there are now a few players who follow through using a windshield wiper style on their topspin backhand. Current women’s world number one Caroline Wozniacki is such a player.
The One Handed Topspin Backhand Technique
For the one handed topspin backhand, the principles are the same – you must swing from low to high to generate topspin. The grips used are the eastern, semi-western (or strong eastern) and full western grips.
The continental grip is never used. In the modern game, the best topspin single handers are those of Justine Henin, Richard Gasquet and Francesca Schiavone. Roger Federer uses a more traditional eastern grip, which works for him. Still, his backhand is not considered to be as strong as his forehand.
The full western grip is actually the exact same grip as the full western forehand. Topspin is naturally created when using this grip but there is a slight handicap because this grip does not put the player’s hand and wrist in a strong position behind the handle of the racket to drive through the ball. It is possible to brush up the back of the ball to create topspin, but the ability to hit with power is slightly compromised compared to the other grips.
- With a full shoulder and hip turn, the racket is taken back high to allow the creation of a downward and forward circular path than can gather racket head speed and accelerate through impact.
- The back leg is loaded first before the weight is transferred to the front foot during the forward swing phase of the stroke. The body remains sideways.
- The racket head takes the circular path to drop below the level of the ball. The arm is straight and the wrist and hand are in a strong position behind the handle.
- The ball is hit out in front with the swing going upward and forward.
- The follow through is long and high with the wrist extending further after impact. Only during this phase does the body turn to face the net.
Today’s competitive players need to make sure that they do not have a weak side vulnerable to being attacked or breaking down under pressure. At worst, you should stay solid enough even on your less favored side that you can stand up to any attack by your opponent. The backhand has traditionally been the weaker wing for most players but not anymore, especially now that the two-hander has become more common.
If you are a competitive player, you must work just as hard on your backhand as on your forehand. Practice your topspin backhand and use it in your matches to gain experience and confidence. Players who can master this shot can end up mastering all of their opponents. Just ask Novak Djokovic.
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