You can peruse the internet and find a lot of conversations about whether a one handed backhand is better than a two handed backhand. In fact, a quick Google search tells us there are over 3 billion search results for it. You don’t generally even have to look that far - talk to any tennis pro, parent or junior player about their feelings about backhands and you’ll get a variety of opinions. Does it really matter to you what other people prefer or is it about comfort?
Choosing Your Backhand
It mattered enough to Uncle Tony to make Rafa a lefty and now his two handed backhand is a definite
weapon (along with his forehand, but that’s another conversation entirely). At the end of the day, how you
hit your backhand depends a lot on comfort and feel. Most junior players are taught from the start to hit a
two hander, which makes learning the grip change from forehand to backhand easier and it becomes
second nature. They aren’t given a choice unless they have a strong enough preference it becomes an issue.
Many players who learn tennis later in life work with pros who figure out what is more comfortable to hit
or they figure it out themselves. And adults have definite opinions about the level of discomfort they are
willing to bear to learn a backhand. Sidebar : everything is uncomfortable when you learn to play tennis. It’s
perfectly normal to be uncomfortable and think the grip change thing is weird and too difficult.
If you’ve been playing a one handed or two handed for your entire tennis life - figured out the footwork, the grip change and how to make it work for you no matter what the opponent is hitting at you, what happens when you get injured and have to adjust? That’s precisely what happened to Delpo. After three wrist surgeries due to what some call oversupination of the wrist on his two handed backhand, Delpo made his comeback with a one handed slice.
It didn’t take long for Delpo to figure out the slice didn’t have the power of his former two hander, so he made adjustments with his grip and started to work his footwork and ended up looking more like a Jim Courier two handed backhand. No more open stance, better footwork. Not a bad deal, overall, depending on who you are. How does a junior or rec player make those adjustments so they don’t have to have three wrist surgeries?
Trial and error is tricky when you are chasing points or a UTR rating. There is simply not enough time to work it out unless you are practicing 4-5 hours a day and even then, old habits die hard. You go back to what you know when you play someone that puts you under pressure. So really, how do you make that change and make it permanent?
What It’s Like to Change
Hard work. Overcoming and changing all the habits that have won. We talked to a local high school and junior tournament player, Jim, and he shared with us what it was like changing his backhand due to injury:
Being a competitive tennis player the importance of having a strong backhand is crucial to any success in
the sport. For me the struggling started when I was 14. I would play tennis for hours a day and would
always come home complaining about the pain in my left wrist. The pain became so bad I had to
continuously take time off of being able to hit my backhand, which is bad for matches and your mental
game. I battled tendinitis in my wrist for almost two years before I made the change from a two-handed
backhand to a one-handed backhand. I saw doctors, a physical therapist, even a chiropractor and nothing
was able to solve the problem in my wrist.
Eventually the struggle to be able to hit a backhand became too hard. I was competing in tournaments
without being able to truly hit my backhand. I was in the place no player ever wants to be - an opponent
with an easily definable and attackable weakness. I finally came to the conclusion I was going to need to
do something. I talked with my coach and told him my concerns about the fact I was struggling to compete. I told him I thought I should switch to a one handed backhand. He told me if I made this change I would need to be dedicated to it one hundred percent and that once I decided to do it I couldn’t go back. He was right, as usual.
The journey of the one handed backhand started out very challenging. I had to start from square one on that side of the court. I spent hours just hitting my backhand over and over again. I would have days where I only hit backhands. I would get frustrated and tell my coaches that I wanted to work on something else but they refused to let me subside from making the backhand better. I had days where I no longer wanted to hit it anymore - I even once told myself I would just not have a backhand and hit only slices. I competed in a few tournaments a couple months after the switch. I lost 13 matches in a row and my rankings dropped drastically. As a junior looking to play collegiate tennis, this was a devastating setback.
I told my coach I was thinking about no longer playing the sport anymore. A sport I had been playing nearly my entire life. He told me that this long slump of losses was expected because making the switch does not come easy and can take a year or two before even being good enough for it to be strong.
After days, weeks, months and what felt like forever of hard work the backhand finally started to become something great. I started winning matches, I started being able to hit my backhand consistently in matches, I started being able to hit winners and approach shots and finally it came together. It’s now been a little over a year since I made the change and yes, I still have days where I wonder if I made the right decision. Despite all the challenges I had to face it was an experience that taught me something wonderful and it’s an experience I can and will take with me through the rest of my life.
The End Result
Bottom line - what you hit and how you hit is a reflection on how comfortable you are with your shot. Want to change it or get a professional opinion? Take a lesson. Our advice? If it’s a weapon and you aren’t in pain, don’t change it. If it’s a weapon and it does cause pain, get it checked out. But take Jim’s advice to heart and evaluate what you really want from tennis. A pain free way to get some exercise in? Change what hurts. And then be willing to accept that the change will hurt mentally, too, for just a little bit. And then it will be sunshine and roses (kidding), and you will have had fun with your friends while doing it.
Written by : Jim Dick and the Raleigh Tennis Association
Posted Aug 24, 2018