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4. The Tennis Backhand: Feet
Nadal slides into this stroke and stops at the perfect time. Many club players either canít slide on clay, or, if they can, they slide too far; Nadal has perfected the art. He comes to a stop, transfers his weight into the shot, and then his trailing leg slides along to the ready position without sending him any farther from the center of the court. He might look rugged and violent out there, but, as this image shows, Nadal moves economically and precisely. On clay, no one does it better.
5. The Tennis Backhand: Thighs
Do you cringe when your pro tells you to get down lower for your shots? Nadal shows how itís done. He has enough flex in his knees to sit in a chair. His center of gravity is low and he pushes through the shot from the ground up. Here is how Nadal plays the tennis backhand perfectly.
The Tennis Backhand: Rafael Nadal hitting backhands in slow motion at the 2009 BNP Paribas Open -- a tournament Nadal won. Nadal's first several backhands are slices. His last few are topspin backhands.
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The Tennis Backhand: Roger Federerís Backhand
It isnít just that Roger Federer can masterfully hit any shot in the bookóand a few shots that arenítóbut that he makes it look ridiculously easy. One of the keys to Federerís success, and the principle reason his strokes look so effortless, is his extraordinary balance. Whether heís hitting his huge forehand or his impressive backhand, he keeps his head and upper body remarkably quiet throughout the stroke.
The Tennis Backhand: Steps
1. Judging from his knee bend, you can tell that Federer is preparing for a low ball, perhaps an approach shot from his opponent. Even though heís reacting quickly, he looks completely under control. Heís already changed his grip to one thatís slightly farther over from a classic Eastern. Also, notice the position of his racquet as heís moving. Many players think you should prepare by immediately taking the racquet all the way back, but thatís not an efficient way to run. And while Federerís shoulders have begun to turn, he wonít rotate them more until he plants his right foot.
2. Cradling the racquet in his left hand to control his backswing, Federer starts to turn his shoulders in unison with his racquet take-back. I like how his head is right in the center of his body. Pay attention to how heís pointing his shoulder at the oncoming ball. This ensures good upper-body rotation, which is something many beginners and intermediates donít do well. A full shoulder turn, along with a sound backhand grip, will help you drive the ball as well as avoid elbow problems.
3. This is a striking example of Federerís excellent balance; heís in the optimal position for this low ball. Even though heís dragging his toe, heís still got a lot of his weight on his left foot. Many players would have moved most of their weight onto their front foot at this point, which would cause their momentum to continue to the side after striking the ball and result in a more difficult recovery. Federerís racquet is all the way back at this point and his shoulder turn is full, about 45 degrees to the baseline. His head, though, has barely moved from the previous photo.
4. Federer has just struck the ball and his left knee is almost touching the ground. His upper body remains still and balanced. This shot reminds me of how great downhill skiers allow their legs to go up and down like pistons but their upper bodies remain relatively quiet and straight up. Federerís legs are doing all of the work of getting low to the ball; heís not bending at the waist. It takes great core and quad strength to do this, but the payoff is that thereís no stress on the back. The angle between his arm and his racquet shows that heís using a strong grip that will resist impact well.
5. Federerís non-playing hand is back and down to counter balance his racquet hand going forward and up. Also, when the left arm goes back like that, it keeps the shoulders from turning and accelerates the right arm, giving you more power. As you can see, Federerís shoulders are still sideways to the baseline. One common problem that players have with the backhand is that they pull up and open their shoulders so they almost face the net, losing power and control. Here, Federerís head has hardly moved at all, and he has finished with his body perpendicular to the target.
6. Federer is recoiling after the swing,and itís only now that he has started to look up and watch his shot. His body is still balanced, and because of that he wonít have to take an extra recovery step. If he were leaning over on such a wide shot, he would have to take one more step. One of the big differences between a good player and a great player is recovery, and you canít recover well unless you have excellent balance. This is one reason Federer gets to so many balls.
The Tennis Backhand: Roger Federer backhands from the side perspective during a practice session at the 2009 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
The Tennis Backhand: Novak Djokovic Backhand
The great thing about Novak Djokovicís game is how complete it is. He can do pretty much anything. And while his forehand is a punishing stroke, his backhand might be the more solid of the two shots. Djokovic can hit the ball crosscourt or open up the court with a shot down the line. Itís a big part of his constantly improving game.
The Tennis Backhand: Steps
1. This is a classic preparatory position for a two-handed backhand. Djokovic is looking over his dominant shoulder to track the ball and has excellent balance and posture. His hands are slightly higher than his waist, with the racquet head above his wrists and pointed back and up at 2 oíclock. Heís behind the baseline, but Djokovic is giving himself ample opportunity to step into the shot.
2. Djokovic takes his racquet back by employing a full shoulder turn. Itís a fairly straight backswing with the racquet head up. It appears as though Djokovic is making a loop, but the position of his frame is a result of his full upper-body rotation. At this point, Djokovic plants his left foot and loads all his weight on it. Heís ready to start his forward swing.
3. Djokovicís hands get more involved in the stroke as he raises them and increases his shoulder turn. Heís beginning to transfer his weight by stepping forward with his right foot, which is parallel to the baseline. (Ideally his foot would be at a 45-degree angle with the baseline to allow him to open up faster.) The thing to appreciate is the position of Djokovicís hips. Theyíre fully rotated and coiled, and as the sequence continues he does a great job of releasing them into the shot.
4. As he gets ready to unleash on the ball, Djokovic points the butt cap of his racquet toward the other side of the net. Heís starting to drop his racquet head, but heíll only get under the ball enough to give it a little bit of topspin. Djokovic is also pushing off the toes of his back foot and starting to open up his hips.
5. Djokovic makes contact in front of his body and at waist level. Notice how his hands are moving away from his torso and working together; neither is dominating the other. His legs are straightening to lift his body up into the shot, and his hips and shoulders are opening up. Djokovicís shoulders are more uneven than usual, but that could be a slight improvisation to compensate for the ballís height and position.
6. Thereís so much momentum created by his racquet acceleration, trunk rotation, and the weight shift in his legs that Djokovic is off the court when he follows through. Even though heís in full swing, his head and body remain composed. Djokovicís arms extend through the hitting zone as his hips open up. His belly button, which was pointing to the side in his backswing, now faces the net.
7. Both of Djokovicís elbows are pointing away from his body as he follows through. All his weight is now on his front foot, and his left leg is starting to come around to aid in his recovery. Djokovic has kept his head down throughout the stroke; only now is he tracking his shot. Judging the ballís ﬂight path and his opponentís reaction will give Djokovic a better idea of where to position himself for his next shot.
8. The ball has left the frame, but Djokovic is still completing his long follow-through. This is a great lesson for rec playersóﬁnish the swing ﬁrst, then recover. Djokovicís left leg is swinging out so he can plant it and move back toward the center of the court. Heís low to the ground, with his balance still perfect. That will help him explode to wherever the next ball goes. Here is how Djokovic plays the tennis backhand perfectly.
The Tennis Backhand: Replay in slow motion of double-handed backhand winner by Novak Djokovic.
The Tennis Backhand: Jelena Jankovicís Backhand
Serbiaís Jelena Jankovic likes to clock the ball, and in a baseline battle she can hang with the best. Last year, she beat the likes of Nadia Petrova, Elena Dementieva, and Svetlana Kuznetsova on her way to a career-high ﬁnish of No. 12 in the world. While thereís lots to like about Jankovicís game, itís her two-handed backhand that stands out. Itís her go-to shot when she gets an opportunity to take a ball early and punish it.
The Tennis Backhand: Steps
1. Jankovic is taking small adjustment steps, and you see space under both of her shoes. You can tell from her position near the baseline and the eager look on her face that this is going to be an attacking backhand. Also notice how she turns her shoulders and starts her backswing together. This is the key to getting good upper-body coil. Her grip is semi-Western with her left hand, and somewhere between a Continental and Eastern with her right.
2. Jankovic has loaded up and stored her weight on her back foot and is now ready to explode forward. She has done this so intensely and effectively that her right foot is off the ground a little bit. After starting her racquet high in the strike zone in the last frame, sheís now dropping it, forming the back part of the C that you want in a loop backswing.
3. This is what a world-class shoulder turn looks like. Jankovic is looking over her shoulder, and you can see that the muscles in her arm are stretched. It appears sheís readying for an aggressive, on-the-rise backhand. Her stance is open, and her racquet is behind her. Itís actually a bit too far back for my tasteóI prefer to see the frame not break the plane of the bodyóbut itís OK if the ball is coming in slowly.
4. Jankovic has chosen to take a high-bouncing ball at shoulder height rather than move back and let it come down. In other words, sheís playing the ball and not letting it play her. Because of the height of the ball, sheíll be driving it slightly downward into the court. Thatís why her right shoulder is tilted down a bit. I prefer the shoulders level, but sometimes your intentions will modify your mechanics.
5. Contact occurs with the ball nicely centered on the strings, and Jankovic has exploded into the shot so much that sheís catapulted herself off the ground. This wasnít her intention but the result of the momentum she produced with her legs, hips, and shoulders. Still, her eyes are ﬁ xed on the point of impact.
6. Here you see her outstanding extension and weight transfer. Jankovic has hit through the ball and continues moving her racquet toward her target. Notice how she uses her shoulders to bring the racquet throughóshe doesnít arm the ballóand as a result sheís using every part of her body for power. Players with the best two-handers use their bodies as a unit.
7. Jankovic has landed on her front foot, and thereís so much weight transfer that her back foot has kicked up just as it might on a serve. Thatís because of the momentum she built up going into the shot; itís not something she did on purpose and itís not something you should copy. Depending upon your intention with a particular shot, the back foot can do many things.
8. Following her aggressive assault on the ball, Jankovic wraps the follow-through fully around her body as her racquet decelerates. Compare the position of her shoulders from the ﬁrst frame to this one and youíll see sheís gone from looking over her right shoulder to looking over her left. Here is how Jankovic plays the tennis backhand perfectly.
The Tennis Backhand: This is HD footage of top women's pro tennis player Jelena Jankovic warming up at the 2009 BNP Paribas Open. The video was shot over the course of several practice sessions.
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