There are some big questions: the chicken or the egg, tomato or tomato (doesn’t work when typing?) and single or double handed backhand?
If you watch a professional tournament on TV then you will notice that the overwhelming majority of players use a double handed backhand. This hasn’t always been the case though. In fact 30 years ago the majority of top players used single handed backhands. Things started to change when early adopters of the double handed backhand such as Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors achieved high levels of success.
So why do players today prefer to hit a double handed backhand? What are the drawbacks of a double handed backhand? What are the benefits of a single handed backhand? What are the disadvantages of a single handed backhand?
Over the next few hundred words I will answer these questions and also explain how I recommend choosing a backhand to my students.
Double Handed Backhand Advantages
- Easier for kids to learn because most won’t have the strength for a single handed backhand. Another hand on the racket means more strength.
- More stability when swinging so more likely to hit the middle of the strings and avoid miss-hits.
- Easier to hit high bouncing balls.
- Can be hit with an open stance. An open stance is when your stomach is facing towards the net. An open stance means it is quicker to recover back to the centre of the court during a rally.
- Easier to alter the length of your backswing. This is important when you are playing in wet conditions or playing against a powerful opponent.
Double Handed Backhand Disadvantages
- Less power due to slower racket head speed.
- Can’t stretch to shots out wide.
- Harder to generate sharp angles that will take your opponent off the court.
Single Handed Backhand Advantages
- Better reach on shots out wide.
- More power because of higher racket head speed.
- Easier to generate topspin and generate angles because of higher racket head speed.
- When it is executed correctly it is one of the best looking shots in tennis. This is useful for winning style points!
Single Handed Backhand Disadvantages
- Harder to hit high bouncing balls.
- Requires earlier preparation which can be difficult against a powerful opponent or in wet conditions.
- More technical shot compared to the double handed backhand which means it takes more time to learn.
What Do I Teach?
A double handed backhand is easier to learn and it is a more solid shot compared to the single handed backhand. There is less potential for it to go wrong and breakdown in a match or for it to become a weakness. On the other hand though I believe there is less potential for a double handed backhand to turn into a match winning shot that will consistently put your opponent under pressure. There are 4 types of players that I recommend use a double handed backhand:
- Kids who are just starting to play and don’t have the strength for a one handed backhand.
- Fast players. One of the big weaknesses of the double handed backhand is that you can’t use it to stretch for wide shots. A fast player won’t need to stretch as often so this won’t be a problem.
- Players who already have a strength (i.e. a big forehand or a powerful serve) that they use to attack their opponent. The double handed backhand is a more solid shot and a player with obvious strengths should then focus on not having any weaknesses.
- Players who like to play long rallies from the baseline. A double handed backhand is less likely to breakdown and is therefore better suited to long baseline rallies.
A single handed backhand is a harder shot to learn. There are more technical aspects to the stroke which means it will take longer to master compared to a double handed backhand. It is easier to attack with a single handed backhand but it is harder to defend. This is because the faster racket head speed and point of contact out in front required for a single handed backhand makes you tired and therefore more likely to make a mistake when you are defending. Before you decide to adopt a single handed backhand it is worth remembering that it can be a great strength if you master the technique but it can be a big weakness if you don’t master the technique. There are 4 player types that I recommend use a single handed backhand:
- Powerful players. A single handed backhand requires good arm strength.
- Players who like short rallies and attacking.
- Players who will mainly play doubles (the coordination and strength built up in the arm from a single handed backhand is useful when it comes to volleying).
- Players who will be playing often and will therefore have time to properly learn the technique.
Is a single handed backhand or a double handed backhand better? I can’t say because both have their strengths and weaknesses. It is more about what the player needs for their circumstances.
For what it’s worth I use a single handed backhand because I like short points, I’m not very fast at running and my forehand isn’t a strength that I like to attack with.