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Entries in Backhand (11)


Practice Aikido For Better Returning

From a purely theoretical point of view, the role of aggressor is saddled upon the server and the defender is on the returner. This, of course, is not always the case. Some players would certainly rather choose to return than serve. However, these players are few and far between. For the most part, moderate level to advanced players would like their chances if they were to serve the entire set rather than receive. Therefore, when it's your turn to receive, you will be better served by shifting the emphasis away from low percentage shots or focusing too much on your opponent's strengths to exploiting angles and creating a physical imbalance in your opponent's positioning.

In this regard, learn and implement the rules of Aikido or Jiu Jitsu. Aikido is a martial art that has been synthesized from various fighting techniques and which is focused on using the opponent's energy and movement to gain control of them. So, for example, rather than blocking a punch or merely dodging a kick, the Aikido master uses the aggressor's movement to dynamically throwing or spinning him out of control. These same lessons can be applied when returning a serve. Often times, the returner is so obsessed with avoiding the opponent's groundstroke weapon that she either tries to overhit the return or block the serve back towards the "weaker" wing of the server. However, this plays right into the server's hand. By overhitting - and presumably missing - you will have handed the opponent an easy point. By blocking the ball towards the opponent's weakness you are giving him a chance to execute an easy shot and, thereby, gain some confidence (something that will end up costing you in a crucial point down the road). In other words, avoid giving the opponent too much belief in herself by playing low-percentage shots.

From a practical point of view, take for example your "standard", right handed player. Her forehand groundstroke may be lights out. For this reason, you may be tempted - on the deuce side - to return towards her backhand. This could be a smart play if the serve comes to your backhand (I.e., down the T) where your return would be somewhat cross-court and, following the return, you will find yourself on the baseline T. However, if the serve comes to your forehand, a safer bet would be to aim cross-court (I.e., to her "weapon"). Hitting cross court will not only provide you with more court to hit (distance is longer) but the net is also lower. Furthermore, the opponent's momentum (which usually follows the trajectory of the ball, may prevent her from effectively stopping, loading up and unleashing off her weapon. Execute it correctly, and now you have her weaker side exposed. Conversely, if she serves down the T, her momentum usually goes forward and a backhand return down the line (I.e., to her backhand) may also prevent her from changing direction in time and hitting a pressing shot.

So, when in a tight spot while returning, think "balance and angles"; don't get obsessed by weapons. Weapons require time to set up. Take your opponent off-balance and knock him out with his own movement.


Steal This Drill: Rock-Solid Backhand

Do you struggle with your backhand? Are you the type of person who expends too much energy running around your weaker shot? Do you find yourself doing silly things with the rest of your game in order to avoid hitting a backhand? Are you motivated to improve your backhand so that it becomes rock-solid? If the answer to some or all of these questions is "yes", then here are some creative drills to help you along. 

In the first drill (game up to 11, 15, 21, etc.), one player has to cover the whole court but must hit all his shots (including volleys) into the backhand half of the opponent's court (blue lines). The backhand player (i.e. the one covering only half of the court) can hit anywhere but, from the baseline, must only use his backhand. If the backhand, player is brought (or comes in) to the net, s/he can hit FH volleys. However, if the backhand player comes to the net (inside the service line), it's open court time (whole court may be used by the opponent). This is a great drill for one player to force himself to learn how to set up for the backhand and how to move it around without worrying about covering the other half of the court. The opponent, on the other hand, must learn how to make the backhand player move around so the his/her forehand (middle of the court) is exposed. In this eay, both players are working on something

In the second drill, the whole court is used by both players, but one player can only hit his backhand (including BH volley) cross-court (red line) unless the opponent comes to the net (blue line). The player who is limited to a cross-court backhand can, however, hit inside-out or inside-in forehands. For the player who can do anything, this drill simulates playing against a steady player who doesn't take too many chances on his backhand. Whenever the ball comes to that side of the court, the steady player (i.e., the one limited to a cross-court BH) tends to keep things simple and sends the ball back cross-court. The opponent "knows" this (i.e., in the drill, knowledge is artificially injected into the equation) so s/he tries to construct the point accordingly. The player who is limited to a cross-court backhand knows that the opponent is aware of the limitation so s/he works on hitting more effective backhands over the low part of the net and into the long part of the court - cross-court. Like a well-fought boxing match, both players work towards creating an opening. Same as in the first drill, play points and then swap roles. 


Go Forth and Let The Children Be Your Guide

Great movement, intensity, passion and focus (eyes) coupled with clean strokes for her age. You don't have to watch pros to learn proper fundamentals; watch this girl. Awesome! Keep up the good work and good luck, Solana. 


Steal This Drill: High Backhands

Are you tired of the same old baseline game drill? You know, the one where one guy feeds the ball...then the other guy feels bad that the ball is coming right to him so he hits the ball back to the middle. Since the ball is coming to the middle the feeder feels awkward about hitting a winner so he returns the ball to the opponent's middle of the court...the process continuing with the intensity of two old men watching the sunset from their porch.

The simple baseline game is one of the most useless exercises in tennis. In terms of preparing you for an actual tennis match, it's about as realistic as fireplace DVD and as genuine as a dinner invitation from the cannibal tribes of Papua New Guinea.

If you want to get something out of the workout (besides using tennis as an excuse to not do homework), you have to use some imagination and simulate real life situations. Otherwise, you're better off sitting on your porch and watching the sunset; no need to wait to get old.

Here is a drill that simulates a live match situation: the high backhand game. The rules are simple - the feeder moon-balls the feed to the receiver's backhand; after the bounce, everything goes. That's it. The receiver can step in and take the ball off a short-hop or she can move back and let the ball drop. The receiver can hit a winner off the feed or, if she misses, she loses the point. This game kick-starts the intensity right away and the pattern resembled what goes on in a match quite often - one player pushing the opponent deep into the backhand corner and, consequently, opening up the court for the kill-shot. The feeders can alternate feeds so that everybody can have the opportunity to defend or be on the offense. The picture above shows the bounce of the ball (at least 6-7 feet high - that is, above the opponent's shoulder). This is another example of understanding the external stimuli and learning how to be comfortable under pressure. Furthermore, by noticing the level of discomfort that a high ball creates to you, you will grasp the importance of turning the tables on your opponent and utilizing this strategy in a match.


Practice Makes...Imperfect?

Let's study these two pictures of the GOAT in action. Besides his impeccable preparation and picture perfect timing can someone tell me if they notice something that stands out?! I'll give you a hint...the head. Still not enough? OK, how about this - the eyes. Specifically, which eye is in front on the backhand and which eye is in front on the forehand?


After studying the picture for a few seconds, you will notice that the right eye is in front on the backhand while the left eye is in front on the forehand. Immediately before the contact point, let's try to guess which eye "sees" the ball first? I think that we can all agree that, under most circumstances, the eye that's in front (linearly speaking) of the other picks up the moving object first. Ocular dominance, sometimes called eye dominance, is the tendency to prefer visual input from one eye to the other. According to the article from Science Daily, "[i]n normal binocular vision there is an effect of parallax, and therefore the dominant eye is the one that is primarily relied on for precise positional information. This may be especially important in sports which require aim, such as archery, darts or shooting sports."

Why is this important for tennis players? Well, for one thing, much like baseball players, tennis players are engaged in a hitting activity. As suggested in the psyched.com article, a study of several University of Florida baseball players suggested that the best players were cross-eye dominant (i.e., batted right; but had a dominant left eye - the eye that saw the ball first): "College varsity level baseball players are twice as likely as the general population to have crossed dominance. The incidence of central eye dominance is considerably higher than the general population. The best hitters were centrally eye dominant or crossed eye-hand dominant." See also this abstract.

Much like hand-dominance, eye dominance is both innate but can also be trained. For example, Nadal is a natural righty but he has learned to play tennis left-handed. With respect to eyes, a player may very well be naturally right-eye dominant but by practicing a certain way - for example, hitting thousands of forehands (on one side of the body) and only a couple of hundred backhands (on the other side of the body) - it is possible that the player will train the left eye to take over. This could be detrimental to the backhand since, on the other side of the body, the left eye may be "further back".

As a result, it's possible that the player may be seeing the ball - and striking it - early on the forehand but late on the backhand (i.e.,  hitting it only when the ball has entered the field of vision for the left eye). If you suspect that this may be the case - for example, if you find yourself striking certain shots "off the front foot" and others "off the backfoot" - then, perhaps, your stroke is not to blame... maybe you've practiced a certain shot so much that it has had an effect on the eyes which, in turn, have affected when and how you hit another shot. I mention this because, often times, I see juniors hitting forehands in a 4:1 ratio to backhands (backhands are, sometimes, a mere "afterthought" if the forehand doesn't work out). There is at least some risk that disproportionate training - intentionally or inadvertently - on one side of the body may lead to an imbalance in perception which can have a detrimental effect on your strokes (and what you can do with the ball - i.e., someone who sees the ball late and hits it late might be unable to go down the line very well). The good news is that it seems that occular dominance (or balance) can be restored. Some baseball players use eye patches when doing their batting-cage practice (see The Baseball Coaching Bible by Jerry Kindall and John Winkin, p. 138) so there's no reason why a tennis player with a similar issue can't do the same (i.e. put an eye patch over one eye in order to train the non-dominant eye to see the ball sooner) on the ball machine or backboard.