A tennis backhand is a groundstroke in which the player’s arm crosses their body to swing at the ball, with the back of their palm moving towards their opponent. Its complimentary groundstroke, the tennis forehand, is its exact opposite.
Two-handed backhands have become increasingly popular over the past twenty years or so, with more and more players opting for the backhand technique. Much of this has to do with the influence Serena WIlliams and her sister Venus Williams have had on women’s tennis: both regularly hit backhand winners with extreme power and accuracy.
This is in contrast to tennis stars of previous generations, like Martina Navratalova and Steffi Graff, who both hit one-handers.
There are several advantages of a two-handed backhand:
Power. The two-handed backhand generates more power typically than its one-handed counterpart. WIth both hands on the racquet, the dominant hand pulls toward the ball while the nondominant hand pushes, giving more power to the groundstroke. A topspin backhand generally has more depth and movement with the two-handed stroke.
Control. The two-handed backhand gives players much more control of where the ball is going, improving accuracy.
Angles. The two-handed backhand is by necessity a more compact stroke with much less arm extension. With a tighter stroke (where the racquet is close to the body, not extended), it is far easier to hit tight angles from anywhere on the court. Inside-out backhands, for example, in which the ball is hit to the opposite side of the court but not across the players body, are much easier to hit with two hands.
While the two-handed backhand is enjoying increasing popularity, some players in today’s game use one-handed backhands (Roger Federer is one such player).
The one handed backhand has several advantages over the two-hander:
Reach. It is far easier to extend for a shot with only one hand on the racquet. When a ball is several steps away from a player with a two-handed backhand, they often take one hand off the racquet and switch to a one-handed backhand, which is unnatural for them and against their tennis instincts. One-handed players are already comfortable with only one hand on the backhand side and are thus better at extending for balls quickly and with accuracy.
Slice. In a tennis match, a slice is a backspin groundstroke that sits lower to the ground and does not move as quickly towards the opposing player. This change-of-pace shot, often used as an approach shot when a player plans on advancing to the net, is much easier to execute with a one-handed backhand since the racquet head angle required to execute it is much easier to achieve with only one hand on the racquet. A backhand slice can help set up power shots later in the rally.
Disguise. With a slice backhand, drop shots, lobs and other high balls, and other changeup strokes meant to interrupt the opponent’s flow, disguise is paramount—you never want your opponent to know what type of shot you are hitting until the very last possible second. With one hand on the racquet, such deception is far easier—two-handed backhands often telegraph to opponents the type of shot that is about to come their way.