The first step in learning how to play tennis is to be familiar with all the core shots. Aside from the serve and forehand, the backhand is one of the defining shots in the sport. Professional players have very few flaws in their games, so to get anywhere near that level, this is a shot you really must perfect. There are two ways to execute the backhand: one-handed or two-handed.
The one-handed backhand is the classic shot. Players don’t use it as much nowadays, although it has a very stylish and beautiful motion. It can also be very powerful. The two-handed variation allows more stable hitting since both hands can control the ball. It is easier to learn the two-handed backhand, and it has fewer weaknesses.
Below is a full comparison between the one-handed and two-handed backhand.
How to Hit Each Shot
Your backhand may never be as strong as your forehand, but it is still crucial for success in matches. As a developing tennis player, it is wise to test both backhands to find out which suits you best. Luckily there are plenty of great champions with excellent one- and two-handed backhands who you can watch.
The backhand is not a shot unique to tennis. It is also central to other racket sports, including squash, table tennis, and badminton. In any case, the backhand stroke involves a player moving their dominant arm across their body and uncoiling to hit the ball with the outside of the racket.
Both one- and two-handed backhands can be hit as groundstrokes, volleys, or half-volleys. It is possible to put top-, under-, or sidespin on the ball (or no spin at all).
The one-handed backhand in tennis does use two hands for the first half of the shot. Players put their weaker hand on the top part of the grip to pull the racket back and load up for the shot. When it’s time to fire, they let go and hit the ball with only their dominant hand on the racket.
Players typically hit the one-handed shot with a side-on stance, that is, with their feet lined up perpendicular to the net. They must move their feet rapidly to get in position behind the ball. They then rotate their torso explosively to hit the shot.
The two-handed backhand is mainly a forehand hit using the weaker hand. The stronger hand helps to control the motion. As with the one-handed stroke, the weaker hand grips above the stronger hand. In this case, both hands must guide the racket throughout the shot from the setup to the follow-through.
A player could stand facing the net or sideways on the court to hit a two-handed shot. To prepare, they have to twist their body back and rotate towards the ball.
Benefits of a One-Handed Backhand
1) Power & Spin: Players have to twist and move their shoulders far back to hit this shot. The result is that one-handed backhands can be very powerful due to the toque that players generate in their torsos. This can help players to hit deeply with a lot of topspin.
2) Volleying: One-handed backhands require players to develop fast footwork and reflexes because it takes longer to set the shot up. Good footwork helps a player everywhere on the court. The fast reflexes can make one-handed players better at volleying, particularly on the backhand side.
3) Slicing: When a player hits a backhand using only one arm, they have greater reach than two-handed players. This is an advantage when defending on the backhand side. Slice backhands are always struck with one hand during the follow-through. A slice backhand is, therefore, more natural for one-handed players who are usually better at this shot.
4) Elegance: Many observers consider the motion of the one-handed backhand to be more appealing than the two-handed version. Despite its weak points, clean one-handed backhand winners are some of the prettiest shots in tennis.
Benefits of a Two-Handed Backhand
1) Stability & Accuracy: Two-handed backhands are easier to teach beginners, especially young players who are not very strong. The second hand on the racket provides much-needed power and stability to hit the heavy tennis balls. Greater stability means that a player can hit the ball more accurately to any part of the opponent’s half.
2) Preparation: A player can execute a two-handed shot with their feet in any stance (parallel to the net, perpendicular, or in between). Hence it is faster to prepare for the backhand. Rather than having to scramble to get their feet in position, players can focus on playing a smarter shot with the extra time.
3) Return of Serve: When returning serve on the backhand side, the quick setup gives two-handed players plenty of options. One-handed players are often only able to block the ball back in play unless they stand far back to return. It is easier for two-handed players to be aggressive while returning on the backhand side.
4) High Balls: One-handed players tend to experience trouble with high balls on the backhand side. Two-handed players can elevate the racket higher to defend in this situation.
Which Backhand Do Famous Players Use?
While most modern players use the two-handed backhand, the one-handed backhand have had more success if we look at the best players of all time.
Here’s what backhand the 20 greatest players of all time use/used.
- Roger Federer – One-Handed Backhand
- Rafael Nadal – Two-Handed Backhand
- Novak Djokovic – Two-Handed Backhand
- Pete Sampras – One-Handed Backhand
- Bjorn Borg – Two-Handed Backhand
- Rod Laver – One-Handed Backhand
- Andre Agassi – Two-Handed Backhand
- John McEnroe – One-Handed Backhand
- Ivan Lendl – One-Handed Backhand
- Jimmy Connors – Two-Handed Backhand
- Boris Becker – One-Handed Backhand
- Ken Rosewall – One-Handed Backhand
- Stefan Edberg – One-Handed Backhand
- Roy Emerson – One-Handed Backhand
- Mats Wilander – Two-Handed Backhand
- John Newcombe – One-Handed Backhand
- Andy Murray – Two-Handed Backhand
- Jim Courier – Two-Handed Backhand
- Guillermo Vilas – One-Handed Backhand
- Stan Wawrinka – One-Handed Backhand
Whichever shot you plan to incorporate into your game, you will be glad to see that great champions from different eras have used both backhands. Both one- and two-handed backhands have been the key to many grand slam victories over the years.
Players With a One-Handed Backhand
The most famous player of all time with a one-handed backhand is without doubt Roger Federer. The 20-time grand slam winner is seen as one of the sport’s greatest players and is renowned for his elegance. This is thanks largely to his phenomenal one-handed backhand and slicing ability.
Another Swiss, Stan Wawrinka, shocked the world in 2014 by winning a grand slam title against the odds. His extremely powerful backhand was crucial to his success. He went on to win another two grand slams in perhaps the toughest era of tennis. Austrian Dominic Thiem is the first male player born after the 1980s to win a grand slam. His ferocious one-hander helped him capture the 2020 U.S Open.
Other revered champions from the past such as Pete Sampras, Steffi Graf, and Rod Laver, all had one-handed backhands.
Players With a Two-Handed Backhand
Many successful players on the men’s and women’s tours have dominated with this backhand. Serena Williams won an astonishing 23 grand slams with help from her strong two-handed backhand. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have 20 grand slams to their names. Their ability to dictate matches on both wings helped to win many of those.
The two-handed backhand was not the style of choice until quite recently. Early pioneers of this method of play were Bjorn Borg, Monica Seles, and Jimmy Connors.
Which Shot Is Best for You?
The nature of the one-handed shot makes it less accessible to smaller players because they have trouble reaching higher balls. They may also lack weight behind their shots, so the power advantage of a one-handed backhand is significantly less.
More defensive players could perform better with a two-handed backhand. A one-handed backhand is likely to fail earlier during long rallies because it is harder to control. To have the best chance of surviving in points, the more stable two-hander is the sensible choice.
On the other hand, more aggressive players with fast serves could be well-suited to the one-handed backhand. A powerful one-hander can produce winners and thereby kill points. Tennis players who like to volley and play at the net can also make this shot work to their advantage.
The truth is that both variations of the backhand can be effective weapons if trained sufficiently. Even if a shot looks better to you on paper, you might prefer the feel of the other backhand. If you are comfortable hitting the backhand in a certain way, then you will be willing to train for many hours to improve it.