An incorrect ball position is often at the heart of a badly struck single-handed backhand and some simple steps can often overcome this common problem.
What is the correct ball position for the single-handed topspin backhand?
The first thing to be aware of, is what is considered the correct ball position. Whilst the height of the ball will vary depending on court surface etc., we still want to keep the ball comfortably in front and to the side of the body on contact. The image below of me striking an average height ball (and the examples of different contact zones) will help you visualise this, but to simplify things think of the following – an ideal ball position at contact will allow you to make your follow-through in a comfortable, smooth, uninterupted manor. You will be totally in control of the ball, not the ball (therefore your opponent) in control of you. Too close to you and you will be jammed therefore having to re-shape your follow-through to make it work, too far away and you will over-reach. If this rule is followed you will be able to execute the type of spin and direction that you choose.
N.B. Notice in the image of me below (and the pros further down the page), that the correct contact point away from the body, allows the hitting arm to be fully straight on impact!
Of course the ball will not just magically end up in this perfect position, you will need to address the points in the following checklist to make this happen:
1. Always be alert and ready for what your opponent might do to the ball. The speed, the spin and the height of the ball, will all need to be addressed. A sharp mind also helps sharp feet!
2. Keep up the high energy – sluggish footwork will have a bad effect on your ball positioning, great footwork will help bundles!
3. Good shot selection is of paramount importance. Trying to squeeze in a full drive when a block or abreviated drive was called for will be asking for trouble.
4. Prepare and follow-through in good time. If this part of the shot is out of sync the ball will tie you up in knots.
5. Really watch the ball, don’t just kid yourself that you are. This will give you that split second advantage and help anticipation.
6. Take note of the wind and the court surface as they will have a huge impact on the ball’s behaviour.
Remember – The more often you allow your opponent to make you strike the ball uncomfortably, the more often you will either make an error or leave the ball short for your opponent to kill!
Another thing to consider is this: why do the top pros look so comfortable and consistent when striking the ball compared to the average club player? The answer is that they address the points in the list above and on the whole strike the ball in the optimum position. Of course if they don’t quite get it right, they are great at improvising to get themselves out of trouble.
Here’s Federer, Vilas and Robredo showing us how to do it. (Notice how Robredo still keeps the ball out in front even though the ball is higher!)