Open-Stance Backhand

IMG_0320The tempo of points in tennis has become so fast even at the junior, high school, and other competitive levels the open stance two-handed backhand is an essential tool for a player to have in their toolbox.  Often when I watch players the shot I see them having the most difficulty with is the backhand and I do not think it is because their backhand is weaker than their forehand.  Instead, I see players struggle with the backhand because they simply cannot hit it where they know they should be.  When a player is in a neutral or even defensive position they have to hit the backhand crosscourt and ideally across their opponent’s shoulders.  Hitting the ball across an opponent’s body keeps them from being able to hit a high percentage shot into the open forehand side of the court.  The problem is you cannot stand with the hips perpendicular to the net and strike the ball effectively cross court when it comes with significant pace and spin.  It is much easier to hit the ball crosscourt with the hips open or parallel to the net.  It takes 2 steps to move and hit an open stance backhand and 3 steps to hit one with the hips perpendicular to the net.  Remember that the tempo of the points becomes faster as athletes advance in both age and skill so you can imagine how taking that one extra step can take away from very precious time.

Most coaches teach youth open stance forehands from the very beginning and if you look long-term most competitive players never have a problem hitting forehands crosscourt from neutral or defensive court positions. It only takes two steps to get to the ball when players use an open stance and with the hips open and parallel to the net it makes it mechanically easier to hit crosscourt.  However, from a young age many coaches teach players to stand perpendicular to the net for all of their backhands.  I believe that if we teach youth to be able to hit backhands with an open stance from a young age they will develop into more all around players in the long-term development.

IMG_0325Please do not take this blog post that I am against teaching backhands or forehands in a stance perpendicular to the net.  There certainly is a place and time for it as in the pictures above where Nadal is hitting down the line from an offensive court position.  What I am advocating for is that the more skills an athlete is exposed early in their development to the more tools they will have in their arsenal long-term, which really is what is important.  The demands of the game at higher levels require athletes to hit in the open stance on both sides of the court and teaching that skill from a young age is giving children the skills they will need for success down the road.

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