I learned my backhand incorrectly. Just as I learned to hold my pencil wrong. But does it matter how you get your results?
I started playing tennis when I was about 11 or 12, but my brothers relegated me to the backboard, instead of allowing me to hit with them. The backboard is a formidable opponent that never lets you win and forces you to develop agile feet. It is not, however, a good coach. It’ll keep returning the ball but won’t help you with your form.
In the ‘80s, two-fisted backhands were in vogue, due to the Americans who employed them: Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Michael Chang, among others. Foreigners Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, and Stefan Edberg would have nothing to do with the two-handed backhand.
Since no one showed me how to hit it and the backboard kept pushing it toward my left side, I grabbed the racket with both hands much like a baseball bat. I was never shown how to hit a baseball either, but I’d taken a lot of wiffle ball BP in the backyard with my brother. To hit a forehand, you hold the racket at the base of the grip. To correctly hit a two-handed backhand, you simply grip with your left hand above your right. But in baseball, your dominant hand goes on top. So that’s what I did with my backhand. Right hand above my left.
Wicked before I ever knew of the musical
It was handedly (pun fully intended) my best stroke. I could pull it crosscourt like few others I played, even my older brothers. The inside-out stroke was a bit more challenging, but even then, I learned to hit it, to keep my opponent honest—lest he cheat to his left. It had greater pace on it than my forehand and became a superior weapon when I learned to hit with topspin.
[pullquote]Since no one showed me how to hit it and the backboard kept pushing it toward my left side, I grabbed the racket with both hands much like a baseball bat.[/pullquote]The problem arose when I progressed to playing guys with hard serves. In preparing to receive serve, you hold your racket somewhat neutrally, in order to quickly move right or left. My problem was I had no neutral. I held it like a forehand but would have to shift my right hand up towards the neck to get my left hand below it. With harder serves, I had no time to make this transition.
Thus, I developed the one-handed stab with a little backspin, one Steffi Graf used to win some 22 grand slam events. Over the years this would become another weapon for me. But I’ve always felt my two-fisted backhand was inferior because I was doing it wrong.
If it ain’t broke …
Well, a couple weeks ago I discovered some tennis players in the little town where I work. One guy I hit with used to coach high school players and regularly gives lessons. Since we were just hitting, he didn’t presume to give me insights, except that I asked. I told him I’ve always wanted to relearn my backhand.
He watched me for a bit as he hit repeatedly to my left side and then offered his opinion. Why? It doesn’t appear to be limiting you, and, in fact, it seems so natural to you, whereas your forehand is tentative, like you’re having to think about it. Even your footwork when you go to your left is better than when preparing to hit a forehand.
So I won’t be able to hit screaming two-handed backhand returns of serve. Rarely does anyone. I might be better served to work on my forehand. Get my footwork steady. Stop hitting from my back foot.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Regarding holding my pencil, my teachers kept trying to get me to hold it correctly, but they couldn’t argue against my neat penmanship.
Well, I’m considering taking some guitar lessons. Learning to play an instrument correctly assures better dexterity. In piano proper fingering is imperative. This just might be the case with the six-string.
What about you? What have you learned incorrectly but can do well?