Hitting Better Backhands

Tips from Meredith Walton, director of tennis at the Clubs of Kingwood near Houston

BY ELAINE GLUSAC — Summer 2019

Meredith Walton joined The Clubs of Kingwood as a tennis pro in 2012 and became tennis director a year ago. She brings plenty of experience to the club — she competed on the women’s professional tour for four years and coached women’s tennis teams at two Division I colleges, the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and the University of Texas at Austin.

The best backhands in the men’s game?

Hitting a good backhand is about preparation, weight transfer, diversifying spins, and maneuvering ball placement. Roger Federer has one of the best one-handed backhands; it’s beautiful to watch because of the fluidity and accuracy. Novak Djokovic has one of the best two-handers, with his symmetry of alignment and cleanliness of technique.

And in the women’s?

Venus Williams for the two-hander, with her wider base, ability to generate power with open stance, and explosive torque rotation. Justine Henin, who’s retired, for the one-hander. I liked her efficiency of preparation and the extension and release of her swing.

Your best tip for amateurs hitting a backhand?

Understanding proper spacing away from the ball and initiating movement instinctively. You have to initiate with a shoulder turn and a pivot of the outside foot. At the point of contact, you need full arm extension. If you’re crowded, you’ll have a bent elbow, which gets the wrist involved and can lead eventually to injury. For two-handers, it’s important to utilize the nondominant hand in generating racket-head speed and promoting extension of the arm. Players need to learn both topspin and underspin when developing their one- or two-handed backhand.

Some good on-court exercises for perfecting the backhand?

Bounce catching with tennis balls so you’re working on movement and spacing instinctively. Also, shadow swinging. Place one cone in center court where you want to recover and one outside where you’ll be swinging. Lastly, figure eights. Turn your shoulders, move to the outside cone and swing, transferring your weight forward so you’re coming around the outside of the cone; recover in front of it with a crossover step and then take a couple of shuffles back to the other cone.

And off the court?

Medicine ball training, with or without a partner — and focus on coiling and uncoiling, loading and unloading. Coiling is turning out and loading with the legs and uncoiling is throwing the ball using your hips and shoulders, with full arm extension. Keep your eyes and head forward as if you’re tracking the ball. You’re building strength with lower-body loading, and rotating the shoulders and hips gives you more power from your core when you release. 

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