Strike a backhand like Richard Gasquet
Not only is the flamboyant Frenchman's one-handed backhand a thing of beauty - it is also the most devastating shot in his repertoire. Here's how he does it...
Positioning: Best foot forward
Playing with a single-handed backhand means sacrificing the extra power you could produce with a two hander, so making the omst of your body’s momentum to generate power is crucial. As Gasquet demonstrates, the key to this is positioning yourself behind the ball as you prepare, and transferring your momentum forward so all your weight is over your front foot as you strike the ball out in front.
Grip it and rip it: Eastern promise
If you’re just starting out with a single-hander, use an eastern backhand grip like Gasquet. The knuckle of your first finger should be on the bevel of the handle – the surface perpendicular to the strings – so that the racket face is slightly closed on contact. It is not a million miles from the chopper grip, so you can quickly adjust if you decide to hit with slice.
|Gasquet has an unusual take-back – the face of the racket is open as if he is preparing to slice the ball, adding disguise – but his fundamentals are spot on. He has turned his shoulder and set himself behind the ball.|
|With his front foot now landing as he steps into the shot, Gasquet’s weight starts to move forward, bringing him up to the baseline. The racket face begins to straighten so he can hit the ball flat or with topspin.
Key point: Check out the size of Gasquet’s step forward into the shot – his head and shoulders soon follow, shifting his momentum
|Gasquet uncoils from the point of maximum shoulder rotation, swinging the racket down and forward as his full weight transfers to the front foot, with the knee bent enough to get under the ball.
Key point: He starts to drop the racket head so he can bring the strings from low to high up the back of the ball, creating topspin.
|As he makes contact with the ball, his shoulders remain side-on while his back leg is to the right of his body. His eyes are focused on the contact point, while his right leg has straightened, transferring power into the stroke.
Key point: Notice that Gasquet’s head remains focused on the contact point even after the ball has been struck – this helps him maintain balance through the stroke.
|Here’s the crucial frame: well after contact with the ball, Gasquet’s shoulders are still side-on. He reaches backwards with his left arm and his back leg stays behind and to his right, both acting as brakes to stop the hips and shoulders opening.|
Even after completing the shot Gasquet holds the shoulders, hips and back leg in place. The side-on shape has directed the ball down the line, while his momentum has carried him inside the baseline.
Objectives: Hit the percentages on high fliers
The single-handed backhand is a tough shot to master, particularly when dealing with high bouncing balls. It is difficult to create power when the ball reaches you anywhere above shoulder height – on these balls just focus on returning deep with plenty of height over the net onto your opponent’s weakness. Once you get a shorter ball, step in and go for it.
'How to hit a backhand like Richard Gasquet' featured in the May 2010 issue of tennishead magazine. For more details on how to subscribe, click here.