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TennisOne Lessons

The Andy Murray Backhand

David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne

With the tennis hopes of Great Briton riding on the shoulders of Andy Murray, the tall, lanky Scotsman is riding a wave of hard court success; first with a runner-up at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California in March and most recently his championship form at the Sony-Ericsson Open this first week in Key Biscayne, Florida, defeating Novak Djokovic in straight sets.

It is hard not to like Andy. And while his generally gangly on-court image is almost contradictory to the iconic image of most of his fellow top-ten ATP ranked men, his strokes are as efficient as they come, visually offering an almost bipolar style of play: Awkward looking carriage, explosive and dynamic stroke execution.

And the one stroke at the heart of Murray’s meteoric rise has to be his backhand.

The Murray Backhand

I would label Andy Murray’s backhand as an “economy of motion.” Among fellow two-handers, I would probably compare Andy’s backhand most closely to Lleyton Hewitt’s in terms of general form and function. However, there are a couple elements of Andy’s backhand that gives it a little more pop and effect than the counter-puncher Hewitt’s.

Click photo: Upon recognition of a backhand, Andy turns his body to take his racquet back. This “unit turn” along with the footwork to get in the best position are key elements of the set up.

Let’s take a close look at Andy’s backhand and identify the key position points and general features that I believe make it a great backhand to emulate.

Preparation

It is easy to see the initial move of Andy’s backhand is as clearly an example of the “unit turn” as any stroke will demonstrate. His racquet goes back with the turn of his upper body, staying virtually centered in front of his bellybutton for the first quarter turn of his unit turn. This move sets up a very simple, efficient stroke sequence and preparation. Many players will take the racquet back first with the arms followed by the upper body coil. This often takes the racquet back well past the body, often setting up too big of backswing for the player to gain control of the stroke.

Click photo: As Andy sets up for the acceleration phase leading up to contact, his racquet drops into the “slot” (the lowest position that he sets his hands prior to the upswing of the topspin stroke). His non-dominant hand (left hand) pre-stretches, a common element of a left-handed forehand; this is common among two-handed backhands..

As he sets up for the shot, his upper body remains quiet after the unit turn and his arms simply “reach back” for full extension but not over-rotating with too big of a backswing.

As with many two-handed backhands, Andy sets up with a closed stance and loads up his front leg while dropping his rear leg low, based on the height of the backhand he is hitting.

Just prior to the contact phase, Andy drops the racquet head in what is called a “pre-stretch” of the left hand’s position, a common element of most modern forehands that provides optimal power as the kinetic chain of movements lead up to the forward hitting phase of the shot.

Also note that the hands drop in towards the hips, allowing him to hit out to the ball.

Contact Phase

Click photo: Note how quiet Andy’s body remains through the contact zone. The body has nearly stopped rotating allowing his arms to accelerate through the ball. The dominant elbow stays close to the body and the racquet and dominant forearm are parallel with each other. Note how long the back toe stays down. Too many players swing this leg around instead of keeping it down through contact.

As with most top two-handed players today, the contact phase contains some key elements that are common among all players.

First, the racquet and forearm of the dominate arm remain nearly parallel with each other through contact. Also related to this position, the downward tilt of the wrist of the dominant hand creates a nearly straight line through the center-line of the racquet to the elbow of the dominant arm.

The dominant arm’s elbow remains close to the body acting like a pivot point for the non-dominant arm to drive the racquet around. This elbow position creates optimal angular momentum while still allowing for a relatively long contact window.

Recreational players tend to lift this elbow to create a more linear stroke which becomes more of a “push.” This tends to create a dinking stroke. One of the reasons beginners and intermediate players lift the elbow is because they open up too early. When this happens, the player subconsciously knows is going to pull the ball to the right and will slow the racquet head down by leading with the dominant elbow. If a player hopes to generate good spin and pace with the two-handed backhand, the player will need to stay sideways through contact, as you see Murray do with his backhand.

Click photo: Putting it all together: Note the stroke similarities of Andy’s backhand here to those above. On this higher bouncing ball, Andy doesn’t have to get as low, and, as a result, uses his legs more to explode up to where the ball is.

Through contact, you won’t see any deflection of the wrists; the stroke becomes basically a non-dominant arm forehand, with Murray’s left hand driving through the ball as it lifts up over the right arm.

A subtle but critical aspect of the stroke can be seen with the back leg staying down and the classic “toe-drag” being held long through contact. This position keeps the player from over-rotating, and helps maintain the target line with the angular swing the stroke generates.

Follow-Though

A strong non-dominant arm is seen through contact and towards the finish of the stroke. The dominant elbow moves very little through the follow-through, only lifting as the racquet finishes over the dominant arm’s shoulder.
Through contact and within the finish, you will see Andy drive up with the front leg. However, this is a little misleading. If you look closely, you will see that within the contact phase, his body stays low, only rising up to recover from the stroke (and to create a “brake step” with his back leg which is used to push off of when returning to a more neutral court position).


Murray's backhand is somewhat similar to
Lleyton Hewitt's

Often, recreational players are taught to “stand up” from a low position through the stroke. While we see many pros doing this in situations, as you can see here, not all pros do it every time. In fact, when many recreational players attempt to stand up during the contact phase, they often create miss hits and miss-timed shots. The use of extension from a low position only adds a minute amount of lift, and even less added topspin and racquet head speed. Thus, it is recommended by most teaching pros to stay low to help maintain the integrity of the stroke within the contact zone.

The back foot finally releases well after contact and serves as a brake step to help Andy stabilize and neutralize himself to recover from the shot.

Applying the Murray Backhand to your Game

As I've described in this article, Andy’s two-handed backhand is one of the best “model forms” for any club player to emulate. In terms of economy of motion It is an ideal “conventional” two-handed backhand to copy.

From the “unit turn” Andy sets up his backswing about as simple as one can. No extra movements with the hands or arms; the body takes the racquet back, not the arms. When the ball is low, he uses his legs as “elevators” to lower his body so that he can use essentially the same swing pattern he would use as if the ball were up higher; no bending at the waist, no dropping the racquet head down more for a lower ball than a ball waist high. His use of his left hand and arm are important. If you can visualize it, he is hitting his backhand as if it were a left-handed forehand.

One of the critical points for recreational players to work on is remaining sideways through contact. Andy has a very quiet upper body as he hits through the ball, allowing his racquet to accelerate past his body. Too many players turn their body during the stroke. This forces the player to slow the swing down and they end up either pulling the ball or their body recognizes that they are pulling the ball and they decelerate the stroke and end up pushing the ball towards the target.

The bottom line for all players is to develop a repeatable stroke that produces an amount of topspin that is necessary for the stroke speed and ball velocity the player wants to hit. Once this is achieved, consistency is the result. And when a player gains true consistency, in most cases they increase the speed of their shots through confidence.

Conclusion

From this foundation, players will all develop their own personal idiosyncrasies and personalities within the stroke... yet, have an obviously solid stroke pattern to build from.

Key Points to Identify and Emulate:

1. Simple Unit Turn to take the racquet back

2. Closed stance with strong front leg position

3. Staying sideways through contact

4. Keeping the dominant elbow close to side at contact

5. Strong non-dominant hand and arm (emulating a non-dominant arm forehand)

6. Keeping the back leg back through contact

7. Finish with the non-dominant elbow pointing to the target 

 

These basic Key Position Points, when emulated, help nearly every single player develop and master a very solid two-handed backhand topspin stroke that can be then manipulated in subtle ways to meet the needs and perceptions of the student.

Your comments are welcome. Let us know what you think about Dave Smith's article by emailing us here at TennisOne .

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Your comments are welcome. Let us know what you think about this article by emailing us here at TennisONE.

David W. Smith is the Director of Tennis for the St. George Tennis Academy in St. George Utah. He has been a featured writer in USPTA's magazine ADDvantage in addition to having over 50 published articles in various publications.

David has taught over 3000 players including many top national and world ranked players. He can be reached at acrpres1@email.msn.com.

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