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High Backhand Volley
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
Among the many shots a tennis player may face while at or near the net, the high backhand volley tends to be the most problematic in terms of technique and confidence. Because of the various technical mistakes many players make, the stroke often feels weak and ineffective or it is missed altogether.
In this article, I’m going to be using the SportsCAD program to isolate or “chunk” various components of the high backhand volley to display the very components in which I’m writing about.
One problem many players face with the backhand volley is the grip. So many players are led to believe the eastern backhand grip is the stronger grip, especially for beginners. Yet, most knowledgeable pros recommend more advanced players to change to the continental grip at some point. I won’t get into the difficulties related to changing a grip after it has become comfortable, but the eastern backhand grip sets up players for failure, in that it inhibits them from hitting more effective volleys as they progress.
The continental grip sets up the racquet for the first move, the "Unit Turn." The idea here is to take the racquet back with the upper body rather than simply using the arm. The problem with an eastern grip is that it positions the racquet behind the hand and forearm, basically taking the racquet at an angle away from the target from the start. When the player adds the unit turn, the eastern grip takes the racquet back even further from the desired angle. This position literally forces the player to swing the racquet around just to align the strings back to the target. This one aspect is why most players who use the eastern backhand grip are seldom able to hit sharp angle volleys, drop volleys, or lob volleys. To do so, the players must swing the racquet around to gain the desired target line and therefore almost always hit the ball too hard. These players instinctively feel this and, as a result, decelerate the swing, which, of course, keeps the racquet face from getting on the right path.
With most pros, you will see a commonality: a straight arm from before contact to after contact. A commonality among recreational or club players who have difficulty with their backhand is the bent elbow. That is they try to hit volley while the elbow is straightening. This not only takes the racquet back much further, the strain on the elbow while straightening at contact can be severe, especially if the player hits late. The straight arm position adds leverage and control to the stroke also, just like a longer crowbar can lift more weight than a shorter one.
The most important aspect of most tennis strokes is “keeping the plane the same.” The previous elements I’ve discussed contribute to this. The idea is to keep the hitting surface of the racquet the same from well before contact to well after. In volleys, I use the phrase, “Set and Hold,” to emphasize this concept.
Upper Body Position
The final element is to maintain the continuity of the upper body throughout the stroke. If the upper body rotates, the ability to hit a true linear stroke becomes problematic and makes keeping the plane the same very difficult.
If players establish these elements on the high backhand volley, the ability to create a consistent and confident volley is natural. And when confidence improves, the natural progression to hitting the volley with more pace happens automatically.
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Marion Bartoli has demonstrated that even in today’s high-powered women’s game, the two-handed stroke off both sides is something that can be competitive. While Dave Smith has focused on Bartoli's two-handed strokes before, this is the first time he examines her forehand from two distinct concepts. Using SportsCAD stroke comparison software he compares it to her backhand as a “mirrored” image and then shows how the stroke offers many advantages to traditional forehands as a learning model.
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The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
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