Using Your Wrist on the Backhand

Published 8/4/2008 9:40:19 AM by Shane Barrow from Dallas, Texas

Is the wrist used on the backhand?  Of course it is.  It's our dirty little secret. Take a breath, calm down, and put your eyes back in their sockets.  And if you're a tennis literalist, don't read any further. Rod Laver talked about using his wrist on his backhand, and the phrase "turn of the wrist" is found in old tennis books.  You lock the wrist at contact, yes, it stays that way.  And you don't "wrist it" by any means, you don't break the wrist from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock.  But by rotating the wrist prior to contact as if you were tightening a screw you alter the angle of the racket face for contact. 

The wrist is the point of least resistance on all strokes, and on backhands it's especially weak because the hand breaks back, or inwards, against itself unlike forehands.  To prevent this you could adopt an extreme eastern backhand, which is like holding your racket with a forehand grip and then using the same side of the racket facet to hit a backhand. Sounds like a problem solver, but changing your grip like this creates problems, too.  The problem is it becomes harder to get the head of the racket around to make contact ahead of the hand.  The ball's at an angle, remember, and to hit it head on the racket head should be ahead of the hand, when viewed from the side.  Using an extreme grip leads to hitting the ball with inside out spin.  It takes extraordinary hand strength, and athleticism to make this work.

An easier way to get the racket head around first is to avoid the extreme backhand grip.  The ball may pop up on you but if it goes straight that's a good sign you're getting the racket head around well.  To avoid the pop up, adjust the angle of the face at which the ball hits the racket.  You can change the grip slightly, though not extremely, and/or rotate the wrist and forearm clockwise during the forward swing. In order to bring the racket face around while the arm both unfolds laterally around itself and extends, or expands, laterally around the body, the wrist has to help out.  Sometimes the wrist starts moving the head of the racket first (and then stops) before any part of the arm begins to unfold.  Sometimes the wrist dramatically brings the racket face into the ball right before contact, often done when the player has been indoctrinated in straightening the arm first for the forward swing.