The majority of today’s professional players utilize a two-handed backhand. As an instructor, I direct all of my beginner students, especially kids, to use the two-handed backhand for one simple reason: two hands/wrists/arms/shoulders are stronger than one.
But, a two-handed forehand?
Years ago, during the era of the Virginia Slims sponsorship of the women’s professional tour, Monica Seles was known for her unique two-handed forehand.
Seles was very petite in size compared to most of today’s tennis players, but she was able to strike the ball with an amazing amount of pace and spin, which at that time was new to the game.
During that era, I was working with the Virginia Slims Tournament in Houston and I had the privilege of meeting her and watching her practice and train. As I was watching her hit, I realized that by using both hands/arms, and most importantly, both shoulders when hitting her forehand, she was able to obtain a more balanced stroke with her entire body (much like a golf swing or a baseball batter’s swing).
Now, for the technical stuff…First of all, Seles is left-handed, so as a lefty, on her two-handed backhand, her dominant (left) hand would naturally be on the bottom, and her right hand on top. Naturally, or unnaturally as it is, she would not switch hands (putting her dominant hand on top) for her forehand. I can only attribute this unique ability to being a lefty growing up in a right-handed world.
Let’s flip all of that over to the other 90% of people in the world, the righties. Out of curiosity, I began to experiment with attempting to hit a two-handed, (right-hander) forehand, keeping my dominant right hand on the bottom and my left hand on top. Well needless to say, I found it to be a very challenging, awkward and uncomfortable way to swing the racquet.
However, I discovered that if I switchedmy hands, putting my dominant (right hand) on top (like you would hold a baseball bat or a golf club), not only did my ability to swing with both hands and arms become a more natural and comfortable motion, but I was forced to use both shoulders, as opposed to just swinging the racquet with my right arm. Therefore, this was naturally programming and reinforcing me to use my shoulders and rotate my upper body as I was swinging through my forehand.
When watching any top-level pro player in today’s game hit a one-handed forehand, you will notice an extreme amount of upper body rotation through the swing. Along with this you will notice perfect upper and lower body balance, as they accelerate through the contact of the ball with an extreme amount of motion and momentum, moving in a forward direction. See Photo 2 of Serena Williams.
The challenge for beginners, and especially young players who are still growing and may not yet have enough upper body strength, is properly programming the coordination and utilization of upper body/shoulder rotation through the swing, and not just swinging with the arm.
With all my beginner students, as well as a student who may be struggling with their forehand, I switch their hands and I have them hit a two-handed forehand with their non-dominant hand on the bottom, and the dominant hand on top.
While this tends to feel a bit awkward for the first few strokes, as the student becomes more comfortable with the swing, one of the first things we notice is their overall body balance through the swing has improved.
In addition, swinging with both arms/shoulders naturally slows your swing down, and while yes, racquet head speed through a swing is important, timing of contact with the ball is first and most important. (Most beginning students tend to swing to fast at the incoming ball).
As thestudent progresses with this reprogramming of muscle memory, we take the bottom (non-dominant) hand off the racquet, and move the dominant hand to the bottom of the racquet. Now, even though the non-dominant hand has been freed, the player will temporarily still utilize it to grab the racquet at the throat, to complete the swing, after the dominant arm/shoulder has struck the ball. This now ensures that both shoulders are coming around and that full upper body rotation and balance is occurring in the follow through.
Once this fundamental motion is programmed into the stroke, players can now swing the racquet utilizing just their dominant arm and acquire full rotation through the stroke, and then begin to concern themselves with increased racquet head speed through contact of the ball.
At this point we can then progress to more advanced techniques of controlling the face of the racquet at contact, by utilizing more of a western-style grip, to impart heavy topspin on the ball and eventually end up with (Yes, I must use the phrase, Caroline) a HUGE forehand.
So if you are struggling with your forehand, I recommend finding a practice partner or utilizing a ball machine and reprogram your shoulders with this simple but effective practice. Hit some two-handed forehands and feel the difference in your balance and smoothness of your swing, and transpose that into your regular forehand stroke.
Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 23 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at the Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis juniors program runs year-round, and has classes for players from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at WClark@cityofmarcoisland.com, by phone or text at 239-450-6161, or visit his website at www.marco-island-tennis.com.