Why do I play better without a backswing?

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by Frank Silbermann, Jul 13, 2014.

  1. Frank Silbermann

    Frank Silbermann Professional

    Feb 24, 2004
    I've been playing for over 40 years, and I've never more than a low intermediate. If I had my best version of each stroke, all together on the same day for an entire match, I'd be a high intermediate. One thing that messes up my ground strokes, I've come to realize, it trying to imitate the pros.

    That is, every pro I see seems to take what appears to me to be a humongous elaborate backs swing. However, I seem to play better the more I try to eliminate the back swing (at least so far as swinging with the arm).

    In the old days, when correct (i.e. eastern shake-hands) technique was still taught and used, I hit my best forehands and could climb out of any slump if I tried to fix my arm at hitting position at the elbow and shoulder and for power just step in, lean in, and rotate the shoulders. Then, as I stopped paying attention and played by instinct, my strokes would loosen up and I'd begin swinging more freely thinking I'd finally cracked this nut. Then, the next time playing, I'd hardly be able to keep the ball on the court and for weeks after I'd wonder what that dream of competency had been -- until one day I again remembered to eliminate (or at least sharply reduce) the back swing.

    Three years ago I switched to a more extreme eastern grip with what people call windshield-washing instead what had been taught to me as the correct follow-through (racket finishing vertical pointing high over the opponent's back fence). It was a big improvement, but getting back on the court after not playing for six months again I could no longer control the ball. This time, instead of eliminating the arm swing completely, I solved the problem by going to what felt like a cute little vertical swing -- nothing but a foot of pure down-and-up with my hand as I used my legs and shoulders to line up for the ball and lean in.

    What is going on here? Is it that, being utterly devoid of talent, it is my destiny to use on easy balls the technique pros reserve for the most challenging shots -- e.g. service returns and overhead-smash retrievals -- on the theory that because I'm so devoid of talent even easy balls are extremely challenging for me?

    Or is it more likely that what _feels_ to me like no back swing as actually a quite generous back swing -- that I confuse the feeling of the motion of my hand with the visual perception of the _racket_head's_ motion? (Under that theory, when I try to imitate the pros' swings I'm actually making a ridiculously exaggerated back swing.)

    I suppose if I had the facility to videotape myself I could answer my own question, but what do you think?
  2. Topspin Shot

    Topspin Shot Legend

    Jul 24, 2009
    Videotape yourself.
  3. tlm

    tlm Legend

    Jul 21, 2004

    Does your forehand look like this?

  4. mightyrick

    mightyrick Legend

    Aug 19, 2010
    Austin, TX
    OP, you definitely have a back-swing of some sort. You aren't going to be able to swing forward, otherwise. I bet you have adopted some form of a straight-back backswing instead of a loop where the racquet head starts high and loops down.

    That is considered a very old school way of taking back the racquet head, but it certainly would still be valid.

    One shot where you honestly should employ a straight-back backswing is the return of serve. When returning serve, you need as much time as you can get. You also need to have the racquet on the hitting plane as soon as possible. A straight-back takeback solves that.
  5. morandi

    morandi Rookie

    Jun 26, 2008
    I truly think its a mistake to ever really think about your backswing.
    Better to think what you are going to "do" to the ball.
    The backswing takes care of itself. I find I generate more power and control with less of a backswing. Think bruce lees one inch punch.
  6. 4sound

    4sound Semi-Pro

    Oct 5, 2009
    Match Point
    More than likely you're using a lot of wrist & forearm to swing at the ball. If you do this and put a big backswing, there's a lot of margin for error & its difficult to be consistent. Modern rackets have enough power to just use the wrist & forearm to hit but it will only take you so far.
  7. TennisCJC

    TennisCJC Legend

    Apr 20, 2010
    I am a big advocate of compact back swings but there should be some take back even on return of serve or when taking the ball on the rise from the baseline. Others may be correct in that you may be using too much wrist or forcing WW early in the stroke near contact. Try taking a small take back and let the wrist lay back as you start forward. You don't want to lock the wrist in this laid back position but it is OK to keep it passive and don't consciously move it until after contact. The WW action should occur slightly or even well after contact and it is primarily a method to keep the racket angle consistent thru the stroke path and a good way to let the stroke flow into a full follow thru.

    When you shoulders are facing the side fence on your FH. The entire take back stays in front of your shoulders.
  8. fuzz nation

    fuzz nation Legend

    Oct 20, 2006
    Sounds to me as though you've found a mental cue or image to better engage your legs and trunk rotation when you hit your strokes. This is a pretty significant issue for building sound technique if it's what is actually happening when you try to abbreviate the backswing. As long as your shoulder or your forearm don't get exhausted when you use this swing thought, you could certainly be driving your strokes with your bigger muscle groups more often.

    Too many kids try to hit the ball too much by swinging the racquet from their shoulders to their wrists without putting their bigger muscle groups into action. That makes for plenty of inconsistent hitting, especially when their heels are anchored into the court. Get them to quiet down the arm while also using a more deliberate leg drive and they start nailing their targets and rallying twice as long as when they only use that arm swipe. If it's working for you over the long haul, you can probably mark it down as a success.
  9. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

    Dec 28, 2008
    East side of San Francisco Bay
    Of course, you have SOME backswing, otherwise you're just blocking the ball back with no pace whatsoever, like in beginner 3.0 level tennis.
    You probably mean you have a simple straightforward backswing, like sort straight back and then forward.
    KISS, if you can't handle elaborate power inducing backswings.
    Look at JohnMcEnroe's swing. Works for him. Do you have his touch?
  10. unorthodox stringing

    unorthodox stringing Rookie

    Nov 10, 2012
    It could be:

    (1) your racket or string tension is way too powerful, &/or
    (2) you are hitting only flat shots, &/or
    (3) the net clearance is too high

    What racket/string setup are you using?
  11. xFullCourtTenniSx

    xFullCourtTenniSx Hall of Fame

    Sep 28, 2009
    Sometimes, a pro backswing may look huge, but it actually has very consistent size constraints. If you took a line through your hips that was perpendicular to the baseline, your racket hand would never cross that line (and usually, the racket won't either, but some might break that rule). From there, the largest backswing you could have is by having your arm fully extended throughout the entire stroke, which is obviously far from what any pro does. So the pro will keep the racket at a comfortable distance from them, neither too far nor too close. Though the swing may look big, it's not that big at all, it's very controlled.

    Also, having an overly powerful racket might have something to do with it if you don't do something to compensate (add a lot of spin or slow down the swing).

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