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Tommy Haas:
The World's Best Backhand?

By Nick Bollettieri

Printable Version

Click photo to study the best one-handed backhand in the world.

Tommy Haas' backhand--to me, it's the best backhand in the world today. I say that because he can do anything with the ball; drive it, get under it and hit with topspin, hit angle shots, work the ball in rallies, and he also has a fantastic slice.

Let's look closer at how he does it by using some of the magnificent high speed footage of Tommy developed by John Yandell's non-profit organization, Advanced Tennis Research Project.


Notice as Tommy starts his back swing on the backhand side, he immediately begins to change his grip, moving from a semi-western forehand to a full eastern backhand grip. Note that the grip change is completed well before the completion of his turn.

What goes into a world class backhand? Click photo to get a description from Nick.

At the start of Tommy's motion, his shoulder is already going back. He has a big shoulder turn and the left hand goes back beautifully, automatically preparing the racquet. His arm is fairly close to his body, and I like that too.

Too many players, especially at lower levels. take the racquet back separately from the hip and shoulder turn. This means they end up hitting the ball with the arm only. If you turn your shoulder and hips, the racquet goes back by itself.

Because Tommy's got that hip and shoulder turn, he can get away with a half volley or hitting out of a semi-open stance when he gets caught a little off balance or out of position.

Tommy's strong hip and shoulder turn. Watch how the racquet prepares itself.

Another interesting thing is the way Tommy Haas cocks that racquet head. He has that racquet head up above his left shoulder and look the position of his wrists. The racquet head is directly above the hands. This is where he gets a lot of his power.

Wide Base

Look at the wide step Tommy takes, and that is very, very important. The wide base gives him great balance and allows him to get great lift from his legs. Here comes the racquet and here comes the step. It's almost a simultaneous movement.

We've worked on that extensively. He lifts from the legs, not the waist. Watch how this leads to the recovery step with the left foot coming around naturally, almost by itself.

Tommy's gets a great lift from the legs. The recovery step happens very naturally.


Tommy has a few different finishes, but he generally ends up above his right shoulder. Over the years I've taught him to relax his right hand at the end of the stroke. Many times he was too tight and too restricted.

When he hits flatter, the face of the racquet is perpendicular to the ground at the end. When he puts a little bit more spin on the ball, he is a little looser at the end with the face of the racquet coming over and closing somewhat.

Look how beautifully the left arm pulls back and that's very, very important. The right arm goes forward and straightens out and the left arm comes back.

Haas's beautiful arm action - right arm forward, left arm back.

Some coaches say the follow through is academic, but I think it has an awful lot to do with the forward part of the swing. If you end up with a longer, more relaxed follow followthrough, it does have an impact, even though people say it doesn't.

Why? The follow through determines how the racquet is traveling at the contact. If you stop directly after contact, you'll slow down your racquet before you get to the ball.

I don't care what anybody says, the human body is not a machine that can stop in a split second. The force of the racquet coming forward makes it impossible.

It's similar to a baseball hitter trying to check his swing because of a bad pitch. Quite often he can't, the wrists break and they call it a swing. You can't stop the racquet the racquet, and you shouldn't try. In fact, you should do the opposite.

Make sure you have no hesitancy on the forward part of the swing. Hit it!

A positive followthrough is even more important when you are moving backwards or off balance.

A positive followthrough is especially important when you are moving backward or are a little off balance. In this case follow through even more. Do not slow down, and that will offset the deficiency you may have with the foundation of the stroke.

Another point. The further back you get behind the baseline, the more you should increase the clearance of the ball going over the net, as well as the spin.


Tommy has worked hard to improve his angled backhand. Today, you have to be able to create shots, just going north and south with ground strokes isn't enough. You've got to be able to make the ball go east and west, hit the short angles, and get the ball wide before it even crosses the service line.

Click photo: Tommy's sweeping slice backhand - great coil, great arm action, great finish.

Slice Backhand

You notice Tommy's grip is a little different here, a continental. He doesn't go all the way over to the semi western grip when he hits his slice. Notice the index finger is spread. I think that helps give him control of the whole racquet.

Again Tommy has a big shoulder turn. Look how he uncoils the racquet from up above. Tommy doesn't guide it, I mean he lets go! Look at that long sweeping swing. Bang! Right through the ball, and he finishes it totally.

Notice that Tommy generates extra power by straightening out his arm too. Look at how his elbow is bent, and then straightens out almost like a karate shot.

Tommy's arm straightens our like a karate shot, adding power to his slice.

A lot of players, have their elbow locked on a slice and that means they are only hitting with the arm. To do that you have to be strong as a bull dog. They tend to stop the swing and the ball bounces up about four or five feet. You want the slice to bite and stay very, very low. To do that you've got to coil and hit through the ball.

The left arm pulls back and that's very important too, similar to the topspin drive. The right arm goes forward and straightens out, and the left arm comes back.

Finally note the finish, with his racquet face almost parallel to the court.

Tommy's backhand is versatile and technically superior in every aspect. In my opinion when you look at the whole package, it's the best in the world today.

Nick Bollettieri is the legendary coach who invented the concept of the tennis academy more than 30 years ago. He has trained thousands of elite players, including some of the greatest champions in the history of the game, players like Andre Agassi, Tommy Haas, Jim Courier, Monica Seles, and Boris Becker, as well as upcoming stars including Maria Sharapova. IMG Bollettieri Academies are located in Bradenton, Florida.

Want to train with Nick? Click here.
Learn more about the Bollistic Backhand, and the other great videos from Nick in this series.
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