When faced with this difficult shot, don’t overdo it.
1. The backhand overhead, except in rare instances, is a defensive shot. You’re playing for two shots: the overhead, and an easier volley to follow. Turn sideways and move into position with crossover steps, like a quarterback. At the same time, you need to drop the head of your racquet, so the butt cap points at the ball. Turn your shoulders and keep your head up and your eyes on the ball. Your weight should be on your back foot so you can push forward into the shot. Make sure you use a Continental grip.
2. Your body shouldn’t twist as you swing. Simply bring your racquet straight up to contact. There’s a tendency on this shot to try and come over the ball, or to hit around it (to slice it). That will result in a weak shot. Your racquet face should meet the ball straight on and out in front of your body, as shown here. Your grip should be a little more firm than normal at contact.
3. Extend through the shot after contact. Your arm should be fully outstretched and your off -arm should extend in the opposite direction of your hitting arm to help you maintain your balance. Remember that this is a defensive shot. Rather than swing for a winner, use a compact, smooth stroke to put the ball in a good spot so you can win the point on the next shot.
4. The backhand overhead should be an abbreviated stroke. This will reduce errors, increase control and make it easier for you to recover for the next shot. As you land on your feet, follow the ball with your eyes and prepare to split step and pounce.
Mark Dalzell is a senior tennis coach and director of the weekly camp program at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy.
Illustration by Jon Rodgers
Originally published in the March 2011 issue of TENNIS.