Jun

17

 One of my greatest regrets outside of death, sickness, of family and friends, and other great losses, is that I have always had a poor backhand in rackets sports. How in the world I won so many championships with that poor backhand I can't imagine. It wasn't quickness or natural ability or any kind or great analytical skill. That I know.

Like most things, the backhand has gone through ever changing cycles of strength and weakness. I started out switching hands the way most handball players did when playing with a paddle or tennis racket. That was very good for a while as it expanded my reach and gave me many angles that the normal backhand couldn't handle. Then I took lessons from a great backhander named John Nogrady and he assured me that I'd have the greatest backhand in two weeks. But it didn't work. And I gravitated to a slice backhand without any torque. But the left, ambidextrous forehand was good enough so I won lots of tournaments, and like an idiot, I decided I could be the best in the world in squash even before I had ever played the game, as I was the best in paddle ball. If I knew how many defects I had relative to the champions, who were so much more athletic than me, and had so much better backhand than I could ever aspire to, I never would have thought that crazy thought. In retrospect, knowing what I do know, I never would have even dared to play squash, considering all the weaknesses, which were soon to be exacerbated by the infernal short slice backhand that all the Harvard guys under Barnaby that hadn't played the game were taught.

That turned out to be bad for my tennis. I never could beat a good 6.0 player, and when we played the tough college matches, where the number 1 and 2 rotated, (I was number 2 throughout. I was ashamed to play the good number 1's on other teams because they were so much better than me, and I was granted the ignominy of playing the number two on the other team twice.) But that cycle was okay for me in squash. Somehow with the hard ball, the slice backhand wasn't that weak. Others, especially all the good Philadelphia payers had infinitely better backhands than me, but somehow I was able to prevail against all except Sharif.

I love Jack Barnaby but I am confident that if I had gone to another college and learned a decent topspin or full swing backhand I would have been able to surmount that one personage who stood in the way of my being best. The slice backhand I picked up at Harvard, was disastrous for me in racketball. I had better stuff than most when I played but I couldn't kill the backhand and other players hit the ball twice or three times as hard as I did. Marty hogan humiliated me with all the torques and backswings and follow-throughs he had on his backhand, as did Steve Keeley. But I was too foolish, and too insensitive to change.

The cycles change again. I've learned a good top backhand in both racketball and squash now, and if I could go back in time, I'm sure I would be 6 or 10 points a game better. But of course it's too late. I can hardly beat Aubrey who's 6 years old now, because I am so much immobile. Anyway, today for the first time in a year, I played tennis. I practice my new backhand playing against myself just dropping the ball. I learned 10 new things I was doing wrong on my backhand, or things I could improve.

1. Take a bigger backswing.

2. End the swing like a baseball player up high on the right side.

3. Get torque from the legs the hips, and the shoulders into the shot.

4. Keep the wrist locked and vertical never dropping it.

5. Tilt the racket into a slight slice face before hitting the ball top so that you get another torque into it

6. Bend the knees so you can get some lower body into it.

7. Extend the left hand at the end of the stroke the way Federer does on his slice.

8. Hit on the outside of the ball when you wish to hit it cross court.

9. Step into the ball like you're going to approach the net on all backhand shots.

10. Get on your toes and keep your head down on the flight of the ball.

All this seems very technical and specialized, but then I realized that the lessons I learned from the backhand today, would also apply to markets, which I'll relate in the next memo.

Bo Keely writes: 

A forehand has many similar movements in life– from rattling the crib to grasping a fork and swatting flies– but not so with the backhand. By the time one begins racquet sports even at your tender age of what, five, in the deep end of a swimming pool with your father on the diving board shouting instruction, you had no muscle memories nor neurological models to hit a backhand. I, on the other hand, kept a diary from the same age and developed what others have called the best racquet backhand. Writing is placing an instrument in hand and drawing it across the page in the left to right backhand direction for the righty. By age 16 when I first took a racquet in hand as a senior trying out for the tennis team, I beat the number three and two singles players and so was kicked off by coach Kiley for not going out for the team sooner. The three best ways to develop a backhand, after a decade of teaching racquetball, and for once to fly in the face of a sport's maxim of specificity of training are: write longhand and especially print in order to accustom the fingers and eyes to stop and start, drive golf balls left handed, and throw a frisbee.
 


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