Ivan Ljubicic's Backhand
Even a tricky high ball is no match for Ivan Ljubicic's backhand.
Perhaps the most difficult shot for players with one-handed backhands is hitting a ball up around the shoulders. There are three options to use in order to return it: You move in and take it early and on the rise, before it gets too high; chip it defensively with slice; or return the favor to your opponent by looping it back. Here we see Ivan Ljubicic going for the last choice, and doing it very well. With early preparation, spot-on timing, and impressive shoulder strength, Ljubicic returns a tough shot with relative ease.
1. As he prepares for his backhand, Ljubicic pulls his racquet back with his left hand while keeping a loose grip on the handle with his right. It’s smart to bring the racquet back with your off hand because it promotes a good shoulder turn. And by not strangling his racquet, Ljubicic can easily switch to his backhand grip and keep his hitting arm relaxed.
2. Since the ball is coming in high and deep, Ljubicic is retreating with crossover steps to get himself in good position. His racquet comes up slightly, and he doesn’t rotate his body yet, as his primary goal is good footwork. Ljubicic has time to run around his backhand, but because of his confidence in the stroke, he is content to hit it rather than a forehand.
3. With all the time Ljubicic has, he continues on to an exceptionally full shoulder turn. You can practically see his back. His body weight is almost completely gone from his front foot and has shifted to his left leg. Notice his body composition—his legs are bent and low while his back is straight. The only thing you want the upper body to do is rotate.
4. Ljubicic starts to rotate back as his racquet drops well below the ball. This shot is going to have ample topspin. His legs continue to straighten as he starts to jump off the court. Instead of bringing his weight through the shot, his momentum is actually going upward, which will result in a high, looping return.
5. At contact you see Ljubicic way off the ground and the ball still above his shoulders. This causes the racquet to be more at an angle rather than level as he rotates his wrist up to meet the ball. To coordinate a swing of this speed with all this movement takes great timing. It also requires plenty of shoulder strength and wrist action to power a ball from this height.
6. Even though he’s airborne, Ljubicic still manages a nice full finish to his stroke. His left arm stays back, keeping that side from coming around prematurely and allowing him to stay sideways and extend through the shot. Ljubicic doesn’t overswing and bring his left side around; he maintains solid mechanics throughout.