A big change at this year’s Nationals was seeing a lot more women hitting a two-handed backhand both in service returns and volleys. I’ve heard some debate on whether this is “true pickleball.”
I see pickleball changing as it develops, like all sports do. At one point in time, tennis players mostly played with a one- handed backhand, with more spin and placement; now you see most players using two hands, which gives them extra power and more topspin. With the game becoming faster and more powerful in both singles and doubles, people are making adjustments to their game to adapt.
Right now, you see mostly women adding their left hand, like in a tennis grip, to get extra rotation out of their body and paddle. Adding that second hand enables a player to bring a higher ball down on the weaker side of the body as well as pick up a low ball and get extra lift that they wouldn’t be able to get with just one hand. A player who does this very well is Christine McGrath; she can take a low backhand dink, add some topspin and turn it into an offensive shot. Another benefit is the ability to roll over a third shot and create a different kind of spin and pace that most opponents are not used to.
You are also seeing more intermediate players and some advanced players simply placing their left hand behind their paddle and giving a little extra push on their dinks. Players who don’t feel strong enough on their backhand side have started doing this to add more control. Sometimes people recovering from an arm or wrist injury can use the extra support from their non-dominant hand behind the paddle or on top of their grip.
There are also some guys who every so often sneak in their non-dominant hand to give their high volleys an extra push. One player who does this is Wesley Gabrielsen, who plays with two forehands but is predominantly left-handed. It is not quite as noticeable, but he sneaks in his second hand sometimes to give a higher volley some extra downward pop.
There are some downsides to using two hands, especially if it is not a natural transition. If you are hitting with two hands at a full swing, you must have a much higher consistency from both the back line and the no-volley line. On a pickleball court, the ball comes back to you much faster than on a tennis court, so you must be able to recover from a two-handed swing and be ready to jump on that next ball. You are also sacrificing a bit of the reach that you get with hitting with one hand.
What you see most commonly is a one-handed backhand using a continental grip. This is the grip that I use; from here, I can hit with slice or a flat, powerful volley. Because I don’t get the rotation I would by using my left hand, when I do want to add topspin to a backhand to roll it down into the feet of my opponents, I move my grip slightly over to an extreme eastern grip.This enables me to drive through the ball better than with a regular continental grip.
By far the greatest benefit of a one- handed backhand is the extra reach you can’t get while holding on with two hands. For many players, though, it’s worth the sacrifice for the added power they feel with two hands. Although some might argue that using a two-handed backhand isn’t “true pickleball,” the game is changing, and with it different shots and power are developing.
Overall, it comes down to what a person is comfortable with. If you are doing what comes naturally, you will always succeed. There is no right or wrong when it comes to what a person feels comfortable doing — what works for you may not work for someone else and vice versa.
Sarah Ansboury resides in Portland, Oregon. She teaches tennis and pickleball at Club Green Meadows in Vancouver, Washington. She is the current National Open Women’s Doubles Champion. . proliteproud.com