IT'S EASIER WITH TWO HANDS

ANDRE AGASSI playing his favourite two-handed backhand. In the early part ofhis career he used this stroke to good effect against Stefan Edberg's high kicking serves.-AP

If you feel your STRENGTHS are from the baseline, by all means develop the two-handed backhand stroke, writes RAMESH KRISHNAN.

The two-handed backhand as a stroke deserves special attention. While this has gained legitimacy since the 1970s, the stroke can be traced way back to the 1930s. The early practitioners of the two-handed stroke were the Australians. In the early 1930s, Vivian McGrath used it to great effect to defeat several top players of his day. A little later, John Bromwich used a two-handed stroke on his right flank. Bromwich has the dubious distinction of losing a Wimbledon singles final after holding match points. Many Australians that I know consider him the best doubles player they have ever seen.

In the 1950s Pancho Segura (two hands on both flanks) was one of the top players in the world, and in the 1960s Cliff Drysdale (two-handed backhand) reached the final of the US Championships. While each decade had a top-flight player, it was not until the 1970s that the two-handed stroke gained acceptance.

The year was 1974 to be exact. Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg, between them, won the four major titles and Chris Evert became the top-ranked woman player in the world. So in one shot, the top-ranked male and female in the world had a two-handed stroke. And it has come to stay since.

The reasons for the two-handed shot gaining prominence were manifold. Children were taking to tennis at a younger age. Those were the days of wooden frames, which were much heavier than the present day materials. A wooden racket weighed upward of 400 grams compared with some of today's rackets that are as light as 250 grams. There was also a major change in the playing surface. In 1974, three of the four Grand Slams were played on grass and within a decade and a half, it became one. Both the US Open and Australian Open shifted to synthetic surface, which meant that the ball bounced much higher. It was easier to hit a high backhand with two hands. I remember seeing Andre Agassi and Jim Courier handling Stefan Edberg's high kicking serve with far greater ease than John McEnroe and Ivan lendl.

For obvious reasons, more girls use two-handed backhands than boys. Similarly, more baseline players use the stroke than net players. So, if you feel your strengths are from the baseline, by all means develop this stroke. But the only problem is that all children start out as baseliners and it is only somewhere down the line that they develop their net-rushing skills. By which time, a lot of children might be set in the way they play their game.

On the technical side, a lot of what holds good for a one-handed backhand are applicable for the two-handed shot also. While I advocate a proper backhand grip, it is lot easier to `cheat' on the two-handed stroke since the extra hand gives it the support. But the problem is when you are run wide, you will have to make do with a one-handed emergency stroke and this will not have any sting.

While playing against two-handed stroke players, the idea is always to run them wide and short. But in recent times, the two-handed players have countered it by developing a good one-handed slice. In the final analysis, the plus points of two-handed strokes are greater power, ability to handle high balls and the ability to `whip' the racket head to hit a sharp cross court or a top spin lob. The minus points are lack of reach and discomfort on the forecourt.