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Ambidextrous Tennis Research/Background

                                           Ambidextrous Tennis and 2-handled Racquets
I had been playing tennis in various ambidextrous forms*  for over 20 years and was interested in seeing if there were others playing this way, so I checked out You Tube in May 2011 and saw several players that were not only playing ambidextrously, but also using two-handled tennis racquets.  In particular, I was intrigued when I saw a video of Suzanna McGee (former Ms Natural Olympia) playing ambidextrously with a two-handled racquet... so I became inspired to test out a two-handled racquet for myself.

By good fortune, a few weeks after communicating with Suzanna,  I  happened to meet Brian Battistone and Trent Aaron when they came to play (and won) the USTA Rancho Penasquitos Tournament in August 2011.  So I got a chance to try a two-handled racquet and practice with Brian and Trent while they were here… and to make a long story short, so began my paradigm shift on what design of racquet could be the most beneficial for ambidextrous or two-handed players.

                                               Research History - Angled Racquet Handles
In 2010, I had seen a few brief articles on two-handled tennis racquets… but was somewhat skeptical about any significant advantages since I thought I could switch hands fast enough to execute shots with either hand… plus I could hit good two-handed shots off either side with a one-handled racquet… so was not sure if these aspects could be improved.  Also, I thought the extra handle might get in the way and hurt some of my shots. Later, after my play-tests,  I found out these skeptical, prejudgmental thoughts were surprisingly wrong!

I felt qualified to evaluate two-handled tennis racquets since I had a strong background as a research scientist, ambidextrous tennis player and play-tester of tennis racquets (my older brother used to be a tennis racquet design engineer for the Head Racquet Company and I provided feedback on many early prototypes).

One design feature about the two-handled V-grip racquet that I thought would be an improvement immediately was the angled handle, since I had experimented with this concept many years ago.

Back around 1975, I researched ways of modifying and angling handles of tennis racquets and table tennis bats/paddles and clearly saw the advantages of being able to use a laid-back angled grip when stroking tennis or table tennis balls. 

With the laid-back angled handle design, the stroke could be a simplified drive straight through the ball and you would still get a moderate topspin action imparted to the ball. The racquet head could begin low (below wrist) and did not necessarily have to quickly rise up above the wrist and "cover the ball" with a fast pronation of the forearm during topspin drives.  This seemed especially true for low to medium height balls ...and if you performed a basic drive though stroke motion of the hand from low to high you could get a significant amount of extra topspin action on balls.

So I developed a table tennis bat with a flexible whippy laid-back handle, angled back by about 90 degrees (resulting in greater than 110 degree laid-back angle when whipped forward), and proceeded to perfect a style of play that seemed to be very successful (with significant advantages over conventional handles)  by using the same side of the bat for forehands and backhands.

I also modified some tennis racquet handles by bending aluminum racquet frame handles back by about 20 degrees… and found that the concept worked well on forehand drives but was cumbersome during matchplay since it was taking too much time to position the racquet face properly off either side, so I did not pursue the concept but put it on the backburner as a good idea that needed to be perfected.  Now I realize that if two handles are available when using the angled-handle system, the problem of fast racquet face positioning for either hand is completely solved.

Thus, the laid-back angle of the handle gives a player a greater ergonomic advantage with the ability to take the ball farther out front and "cover" or maintain a slightly closed stable racquet face during the impact phase of the stroke... this aspect can improve the ability to time strokes on fast  balls.  An ambidextrous player will find hitting inside-out forehand strokes with either hand to be very natural with a racquet that has a back-angled handle of about 12 degrees.

                                                          Use of the Back-Angled Handle
Using the back-angled handle seems to have an effect similar to that of changing to a more western grip.  For example, an eastern grip on the back-angled handle will perform more like a semi-western grip, i.e., easier to "cover" the ball and impact the ball farther out front,  thus you can use an eastern grip and gain semi-western grip benefits. 

Overall, a laid-back handle/grip seems to be very forgiving when slight mistakes are made on ground strokes... the balls will tend to drop in even if there are slight errors in timing, miss-hits or when reaching wide and hitting with power down the line.

Both Federer and Nadal often use extreme amounts of laid-back hand / hyper-extended wrist action (greater than 90 degrees) -- prior to and during the impact of tennis balls -- especially on their forehand drives. This laid-back racquet action provides an ability to fluidly impact a ball farther out front with a whippy  “cover action” of the ball, thus providing a significant safety margin to their strokes. 

Many physically strong or tight jointed players tend to stiffen their arm, wrist and hand during the preparation and acceleration phase of their strokes... they seem to be unable to maintain a relaxed fluid arm, wrist and hand when making fast accelerating forehand strokes under pressure. To counteract these problems, the built-in laid-back handle will improve their “laid-back racquet stroking technique” (used by top pros). The laid-back strokes will significantly improve their safety margin on fast drives; this in turn will help stimulate their mind and body to understand and feel the value of a fluid laid-back action of the wrist, hand and racquet prior to and during ball impacts. 

When the laid-back hand/racquet stroking system is understood, players can more easily work on conditioning their nervous systems to remain more fluid and relaxed during play, so their optimum tennis form can be applied under matchplay pressure.  Even if players return to using a standard racquet handle, they will have gained a feel for what occurs when a greater degree of laid-back hand / racquet form is used during the acceleration phase of their forehand drives. Thus, the two-handled racquet could be used as a tool to develop a player’s understanding of hand /racquet-angle positioning concepts.

                                                       Use of the Front-Angled Handle
If I were to flip the 2-handled racquet 180 degrees from the back-angled handle to the front-angled handle, there would be an improvement in my ability to reach low wide balls and make sharp angled cross-court shots...but my timing needed to be very good since the front-angled handle seems to have a "short power zone". This means that the power is very focused for a short amount of time... due to the built-in "leverage" (ergonomic mechanical advantage of the handle), causing the racquet head to accelerate through very fast in a very short amount of time.

Therefore, due to the "short power zone" attribute of the front-angled handle, it seems to work well for serves, overheads and volleys.  I found that if you make some simple modifications** of the grip and stroke method for serves, the front-angled handle feels very comfortable for hitting consistent powerful serves of over 115 mph on both first and second serves.

Using the front forward-angled handle also seems to have the effect of going to a more continental type of grip.  For example, if you were playing with an eastern grip with the front forward-angled handle it feels a bit more like a continental grip.  This is probably one of the reasons why the front-angled grip performs very well for serves, overheads and volleys -- since most top pros use the continental grip very effectively for these kind of strokes.

Two Handed Strokes - Use of Both Handles Together
When hitting two-handed strokes with the two-handled racquet,  I had to make adjustments from my conventional two-handed strokes by moving my hands to the very ends of the grips -- using light grips or "soft hands" that worked together in a fluid balanced acceleration of the racquet.  Also, the back-angled handle grip needed to be changed slightly from an eastern grip to a more semi-western grip for improved "covering" or topspin action of the ball.  The front-angled handle (front grip) seemed to work well with either continental, eastern or semi-western grips... it seemed that whatever felt comfortable and allowed the wrists, hands and racquet to flow through smoothly was best.

The rhythm and form that worked well for me seemed to be similar to that used by Seles or Bartoli... in the sense that I could stroke with bent arms and use a fluid torso "chain reaction" effect with proper weight transfer.  I will post more on this form later with videos illustrating this "chain reaction" and accompanied "centripetal force" effect.  

I also noted that when rushed on a shot I could stroke a powerful compact "high-torque" type of shot very effectively by using a push-action on the back-angled handle and a pull-action on the front handle during the swing.  Although the "impact zone" of the stroke seemed so short that you needed very good timing to be consistent with this high-leverage type of shot.

                                                    *Ambidextrous Forms of Stroking 
A player with full ambidextrous strokes will have the ability to perform well with any type of stroke with either hand.  This will give a player a significant advantage due to the increased ability to be stealthy, deceptive and adaptable during matchplay.

With persistent purposeful practice, I was able to become  proficient with hitting any type of stroke with either hand on either side of the body. A two-handled racket will tend to expand your possibilities on developing extra types of strokes that are unique or very rarely seen.

From 2002 to 2012 -- these were the ambidextrous tennis strokes that I practiced and became proficient with:
  • One-handed forehands, backhands, volleys, serves, overheads on either side.
  • Two-handed forehands, backhands and volleys (parallel and cross-handed type strokes) on either side.
  • Two-racquet tennis -- ability to play with two racquets, one in each hand (not legal for USTA tournaments).

I was able to fully adapt to a two-handled racquet after about seven practice sessions (my first two practice sessions are in my playlists #3 & 4).  I had to unlearn and relearn some methods of stroking (especially for two-hand strokes) but found that when I went back to a conventional one-handled racquet my overall form and technique actually improved for both two-handed and one-handed strokes.  Now I feel comfortable with being able to switch between a conventional racquet and a two-handled racquet fairly easily without needing much adjustment time.

Perhaps a good analogy, If you are a snow skier/snowboarder, for the level of difficulty involved in switching to two-handled technique may be similar to that of switching your technique from conventional skis to a snowboard.  Young or novice players, (just like young snowboarders learning to snowboard after a couple of days) may find two-handled racquets  easy to adapt to since they have not yet grooved their muscle memory patterns to a conventional  one-handled racquet.

Personally, I prefer to rotate equipment,  techniques and tactics fairly often, since I enjoy new intellectual and physical challenges and stimulations to keep me from stagnating in growth or from falling into a one-dimensional type of game. Playing ambidextrously with a one or two-handled racquet will help you develop a more fluid mind and body -- this will in turn help you more easily adapt to different opponents, situations and environments.

I found that the slightly heavier, very stable two-handled racquets tended to work especially well against "fast power players" or players that tend to give you a lot of pace to work with and control.  Sometimes, when I play against a "slow ball player"  I may prefer to switch to a lighter one or two-handled racquet to generate whippy pace and a different variety of spins.  Just as certain snow and terrain conditions may be suited to specialized ski equipment so it is with tennis... certain opponents and conditions may require specialized racquets and strings in order to optimize your performance.

 Tennis Players are getting good results with ambidextrous play and two-handled racquets.
Ambidextrous player
Brian Battistone beat Paul Goldstein, Taylor Dent  then Jan Michael Gambill in the September 2011 Colorado State Open while using a two-handled racket.(see Tennis News).  Brian also beat Taylor Dent again and defended his Colorado State Open title in September 2012!

A few well known top tennis pros (or former pros) that use ambidextrous forms in some aspects of their tennis play are:
Rafael Nadal -- basically right handed, played two-handed strokes on either side when young, then switched to a lefty forehand... his strong right side "two-hand backhand" could be considered a "two-hand forehand". (Former # 1 in world rankings)

Fabrice Santoro
("The Magician") --  two-handed or one-handed strokes off either side. Basically right handed, but often used lefty backhand slices and chips. (Former # 17 in world)

Jan Michael Gambill
-- Usually used two-handed forehands off either side.  (Former #14 in world)

Maria Sharapova
-- basically left handed, developed a right handed forehand and serve, but still uses a left handed forehand when stretched wide...  her left side stroke is basically a two-handed forehand. (Former #1 in world)

Marion Bartoli
-- usually uses two-handed forehands off either side (cross-handed on right side). (I took videos of her matchplay when she made it to the finals at the nearby Carlsbad Tournament 2012 and will link to them soon on my tennis instruction page). (Former #7 in world)

Monica Seles
-- equally strong two-handed forehands on either side (cross-handed on left side). (I took videos of her matchplay when she won the nearby Carlsbad Tournament several years ago and will link to them soon on my tennis instruction page.). (Former # 1 in world)

Certain pros that can be considered very fluid in their style of play, using mostly shoulder and "wrist-whip" effects in their strokes, with full loose extension of their arms during most strokes:
Roger Federer
Rafael Nadal
Pete Sampras
(also used an "elbow-whip effect" in many of his strokes and on serves)

In conclusion, becoming more fluid and fully ambidextrous, with the ability to use two-handled racquets, will very likely be the next evolutionary improvement for tennis play and the new paradigm for tennis training, fitness and matchplay.


(**modifications of the  serving grip, stroke and stance will be discussed later on the Fluid Tennis Instruction page)

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