The One-Handed Backhand Is on the Way to Extinction

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Behold the gorgeous and beloved one-handed backhand, however do it rapidly, as a result of time is operating brief for tennis’s lustiest shot.

Sure, the shot that made Roger Federer well-known, the signature stroke of Rod Laver, a favourite of John McEnroe, and Pete Sampras and Martina Navratilova is quick going the best way of the picket rackets of the early Nineteen Eighties, a relic that generates pleasure and nostalgia when a tennis aesthete lays eyes upon it, however one whose days could also be numbered.

Even those that play with a one-hander have their regrets. Simply ask Chris Eubanks, the late-blooming breakout star of American tennis this yr, whose one-handed backhand is as clean as they arrive. Eubanks stated he was about 13 years previous when he fell laborious for the Federer backhand and determined to change from the two-hander he had performed with since he first picked up a tennis racket.

“If I knew what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have,” Eubanks stated as he sat within the lounge of his Midtown Manhattan resort within the days main as much as the U.S. Open.

Not so way back, the highest ranks of the game, particularly the lads’s sport, had no scarcity of one-handed backhands. Along with Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem received Grand Slam titles with the shot. Among the many prime 10 males now, solely Stefanos Tsitsipas performs with a one-handed backhand. Tatiana Maria, No. 47 on the earth, is the highest-ranked lady to rely totally on her one-hander.

In additional quick phrases, it has been a largely horrible first week for one-handed backhands within the singles competitions on the U.S. Open. Because the second spherical wound down on Thursday afternoon, Wawrinka, who at 38 years previous nonetheless rips his one-hander as laborious and as clear as anybody ever has, and Grigor Dimitrov have been the one one-handed backhand standard-bearers.

“I’m not hitting as well as when I was winning Grand Slams, that’s for sure,” Wawrinka stated after beating Tomas Etcheverry of Argentina on Thursday in 4 units regardless of uncharacteristically hitting a handful of wayward backhands. However Tsitsipas, Thiem, Eubanks and Maria all misplaced within the first days of the event.

So did Lorenzo Musetti, the rising Italian whose silky one-handed backhand could make tennis cognoscenti drool. His stroke begins low, sweeps up and ahead virtually from knee degree, then flies up with a high-stretching end. Someplace alongside the best way, it makes straightforward, pure contact, and that fuzzy yellow ball flies off his racket. Musetti, 21, is meant to be a rival for Carlos Alcaraz, the 20-year-old world No. 1, through the subsequent decade. Musetti is ranked 18th, however he has but to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

In January, Tsitsipas confronted Novak Djokovic within the Australian Open remaining. Tsitsipas’s backhand is one other of the prettiest, smoothest strokes within the sport.

“My signature shot,” Tsitsipas stated earlier this week. “It kind of defines me.”

But it took about three video games to determine Djokovic’s technique that night — pound ball after ball deep onto the Tsitsipas backhand. Djokovic received in straight units.

And therein lies the good contradiction of the one-handed backhand. How can one thing so stunning to observe, a stroke that’s so etched into tennis historical past, be so exploitable, and why have a dwindling handful of gamers remained so loyal to it?

The reply to the primary query, specialists say, is generally a operate of the growing function of energy and velocity within the sport. Even clay courts, traditionally the slowest floor, play laborious and quick lately. Gamers, who spend increasingly time within the fitness center, maintain getting greater and stronger, and now hit forehands at greater than 100 miles per hour. Rackets and strings enable for a lot topspin that rally balls from even common gamers are bouncing as much as eye degree, making it laborious for even the 6-foot-7 Eubanks to get on prime of the ball on some backhands.

David Nainkin, who leads participant growth for males for america Tennis Affiliation, has recommendation for any younger expertise he sees wielding a one-handed backhand — do away with it. The 2-handed backhand is much extra steady, he stated, and the movement is shorter and less complicated.

“It’s almost impossible to make it with a one-handed backhand now,” he stated. “I think you’ll see less of it maybe in the next 10 years.”

Navratilova, who credit her mastery of a one-handed topspin backhand for her rise to close invincibility within the early Nineteen Eighties (thanks, Renee Richards, her coach on the time) is rather less draconian, however not that a lot. Navratilova stated she would encourage younger gamers to maintain two arms on the racket — more often than not.

“Work on the one-handed slice and volley,” she stated, although she added that making an attempt to make use of it to maintain up with trendy tempo and spin seemingly wouldn’t work.


Given all that, learn how to clarify the continued devotion to the one-hander amongst a dwindling few?

In a phrase, Federer.

As a lot because the Swiss grasp has accomplished for the game, he could also be extra answerable for the present technology of one-handed backhand devotees — and their shortcomings — than anybody.

Why does Denis Shapovalov, the gifted 24-year-old Canadian who missed the U.S. Open with a knee damage, like to hit the one-hander with each toes off the bottom?





Federer. And Sampras.

Tsitsipas stated he remembers the day when he made the dedication to the one-handed backhand. He was 8 years previous. The day before today, he had performed a two-hander, and his coach had made enjoyable of him for going forwards and backwards, asking Tsitsipas if he was going to commit. That day, Tsitsipas did.

Tsitsipas is aware of the benefits of the two-handed backhand. Safer shot, simpler to regulate. However he isn’t about to stop the one-hander. He desires to be like Federer, in each means, and Sampras, too.

“I’m here to kind of not have it die,” Tsitsipas stated of the shot. “It kind of sits in my heart deeply because I really want to be like them.”

Eubanks, too discovered it irresistible, and nonetheless does. “I just love it,” he stated. “It just looked so good.”

He took one hand off the racket at some point at apply and tried not to concentrate to the coaches who might need been him side-eyed, or making feedback to his father, who was his main coach. He instructed himself this shot was going to work for him, and he was cussed about ensuring it did.

With the knowledge of age and a half-dozen years climbing his means into the highest 100, plus time spent working as an analyst for the Tennis Channel, Eubanks is accustomed to the shot’s drawbacks, particularly the timing it requires, however he isn’t about to change. “It’s a little too far gone,” he stated. “Can’t quite do that now, not and win.”

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