By Rene Heger – PTR/USPTA High Performance Tennis Coach
Those two seemingly go hand in hand nowadays.
43 players in the current Top 50 have a two-handed backhand. That’s a staggering 86%. So, the one-hander should be dead by now, no? Let’s investigate…
First, allow me to draw a quick comparison – Ski Jumping comes to mind, where the proven, classical parallel ski style gave way to the far more advantageous V-Style Form. It was revolutionary at the time. However, one could see a clear difference between the two techniques, the V-Style being the far superior one, primarily when it came to lift and flight control. None of those old school parallel jumping records stand today – they have all been bettered by modern style jumpers. So, if you wanted to succeed as a jumper, you HAD to change your style or you got left behind.
Back to our sport, where you cannot necessarily draw the same conclusion for the one-handed backhand. While at some point it nearly did reach extinction, it is still present on the tour – in fact it has started to recover…slowly, but surely there are more one-handers again.
But of those only 7 one-handed backhanders currently ranked in the Top 50, four of them are in the Top 10 (Thiem, Federer, Tsitsipas) and Shapovalov just barely dropped out of the Top 10, but he is clearly here to stay, so we could argue there are four one-handed backhanders in the Top 10.
So, this must be a huge surprise then – well, not as much as you might think. Both styles offer advantages. Power and stability come to mind for one, whereas the other offers pure grace and flexibility. But that flexibility aspect is not to be underestimated. Besides being usually more comfortable with the slice, you also have greater reach and options at the net with one hand. Also, while the argument makes sense that a two-handed backhand offers advantages in the return game – it’s obviously easier to step into a Kick Serve return with two hands rather than with one. Yet, if you pay close attention, the players with a one-hander have all but eliminated this disadvantage, by either stepping back all the way when returning or adapting new exciting playing styles such as Shapovalov’s Jumping One-Hander.
Don’t get me wrong, if a junior player clearly prefers a two-handed backhand, I am not going to change that; but I am not outright suggesting to go two-handed over one-handed. I like for the player to discover that him or herself and then we work from there. We have equipment for practically any age these days, adjusted racquet length and weight according to their size, which really eliminates the need to have to use two hands for the backhand.
Turns out this is much more of a preference issue than the staggering 86% at the beginning of the article initially suggests. And sadly, the majority of the coaches still push for a two-hander outright, always citing power as one of the main reasons. Power alone does not equal a high ranking even in the modern era. I would love for coaches to be a little more open-minded when it comes to this stroke selection and a little more appreciative of the undeniable benefits a one-handed backhand offers…after all, it is still around today for a reason…