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Who has the best one handed backhand

Who Has the Best One Handed Backhand in Tennis?

I've done a few posts along similar lines to this one over the past couple of weeks including who is the most popular tennis player on the planet and most recently who are the biggest wasted talents in tennis. In the latter post the debate somehow got onto one handed backhands and who's is the best in sport so I thought I'd take a look.

The single hander is one of the most aesthetically pleasing shots in the game and it's a rarity which makes it even more pleasing to see. There's nothing better than when two single handers face off which is why when Federer plays Haas or Wawrinka plays Gasquet it's often entertainment of the highest order.

I'm only looking at the current crop so players like Lendl, Kuerten etc are excluded. I'll break the shots down in terms of fluidity, effectiveness, variety and anything else that springs to mind about a players particular shot.

The Candidates

  • Roger Federer
  • Tommy Haas
  • Stanislas Wawrinka
  • Richard Gasquet
  • Philipp Kohlschreiber

Roger Federer

The backhand is often cited as Roger's weakness but that's mainly because his forehand is so good it overshadows what is still an excellent shot.

The biggest asset as far as I'm concerned with Roger's backhand is the versatility and the maneuverability he has with the shot. He's capable of top spin, slice, half volleys and in some cases pure genius.

He's also capable of creating something out of nothing on that wing, be it suddenly changing direction of the ball, the most delicate of flicks or the gutsiest passing shot of all time.

If you had to cite one weakness it'd be against the high bouncing ball which often causes him trouble, we've seen it on clay against Nadal time and time again and when that wing gets peppered it can break down and make critical errors that which often holds the key to the match. But when it comes to indoor courts and low bouncing hard courts I really don't think there's much better out there.

Strengths

  • Variety
  • Racket head control
  • Ability to hit a winner from nowhere
  • Half Volleying
Weaknesses

  • High bouncing ball causes problems
  • Tendency to make errors
  • Doesn't hit up the line that often

Tommy Haas

It's a pity we haven't seen more of this backhand over the years but due to a bout of injuries Haas has missed out on an awful lot of tennis. I first really took note of his backhand at the 2006 Australian Open where he took Roger to five sets where it was seriously good.

Whilst he doesn't have the power of Gasquet or Wawrinka; in terms of variety I think Haas is closest to Roger's level. Dare I say he might even be able to do more with his top spin backhand than Fed can as he seems to be in total control of the ball.

Strengths

  • Variety
  • Ability to control the ball with a lot of top spin
  • Very tactically aware on the backhand side
  • Very technically sound
Weaknesses

  • Not as powerful as some of his contemporaries

Stanislas Wawrinka

Wawrinka is almost an undiscovered talent when it comes to his backhand, I don't think he's really that widely known in the world of tennis but his backhand can be pretty devastating on it's day.

In terms of raw power I'd say he edges slightly in front of Gasquet but he doesn't possess the variety or the tactical nouse of both Federer and Haas.

His slice whilst reasonable isn't the greatest but when he hit's flat, especially on quick hard courts that shot can produce an awful lot of winners.

Strengths

  • Power
  • Hit's flat meaning it goes through the court
  • Can hit down the line exceptionally well
Weaknesses

  • Not the strongest slice
  • Doesn't possess a great level of variety in terms of top spin, angles. Hit's primarily North to South rather than East to West.

Richard Gasquet

Gasquet's backhand is a thing of beauty, probably the most technically sound backhand on tour in terms of shot preparation and swing path it's often like watching a masterclass when that shot is on.

Unlike Roger, Gasquet doesn't really struggle with the higher bouncing ball and probably due to his grip he's able to hit the ball both deeper and with more spin.

In fact I'm hard pressed to pin point an actual weakness in Gasquet's backhand, perhaps he's not capable of the Federer like flicks or able to conjure up a sliced passing shot when the ball is behind him but in terms of reliability and power it's arguably the best on tour.

Strengths

  • Reliability
  • Top spin
  • Ability to hit winners
  • Power
Weaknesses

  • Doesn't have the greatest slice

Philipp Kohlschreiber

In terms of out and out shotmaking then Philipp Kohlschreiber is probably the only one close to Federer as he too is able to create something from nothing. His only down fall is he just can't seem to keep it up for the whole duration of a match.

At 5ft 10″ he's one of the smaller guys on tour which makes his backhand even more impressive in my eyes as he's not really phased by the high bounce.

His finest hour is probably in the video above where he his backhand was on fire en route to a five set victory over Andy Roddick at the Australian Open. He really came up with the goods that day blasting backhand winners from way behind the baseline and from some really tough positions. Roddick had no answer and Kohlschreiber pulled off one of the biggest wins of his career.

Other Notable Candidates

Although single handed backhands are rare there's still a number of players who use them, the list below are players who have one but for one reason or another I don't think they can be up there with the best, probably because they make too many errors or just don't have anywhere near the variety, power, fluidity or precision of the other guys. The guy who's listed below and is close to being included is Nicolas Almagro, he hit's a big ball but I think he's pretty inconsistent with it.

  • Mikhail Youzhny – Great technique and consistency when in a rhythm but lacks power and can self destruct at any given moment. Case in point.
  • Nicolas Almagro – can be destructive but lacks consistency
  • Guillermo García López – another player who is inconsisent, not the prettiest of shots as it looks a bit messy in the preparation but as we saw against Murray it can be a very potent shot. I can't list him as one of the best though as he hasn't made it past the second round of a Grand Slam
  • Other single handers that are effective – Tommy Robredo, Feliciano Lopez, Victor Hanescu and Tsonga when he's on the run!

Conclusions

If we're picking the best backhand then I'd have to give the title to Richard Gasquet, it's the complete shot and is capable of taking a match away from his opponent. If he had a sharper forehand and wasn't a mental midget he'd be making the latter stages of slams on a regular basis.

Gasquet - The Best Backhand
The Best One Handed Backhand – Richard Gasquet

Anyone who can hit winners from nowhere on slow clay courts with a one hander has to have some serious power and if you watch the videos I linked to above in Gasquet's analysis you'll see the Frenchman do just that. Perhaps his slice isn't the best of the bunch but he's by no means a slouch in that area and overall I think he's worthy of the title.

On the other hand, if you asked me which players backhand I'd most like as my own (not that mine is too shabby anyway ;)) then I'd have to pick Roger's. It might not be as fluid as Gasquet's but it's tried and tested at the highest level.

He's won 17 slams and I don't think that would be possible without having a backhand that's capable of hitting winners, keeping himself in points and throwing his opponents off balance.

It'd be interesting to see how Roger would play if by some magic or transplant he was given Gasquet's backhand for a few weeks. Would he be better? Would he blow Nadal off the court? I'm not sure and you have to ask yourself would it be foolish to change peRFection?

Who do you think has the best single handed backhand on the ATP tour at the minute?

And if you could have one players backhand for your own game, who's would you pick? Let me know in the comments below.

About Jonathan

Huge fan of Roger Federer - I'll pretty much try and watch all his matches from Grand Slam level right down to ATP 250. When I'm not watching or tweeting about tennis I play regularly myself and use this blog to share my thoughts on Fed and tennis in general.

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49 comments

  1. Great post !

    i’ll add Montanes for fluidity an precision
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyV4OI1TU9U

    and Dimitrov
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ox97-DQdm00

    • Knew I’d forgotten a couple!

      Both of those are attractive shots. Montanes even beat Fed once on clay so not a total mug.

      • Carla Suarez-Navarro has a pretty good one too 🙂 …. what do you think? Anyway – that aside – the reason I am on here is because I am watching a replay of the Gasquet/Ferrer match at the US Open and marvelling at his stunning single-handed backhand and did a bit of “Googling” because I was wondering if anyone else agreed with me that it’s the best around at the moment. 🙂

      • Never watch WTA so not seen her 😀

        Good USO for Gasquet, but even with a great 1 hander he is no match for Nadal.

  2. Yeah slight edge to Gasquet but in terms of variety and clutch BH (remember Wimbledon 2008 backhand pass against Nadal)- no doubt is still RF. Heck, I drool whatever RF does with his racquet even the atrocious shanks. Sadly single handed backhand are near extinction, its one of the most beautiful stroke in tennis. It difficult to withstand current ball bashers and grinders coupled by slow surface. Oh how I miss the old S&V era.

    • Hey Dippy,

      Yeah I linked to the BH from 2008 in Fed’s analysis, probably one of the best passing shots of all time!

      I know, the single hander get’s rarer by the day, shame but I think a lot of juniors get it coached out of them.

      Maybe if a single hander can rise to the top then more kids will naturally chose 1 hand and coaches will start to believe that a 2 hander isn’t an essential to win slams.

  3. I do think Gasquets swing is less efficient than Feds and that flamboyance is often his downfall because he does it on every backhand. Feds half volley blocked backhand down the line, so wonderfully displayed against Murray in the WTF semi final at the 02, is not really in Gasquets repertoire. So I Wld give it to Fed because he has more variety., And more economy when needed. That match against Blake was incredible. basically won it on his down the line BH!
    Ps F. Lopez is another one to add to the list. Nice reading!

    • Hey Susie,

      Yeah I guess you could say he’s a little more flamboyant, seems to have more power though because of it I think.

      Nobody can flick or half volley the ball like Fed though that’s fact. If Gasquet had those shot’s he’d be even more dangerous.

      I put Feliciano at the bottom of the notable others list. It’s another good shot but unreliable, Murray usually breaks it down when they’ve played.

      Jonathan

    • Sid TheCookieThief

      Lopez slice on that wing, predominantly, and needs time for a good top spin shot. Not going to cut it against Roger, or rather the Big 3 (Yes, I said Big 3, not Big 4!)

  4. I think overall Roger has the best BH. The thing about Gasquet’s is that he hits it from defensive positions a lot – he hits more winners but his court positioning gets him into trouble. I think Fed has the smoothest motion of all the 1-handers followed by Kohl, Stan, and Haas. Richard seems to have a hitch in his, which I suppose is how he generates power.

    If I had to choose a single-hander to have for my own game it would be Fed’s or Henin’s. Both of which I am currently experimenting with and have been for a few months now.

    • Same with me, Roger’s is the best overall. His motion is the most relaxed, smooth and beautiful. No wonder he hit those ridiculous flicks, half volleys and drop shots! But I think he is bit stubborn sometimes with it. I remember from many matches he’ll just be backhand rallying with another opponent in a slow rally, not running around and attacking the inside out forehand. This is something he does a lot against Nadal and Murray.

      • Sid TheCookieThief

        You think maybe that’s because Nadal can hurt him if he finds Roger even remotely out of position? Remember that 4-2 game Roger served in the first set at AO 2009? That game, in my opinion, decided that slam.

      • He may be stubborn with it sometimes, but every player is stubborn in their own ways. That’s part of what makes Roger successful. Many times though Roger uses the BH very intelligently, such as vs Rafa at IW and AO 2012 (at times), all the WTF wins, Madrid 2009, Wimbledon 2006, and Hamburg 2007. When he uses it well, he hits his BH with angle cross-court or hits it down the line and not necessarily with pace. He pulled this off most effectively at the WTF 2010 and 2011 and at IW 2012, which is what I consider to be Fed’s greatest match vs Rafa ever.

      • Yeah, it’s tough to run around it all the time though as he has to hit a big forehand for it to pay off because it leaves half the court open.

  5. The other thing about comparing Roger and Richard’s BH is that RG uses it as his main weapon because his serve and forehand are bad by elite standards. Roger wins many points with his serve and 1-2 serve-forehand combo, and he gets to net a lot more. But when he needs to, Fed can counterpunch off the Bh wonderfully, allowing him to get into an attacking position. And he does hit down the line more and more these days I find,especially against Nadal.

  6. http://www.tennistv.com/video/clip/1957164
    On this video, at the end, Fish and Tipsarevic picked Gasquet as well as the best one-handed backhand.

    This video unfurtunatly seems to demonstrate the superiority of the double-handed backhand in term of efficiency in today’s games as the players picked Djokovic/Murray/Nalbandian as best backhand.

    Peliwo, current #1 in juniors, when asked if there is still a lots of 1HBH answered: “Almost none left”.

    The one handed backhand is probably my favorite shot in tennis, I hope there will still be a few players with 1HBH at the top level, those guys will have my support.

    • Cool video, I hadn’t seen that before!

      In his prime I’d pick Fat Dave’s any day of the week but I guess now it’s probably Djoker.

      There’s only really Dimitrov coming through that has a 1 hander. Shame really! Get’s coached out and when kids see everyone with 2 handers they try mirror it too.

  7. Sid TheCookieThief

    I’m surprised we are even having a discussion on who has the best backhand. There shouldn’t be one. Roger has the best single handed backhand. He has a match up issue with Nadal and that’s only because of the really high power high spin equipment Nadal uses (and dare I mention a word that many won’t like), and the fact that Nadal gets a lot of time due to court slowness.

    Richard Gasquet’s BH may look technically correct, but, he needs a lot more preparation time and doesn’t do that well when rushed. Roger, on the other hand can virtually play off that wing from the baseline.

    A reason Roger has more maneuverability: a comparatively smaller grip size

    • Yeah good point on the grip size.

      I know Gasquet plays 10 feet behind the baseline on all surfaces which is dumb. But do you think that’s because he needs the preparation time or just because he doesn’t know how to play any differently? I’ve not seen him play a huge amount so not really seen him rushed, would be interesting to see if he could hit the shots he does usually but hugging the baseline.

      • Sid TheCookieThief

        From what I have observed about Gasquet, it’s more to with time. There is no way he has the talent the read the incoming ball as early as Roger. I’ll even go as far as saying that nobody reads the ball of the opponents racquet as early as Roger 🙂

  8. Also, Rafa hurts EVERY one-hander and many two-handers as well eith his massive forehand, so it’s not just Roger’s problem. Sid is completely right too.

    • With two handed players I think its slightly easier for them to hit through Nadal’ s high bouncing balls. Soderling and Djokovic didn’t really have a problem with it, which is why Nadal lost to Soderling at RG and Djokovic has been winning most of the previous meetings.

  9. I think Roger’s is best: RG can blast winners given time, but if you pepper that backhand and take time away from him, his defense isn’t that good. Watch Roger keep in the points with his slice, especially in the big matches. He only goes top spin when given time (or for crazy flick…) The slice, imo, is as important as the top spin, and roger has both at a stunning level, RG has only his top spin at that same level.

  10. Very true Simon. Roger’s defense off the backhand side with the slice is the thing that really sets him apart from all other one-handers.

    • Great analysis Jonathan, I remember the days when Edberg used to unleash a perfect single-handed down-the-line backhand winner and then a gentle fist-pump crouched on the ground. It used to be sheer grace and the most delectable sight in tennis.

      Having watched Fed and many others live including Gasquet & Youzhny in the fast courts of Dubai, from a isolated pespective ( not taking into consideration the mental and other aspects of the game ) I would rate Gasquet and Youzhny as 1 & 2 in terms of the brilliance and fluidity of the shot.

      However, in terms of grace and positioning none to beat Edberg.

      • Hey Murli,

        Yeah I should have mentioned Edberg in the opening paragraph about ex 1 handers. Totally forgot about him.

        Yeah Youzhny’s is under rated I think. Maybe I should have put him in the main list. People tend to forget he was top 10 material for quite a while. 2 US Open Semi finals too which is a decent achievement. You don’t beat Nadal with a weak backhand.

      • Youzhny beat Nadal in 4 sets in the US Open back in 2006. I remember that match pretty clearly. In 2010, Nadal crushed him.

    • I remember how Roger used to always use the short backhand slice against Roddick to lure him to the net and then hit a passing shot winner, it was so effective back then.

  11. Good article Jonathan, I agree with most of your observations, about Roger, and the others. I think that I have to go with Roger for best though because of his footwork, and flexibility. I think the genius factor puts him ahead of everyone. I also think that that guys comment about the smaller grip size is very astute. I think that this new kid from Bulgaria, Dimitrov?, will be really something special if he improves and matures well. He is as close as a Federer clone as you can get technique wise. Time will tell. A bit off subject but how about that forehand pass of fed’s in the Final of the Masters. I can’t watch it enough. I thought Djokovich was going to melt! The whole crowd was on it’s feet and went nuts. The ball was behind him and he was still able to hit it cross court. How lucky we are to be able to witness this stuff live. I remember having similar feelings watching Laver back in the early seventies. Have a great holiday season everyone!

    • Hey Tim,

      Thanks. Seems like Fed’s backhand is everyone’s favourite in the comments. It’s the shot I’d want if I could be given one.

      Yeah everyone calls Dimitrov BabyFed. I’m pretty much with Wilander on him though in that he has all the shots, tries to play like Roger but has no idea what he’s really doing on the court. Maybe that will change.

      One thing I’ve noticed with him though is that he’s retired and pulled out from a lot of matches with really minor things already in such a short space of time. I don’t think great champions tend to do that, if they step on court they always try to finish the match so maybe the writing is already on the wall for him but like you say, time will tell.

      As for that passing shot it was awesome, the way the crowd went wild. It was a terrible approach shot too, runs around a backhand and doesn’t hit the forehand that well, leaves so much free court, full stretch volley and then the whipped pass after Djokovic pulled out a great dig. Too good.

  12. Gasquet hits a wonderful backhand but he cannot take the ball early (5m behind the baseline) and needs a long preparation for his stroke. Moreover Gasquet is Nadal’s bunny. H2H is horrible. He does not make as many errors as Nadal but his backhands are too short so Nadal can hit winners off them.
    I go with Tommy Haas. He takes the ball early and can hit it down the line on a regular basis. Roger had the best defense in his prime 2004-2007 with the flick backhand passing shots.

    • Hey Michael,

      Yeah very true about the Nadal thing with Gasquet, but against most top guys his H2H record is a joke. How many times has he lost to Murray from 2 sets up? More mental than technical deficiencies.

      Pity Haas has had so many injuries, his backhand is great to watch. Him vs. Fed on grass is a really fun matchup. Pity we haven’t seen more of them.

      • Hey Jonathan really enjoying your blog. The clip you have with Blake and roger I’ve seen before and I can’t help but think that it’s the best exhibition of sheer brilliance that I’ve ever seen. The shots that Blake was hitting were awesome in their own right and roger kept countering with even better winners. I’ve never seen even rafa or Novak quite like that. How do you see the aus. Open shaping up. I’m a little worried with fed losing the last couple to del po. I think he really needs to get more aggressive on returns and hit more cross court angles with his backhand instead of running around his backhand so much. If he doesn’t put away the reverse cross court forehand he leaves too much court to cover. I’ve noticed that when he attacked his backhand on returns against nadal he did well. People always say that fed has trouble with high backhands. Fact is he has a great high backhand when he’s being aggressive and in position When he’s hitting off his front leg it’s as good as any two hander.

      • Cheers Tim,

        Fed and Blake is always exciting to watch, do you remember this from Aus 2008 in the tie break? http://vimeo.com/633211 classic.

        Aus Open – I think Djoker is almost uneatable on that surface. Going to be tough to get past him.

  13. Best article on the one handed backhands. This unfortunately was written before the 2013 Australian Open. Stanislas Wawrinka clearly demonstrated he has the greatest one-handed backhand if on.

    I can’t possibly understand people who think Federer has the best one handed backhand. Slice shouldnt even be part of the discussion, every player on tour slices. In today’s game if you CANT hit a strong backhand down the line, how can you possibly be considered to have a “great backhand,” its one of the most important shots in Tennis. Spot on with the high ball problem too. Only Fed struggles so much with Nadals spin. Remember James Blake in his peak? James blakes one handed backhand destroyed nadals spin. Fed simply dosnt have the upper body strength to pull it off. Gasquet/Wawrinka dont need to run around theirs like Fed does either.

    Fed is such a smart great player, that when he plays Wawrinka, you can actually see him imitating and improving his backhand throughout the match.

    • Hey Javier,

      Yeah Stan played well at AO, and again just now at the USO.

      I think slice has to come into it because that is still a backhand, there are many players who have extremely weak slices. When we talk about the greatest forehand then versatility also comes into that.

      Good point on the upper body strength though, Fed needs to work on that.

      Jonathan

  14. Checkout the Grigor Dimitrov 1h backhand. In my opinion it is superior than the Wawrinka. Watch the Dimitrov – Wawrinka match at Madrid Open 2013, event that Dimitrov lost, he dominated in backhands.

  15. Great analysis of the one-handed backhand. Slice is a lot more important than some people think, not just a defensive shot, and Federer has the best slice. Of the topspin backhands, I would take Kohlie. It’s smooth, he handles high balls well, has power, just has inconsistent results. I think the reason Fed’s doesn’t seem as effective as the others is he takes a lot of balls on the rise, close to the baseline, standing more upright. It seems to work for him when he redirects pace, but doesn’t seem to work so well with Nadal’s spin. He just doesn’t seem to generate enough of his own pace. Guys like Wawrinka and Kohlschreiber get into an early crouch which seems to make it easier to generate their own pace. Some other one-handers to watch: Golubev, Sela, Thiem.

    • Thanks,

      Yeah Fed has best slice by a mile I think.

      I take Wawrinka’s over Kohli’s this year though, been a very effective shot.

      I think Fed struggles due to what you say and also he probably plays with a heavier racquet, it’s harder to generate power off higher balls with a weightier racquet as the muscles used fatigue quicker compared to waist high balls.

      Jonathan

  16. Why you no show video of Gasquet’s backhand?? And what is up with his weird forehand? He has a nice serve tho. 🙂 Peace out. Roddick is one hard server btw, never seen him play before.

  17. Hissaan Haqqani

    Excellent post, Jonathan. I know I’m a little behind here (Stan just won the French Open 2015 yesterday) – but thought I’d post here anyway. I was searching for one-handed backhands after Stan’s beautiful and lethal shots yesterday and your post came up. I could not agree with you more! Dickie Gasquet’s backhand is by far the most aesthetically pleasing stroke in tennis today, in my humble opinion. I’m a huge Rafa fan and have loved his duels with Roger so I don’t want to take anything away from Roger either; Roger is definitely a champ and even if his BH is not the best, his complete game still reigns superior to most everyone else. After yesterday’s FO final between Nole and Stan though, I have come to the conclusion that when Stan’s BH is on, it is much superior in prowess than anyone else in Open Era, period. Once again, excellent post. Keep up the good work.

    • This post is quite dated, I think as of 2015 Stan’s backhand is the best in the game… Gasquets looks more stylish and he perhaps has more control of the ball but Stan’s is just unreal.

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