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.
- Roger Federer
- Tommy Haas
- Stanislas Wawrinka
- Richard Gasquet
- Philipp Kohlschreiber
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.
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.
- Racket head control
- Ability to hit a winner from nowhere
- Half Volleying
- High bouncing ball causes problems
- Tendency to make errors
- Doesn't hit up the line that often
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.
- Ability to control the ball with a lot of top spin
- Very tactically aware on the backhand side
- Very technically sound
- Not as powerful as some of his contemporaries
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.
- Hit's flat meaning it goes through the court
- Can hit down the line exceptionally well
- 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.
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.
- Top spin
- Ability to hit winners
- Doesn't have the greatest slice
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!
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.
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.