With Stanislas Wawrinka's win at the Australian Open last weekend it meant he was the first person with a one handed backhand, aside from Roger Federer, since Gaston Gaudio in 2004 to win a Grand Slam. That's bad news if you're a fan of perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing shot in the game, so does it have a future? Can #Stanimal's win revive it?
I thought I'd look at all the Grand Slam Champions in the Open Era (Post 1968) and see whether or not the one handed backhand is in fact dying out. Two players have obviously contributed significantly to the one handed backhand's success over the last 20 years, Federer & Sampras, winning 31 slams between them but other than those two players is the one hander slowly becoming a thing of the past? Lets take a look….
Slam winners by backhand type in the Open Era
|Backhand Type||Number of Different Slam Winners in the Open Era||Total Number of Grand Slams Won||% of Overall Slams|
|One Handed Backhand||34||110||59.8%|
|Two Handed Backhand||19||74||40.2%|
One Handed Slam Winners
Pete Sampras x 14
Ivan Lendl x 8
John McEnroe x 7
Stefan Edberg x 6
Boris Becker x 6
Rod Laver x 5
John Newcombe x 5
Ken Rosewall x 4
Guillermo Vilas x 4
Arthur Ashe x 3
Gustavo Kuerten x 3
Petr Korda x 3
Johan Kriek x 2
Ilie Năstase x 2
Stan Smith x 2
Patrick Rafter x 2
Mark Edmondson x 1
Roscoe Tanner x 1
Vitas Gerulaitis x 1
Brian Teacher x 1
Stanislas Wawrinka x 1
Jan Kodeš x 1
Andrés Gimeno x 1
Adriano Panatta x 1
Yannick Noah x 1
Andrés Gómez x 1
Thomas Muster x 1
Albert Costa x 1
Gastón Gaudio x 1
Pat Cash x 1
Michael Stich x 1
Richard Krajicek x 1
Manuel Orantes x 1
Two Handed Slam Winners
Björn Borg x 11
Jimmy Connors x 8
Andre Agassi x 8
Mats Wilander x 7
Novak Djokovic x 6
Jim Courier x 4
Yevgeny Kafelnikov x 2
Marat Safin x 2
Sergi Bruguera x 2
Lleyton Hewitt x 2
Andy Murray x 2
Thomas Johansson x 1
Michael Chang x 1
Carlos Moyá x 1
Juan Carlos Ferrero x 1
Goran Ivanišević x 1
Andy Roddick x 1
Juan Martín del Potro x 1
So from the above table since 1968 there have been 34 different players with a 1 handed backhand to win a Grand Slam and they account for 110 Grand Slam titles between them. Or put simply 60% of all Grand Slams since 1968 until the Australian Open 2014 have been won by players with a single handed backhand. Quite dominant you might think at first glance however since the late 90's and onwards there's been quite a shift, check the graphs and tables below:
How do Grand Slam winner backhand types differ by decade since 1968?
The 60's, 70's, 80's and to some extent the 90's were the really golden era for single handers, and it's clear to see why really; 3 of the 4 slams were played on grass and the courts were extremely fast back then. The surfaces of old are much more conducive to first strike tennis rather than consistency being king and that's where the single hander comes into its own.
In fact it was only really Connors and Borg who utilised a 2 hander with any sort of success at Grand Slam level prior to mid 90's, without those two guys, who won 19 slams in total between them during the 70's and 80's, the 2 hander would have barely got a look in.
How do things shape up post 2000?
|Slam Winner by Backhand Type 2000-2014|
|Number of different Slam Winners in the Open Era||Total Number of Grand Slams Won||% of Overall Slams|
|One Handed Backhand||6||24||42.10%|
|Two Handed Backhand||11||33||57.90%|
Post 2000 is when we begin to see a big shift, the likes of Safin, Roddick, Hewitt and to some extent Agassi really kicked things off for the 2 handed brigade and then of course we entered the Nadal / Djokovic era after Federer put on a revival from 2003 to around 2010. In fact without Roger's 17 slams, one-handed players would have only accounted for 7 Grand Slams in 14 years; a complete reversal from the first 40 years of Open Era tennis.
Why are there more 2 handed backhanded players than ever before?
So post 2000 we've had an influx of 2 handed backhand players and that's definitely going to continue into the future – because a.) that shot is suited to slow, high bouncing courts and b.) juniors just getting started are far more exposed to double handers so they are likely to replicate that shot themselves.
Kids always copy, and everyone loves a winner so they are naturally going to opt for 2 handed backhands because that's the norm in this era. With virtually no one-handers winning Grand Slam trophies, fewer one-handers are being emulated by juniors. And if fewer one-handed backhands are being copied, fewer of them will be used by players winning slams in the future.
I also think coaches are opting to coach the 2 hander over the 1 hander because they now believe it's the “right” shot. Not sure I agree with that but I have seen it happening first hand
It's not much better on the womens side of things either to be honest, with only Justine Henin and Francesca Schiavone the only women with one-handers in the last six years to win Grand Slam titles. And currently there is only one woman ranked in the Top 20 with a 1 hander, 30-year-old Roberta Vinci. Ouch.
I guess we can hope Wawrinka's win will have inspired some kids to try the shot after they saw him win the AO, after all it's by far the most pleasing on the eye but he'll need to be a factor in all the Slams for his appeal to really kick on.
Will the one-handed backhand die out or be condemned to the seniors tour?
With the way things are going the one handed backhand might be a shot that's only used by some of the legends that are still playing on the exhibition and seniors circuit. In fact apart from Dimitrov every player in the top 30 on the ATP World Tour who uses a one-hander is at least 26 years old. It's a shot that seems only to be used by the aging generation and many of those guys will soon retire. Not good.
Speaking of some old legends of the sport it's World Tennis Day on 3rd of March this year and the ITF have expanded their celebrations to London by putting on an event at Earl's Court. It features Sampras, Lendl, Agassi and Pat Cash so there's 3 guys out of 4 all with solid 1 handers that are great to watch and hey Agassi is a pretty decent ball striker too. I did have tickets for this event but due to another commitment, I can't make it any longer. I've put them up here for sale – http://www.stubhub.co.uk/world-tennis-day-showdown-tickets/ so check them out if you are interested, you won't specifically get mine I don't think but there's quite a few left starting at as little as £40. Check it out if you are interested.
So will the one hander die out? Well effectively from 2015 onwards it's likely Dimitrov will be the only player with a one-hander with the capability to win a Grand Slam and even then there are question marks about how good he will be. Come 2016-17 there may not even be any one handed players in the top 50.
What do you guys think? Will the shot cease to exist at the top level? What further analysis would you recommend? All contributions welcome…