There are some sights in sport that simply take your breath away. Whether it’s a crisply struck volley in football, a blistering long pot in snooker, or a menacing drive in golf, these are the sights that make our jaws drop and our eyes bulge in disbelief due to the sheer beauty of what we’ve just witnessed.
When it comes to tennis, you can add a one-handed backhand winner to that list. There is something so graceful and elegant about a one-handed backhand, the way a player’s racket glides through the air effortlessly before connecting, imparting the kind of devilish whip and swerve which makes it so difficult to return.
There are several key exponents of the one-handed backhand in tennis, and three who come to mind are Stan Wawrinka, Grigor Dimitrov, and of course the king of the court himself Roger Federer, who has made the shot his own over the years. Watching those three in action feels like an antidote to the powerful, bludgeoning nature of many modern tennis players, and provides a reminder that this sport, which celebrates speed and power, can still be provide a delicate touch.
The one-handed backhand is perhaps a shot which favours the clay court. Due to the slower nature of the surface, power is not necessarily the most important aspect when playing a shot, and this can play into the hands of those who favour a one-handed backhand. It’s why players who play a more technical game can often find themselves better fancied in the French Open betting at Paddy Power, due to the fact that the tournament is played on clay.
That said, the most dominant clay player of all time is Rafael Nadal, who favours a two-handed backhand. Nadal is one of the great baseline players of all time, and this ability to thrive in the longer rallies is the reason why he’s earned so many French Open titles in his career. But the Spaniard’s backhand, while incredibly effective, does not offer the same iconic beauty as that of Federer.
The two-handed backhand is by far the more common. After all, it’s easier to control and can provide more power when used correctly. Novak Djokovic is another two-handed backhand exponent, and has proved that it can be an incredibly effective shot, but at the same time there is that absence of grace that the one-handed backhand offers.
Perhaps the reason why a one-handed backhand, executed to perfection, excites us so much is because it is a rarer sight these days than it used to be. The two-handed backhand is the more commonly coached shot, because it allows for greater stability and predictability for younger players.
It could prove that as the years go by we see the one-handed backhand fade into greater obscurity as the age of power serves and explosive baseline rallies continues. Perhaps one day we’ll look at the likes of Federer and Wawrinka – masters of tennis’ most graceful technique – as outlandish exponents of a lost art. For the sake of that unique feeling that accompanies the most beautiful moments in sport, let’s hope that this singularly refined shot does not wane into the shadow of tennis’ modern powerhouses.