« Why Djokovic Bounces the Ball So Much | Main | Trivia: What Vajda-Coached Player Beat Fed and Rafa? »

March 26, 2012

One-Handed Backhands, For Sheer Velocity

In the competition between two-handed- and one-handed-backhands, the dual flavor is in ascendancy, largely because the combination of extremely high-bouncing courts plus topspin aided by co-poly strings such as Luxilon and Babolat RPM are forcing players to strike more balls above their shoulders, where the outside left-hand (for righties) helps you get strength and weight above high balls. 

But for sheer velocity, the one-hander is still in the game.

Witness Frenchman Richard Gasquet who hit 104 MPH backhand winners at the French Open in 2011 with his stylish singleton. I haven't seen the full stat list for the tournament, but Gasquet's backhands were faster than any other groundstroke cited in matches I watched, forehand or backhand. 

Velocity has never been the issue for one-handed backhands. Some of the hardest hit backhands I've ever seen have been by Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl, while Pete Sampras converted from a two-hander to a one-hander specifically to conquer Wimbledon. 

My photo of Gasquet, at the bottom of this post, shows the range of motion and extension that gives the one-hander its explosiveness, particularly on balls from waist height downwards. 

Top pros that still use one-handed backhands include: Richard Gasquet, Roger Federer, Nicolas Almagro, Grigor Dimitrov, Stan Wawrinka, Mikhail Youzhny, Feliciano Lopez, Tommy Haas and -- when the mood suits him -- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. 

Video shows Roger Federer breaking Rafael Nadal with a backhand described by Darren Cahill as, "That was one of the best backhands I've seen Roger hit. It was like a gun going off." What I noted, is how Fed took the ball low, forward in the court, yet got it up and down.   I'll come back to add links to video of other, high-speed backhands of both kinds. 

AaaaBallSmallTennis copyThis post is part of the series, "A Skeptic's Guide to what 'Everyone Knows' About Tennis", click to read more. 


Here's a photo of Gasquet's backhand, among the best in the business, from BNP Indian Wells ©jfawcette 2011.


Richard Gasquet backhand speed ©jfawcette
Gasquet backhand at BNPIW11 ©jfawcette

{List to come some time much later <g>}


Reader Comments

Jim - a question - in golf the longer the club (read lever) the more power potential - on the forehand I believe the lever can be measured from the tip of the racquet head to the breast bone if not to the left shoulder as the hitter turns into the ball - but on the backhand the lever can only be measured from the tip of the racquet head to the hitting shoulder - a shorter distance - how does this compute with these incredible one handed backhand ball speeds - I filmed Gasquet in practice with Murray at Indian Wells and was truly amazed

@JimMcL. Beyond my expertise, but that never stopped me from guessing!

I've had discussions about the "range of motion" in a one-handed backhand being greater than for a two-hander, leading to greater potential for velocity and topspin, albeit at sacrifice of stability on mishits and high balls. Does that make any sense?

Then again, I've told Pancho Segura's two-handed forehand was one of the highest velocity shots ever. Hope I got the name right there.

I believe some of the ease of velocity with the one-hander comes from the coordination. With the two-handed backhand you are using a muscle on one shoulder and a different muscle (sometimes the antagonist) on your other shoulder. While you develop the coordination through practice, you do lose some of the fluidity. I've still seen 100 mph two handed backhands, but like it's been said the range of movement makes for sheer speed.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.