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With Stefanos Tsitsipas still just outside the top 10 at the time of writing, no single-handed backhand player features in the ATP top 10. 

It’s been a hotly debated topic recently, with many tennis experts weighing in, from Patrick Mouratoglou to Andy Roddick.

In fact, in the top 100, only 11 possess a single-handed backhand.

On the women’s side, it’s even less (3/100), but other than some notable exceptions such as the legendary Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo, the one-handed backhand has never been a huge feature in the WTA, so we will focus on the men’s tour.

So, is the single-handed backhand dying?

The answer, objectively, is yes, but history will tell us it’s been a gradual change.

Single-Handed Dominance

There was a time when the double-handed backhand was a rarity rather than the norm. 

In the early 1970s, Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg were the only two prominent men’s champions who used a two-hander.

Even as these players dominated men's tennis for the next ten years, few other top contenders followed their lead to employ two-handed backhands. American Harold Solomon would be one of the few notable men to use the shot in the 70’s.

While few top-ranked players would emerge into the limelight with the two-handed backhand during the early 1980s, it was becoming increasingly more popular with the youth of that era.

Double-Handed Backhand Takes Over

By the end of the 1980s, a slew of top young two-handed players were starting to materialise in the pro ranks. Andre Agassi and Mats Wilander were amongst the first of this new breed and by 1989, Michael Chang unexpectedly took top honours at the French Open.

The 1990s ushered in more and more men’s champions who were using the double-hander. These included Jim Courier, Goran Ivanisevic, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Todd Martin.

As we entered the 2000s, double-handed backhands were just as common as single-handed backhands and this evolution would continue.

At the end of 2003, just before the great Roger Federer went on to dominate the tennis world, there were 7 single-handers in the ATP top 20.

Currently, in 2024, there are just 2 in the top 20. 

So why the shift from single-handed dominance to prominently double-handed backhands?

Racquet Technology and Player Development

Tennis racquets have evolved to allow players to hit more aggressive shots without sacrificing consistency. 

As opposed to the wooden racquet era where racquets were heavy, with a small sweet spot and not conducive to topspin, modern racquets are much lighter with bigger frames and more open string patterns, allowing players to generate a lot of topspin without sacrificing power and consistency.

As such, the pattern of player development has favoured the two-handed backhand form. This is because with modern players being able to generate a lot of topspin, balls are bouncing higher, making it difficult for single-handers to rip up on the ball above shoulder height.

Case in point, Roger Federer’s struggles against prime Rafa Nadal. Nadal’s heavily topspun leftie forehand to Federer’s single-handed backhand was a nightmare for the Swiss maestro to handle for much of their respective careers.

The defensive ability of players like Alcaraz, Sinner and Medvedev, as well as the ability to hit over the return of serve rather than chip the ball back, is a another advantage double-handers have over single-handers.

Innovations in the shot, focussing on changes in footwork, have also added to the popularity of the double-handed backhand. Today, the two-handed backhand is being hit with both open and closed stances, with players looking to gain an edge in quickness and recovery.

24-time grand slam champion, Novak Djokovic is perhaps the best example of this. The Serbian superstar is one of the most efficient court movers of all time, particularly highlighted by his open stance backhand on the run. Often sliding into the shot, Djokovic can recover his court position very quickly without losing too much ground. 

This type of shot is much harder to execute with a single-handed backhand.

The Future of the Single-Hander

So is this the end of an era for the single-handed backhand?

“I don’t see a comeback for it”, Andy Roddick definitively stated on his Served podcast. 

Citing factors such as the increased spin profiles on racquets after the decline of natural gut strings and slower court surfaces, the 2003 US Open champion believes the death of the one-hander has been coming for a long time. 

Patrick Mouratoglou, however, thinks there will still be “big champions with one-handed backhands.”

“I don’t believe in end of eras. Everything is possible for anyone with qualities,” The Frenchman said in a video he posted on Instagram.

These qualities were best illustrated by Federer’s neo-backhand in 2017 or Stan Wawrinka in his prime, ripping one up the line after gutbusting rally with Djokovic.

It’s hard not to side with Roddick though, as the shift away from the single-handed backhand has been gradually happening for decades now. 

Watch the modern players hit and you will see they all share the same characteristics that top two-handers possess: Stability, repeatable swing patterns and significant topspin.

The single-handed backhand may be the most graceful looking shot in tennis, but it’s become impractical with the evolution of the modern game.


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