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Federer Leads The Way, But Thiem, Tsitsipas Carry On The One-Handed Backhand

  • Posted: Jun 03, 2019

Federer Leads The Way, But Thiem, Tsitsipas Carry On The One-Handed Backhand

Despite years of declining usage, the one-handed backhand appears to have a future on the ATP Tour

Few expected the culprit, but the blow was only the latest in what has become a decades-long struggle for the one-handed backhand.

Roger Federer, the player who has done more to promote the shot than anyone in the past 15 years, won’t have any of his four children learning the one-handed backhand. Federer, like thousands of parents and coaches, thinks kids should learn the two-handed version.

It’s easier. It’s that simple,” he said.

The tide has certainly turned. For various reasons – It’s too hard. No one teaches it anymore – the one-handed backhand is seen far less often on the ATP Tour and on recreational courts all over the world. The beautiful throwback shot, long said to be on tennis’ endangered list and going the way of serve-and-volley and chip-and-charge tactics, is in trouble.

In May 1999, nearly half – 43 – of the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings used a one-hander. Ten years later, the number had fallen to 28, and this week, the number has nearly split in half, to 15. The current forebears of the shot – Federer, 37, Stan Wawrinka, 34, – who face off in the Roland Garros quarter-finals on Tuesday – and Richard Gasquet, 32 – will likely retire in the next five years.

The headline for a 2014 story on the topic in The New York Times Magazine summed up the shot’s status: “The Death of the One-Handed Backhand.”

To the surprise of most, however, it seems there will be a future for the shot on the ATP Tour. The next wave of talent, led by No. 4 Dominic Thiem and #NextGenATP stars Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and Denis Shapovalov of Canada, sport some of the flashiest and most powerful one-handers in tennis and embrace the shot’s unique beauty.

<a href=''>Stefanos Tsitsipas</a> wins on Sunday at <a href=''>Roland Garros</a>

The trio learned the shot amidst the two-handed backhand revolution, either by choice or because of a strong recommendation, and they’ve become the future for one of the sport’s most beloved shots. Together, they should ensure the one-hander has a home on the ATP Tour for at least another decade to come.

I think a double-hander is the way to go, but I hope it’s not a dying breed. I think it just looks nice, a one-handed backhand,” Federer said. “So it’s nice to see Denis also keeping that alive and same with Thiem and young guys coming up, that it’s still going. But I think we will always be outnumbered from this point moving forward. Unfortunately Bjorn Borg had too big of an impact on this game. He just doesn’t know it sometimes.”

One-Handed Backhands In The Top 100 Of The ATP Rankings*

ATP Ranking Player
 3 Roger Federer
 4 Dominic Thiem
 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas
 19 Marco Cecchinato
 24 Denis Shapovalov
 28 Stan Wawrinka
 35 Dusan Lajovic
 39 Richard Gasquet
 46 Grigor Dimitrov
 47 Pablo Cuevas
 54 Philipp Kohlschreiber
 68 Leonardo Mayer
 80 Daniel Evans
 83 Marius Copil
 94 Ivo Karlovic

*Based on 27 May 2019 ATP Rankings

Nearly everyone used a one-hander in the mid-1970s. But then came along the flashy Borg and Jimmy Connors, brandishing two-handed backhands and winning Grand Slam titles. Chris Evert served as a similar catalyst for the WTA.

Those three players did the most to change the vision of people in the game and get them thinking differently about what made sense, about the benefits of the two-hander, the advantages of making that into a really offensive shot,” Steve Flink, a longtime tennis historian and journalist who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017, told

But it’s not as if the one-hander disappeared. John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl, among others, reached No. 1 in the ATP Rankings with a one-handed backhand, and Federer has helped it stay prominent during his 22-year career.

Tsitsipas and Shapovalov, who grew up watching and idolising Federer, have both used the shot since they were kids. Tsitsipas, 20, fully committed to the one-hander when he was nine.

We are players that have a different style from usual, so I really like the one-handed backhand,” he said.

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The left-handed Shapovalov started with a two-hander as a five-year-old, but naturally let go of the second hand as he hit balls off a cone with his parents watching.

My father and my mother had a little bit of a conversation. They came back to me, and they told me, ‘Try to just release the one-hander’,” Shapovalov said. “From that day, I always had a one-hander.”

About 11 years ago, Brad Gilbert, the former coach of Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, among others, was asked to watch a video of an eight-year-old Canadian boy playing at a tournament.

I said, ‘Jeez, the kid looks pretty talented, switch him to a two-handed backhand,’” Gilbert told

The boy was Shapovalov. Gilbert, however, was not the only one to recommend the change.

A lot of people said, ‘You’re too young or too weak to have a one-hander. Maybe you should stick to two and switch,’” Shapovalov said. “For me, it was always natural, and I think it’s turned out to be a great weapon of mine.”


The shot, technically, is harder than the two-hander. Dr. Jack Groppel, co-founder of Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute and a former chairman of the National Sports Science Committee for the United States Tennis Association, dedicated his doctoral dissertation to the physiological difference between the two-hander and the one-hander.

The year was 1978, shortly after Borg and Connors introduced the two-hander to the world, and Groppel, a former collegiate tennis player who hit with a one-hander, was curious about the new shot.

He found that the two-handed backhand requires coordination between the legs, hips, trunk and arms, whereas the one-handed backhand requires togetherness from the legs, hips, trunk, upper arm, lower arm and hand.

The two-handed backhand was, to put in layman’s terms, much easier to hit,” Groppel told

It’s the main reason why Thiem, Tsitsipas and Shapovalov are outliers, and why millions of kids have never attempted a one-hander: The two-handed backhand is easier.

Kids especially struggle with the one-hander when trying to hit balls over their shoulder, although a global emphasis on lighter racquets, low-compression balls and shorter nets for kids could help mitigate this problem.

If we can have them pick up the game faster and get more involved faster using the two-hander, I am all for it,” said Groppel, who also coached collegiately at the University of Illinois and directed the player development program at Harry Hopman/Saddlebrook International Tennis.

Gilbert, who used a one-hander to reach No. 4 in the ATP Rankings, also prefers the two-hander for its versatility.

A player with a two-hander can use a one-hander – i.e. Novak Djokovic hitting a one-handed slice – but a player with a one-hander never hits a two-hander, even when it’d be beneficial, such as when trying to fight off heavy topspin balls above his shoulder.

Kids, however, can always switch, a fact Federer acknowledged.

<a href=''>Roger Federer</a> reaches the quarter-finals at <a href=''>Roland Garros</a>

If they want to change later on, I will teach them that one. But I can’t teach them a double-hander as I can’t hit that one. So that’s somebody else’s job,” he said. “I think, also like with everything in life, you also have your own character. Some people decide to change it at eight, some at 14, some later, because they find it a good challenge.”

Pete Sampras switched at the age of 14, and Thiem switched when he was 11 at the urging of his boyhood coach Gunter Bresnik.

For sure, there were moments where I had doubts about my one-handed backhand, but still, at the end it was the right choice,” Thiem said.

Both shots have their advantages, Gilbert said. The two-hander can be better for returning serves, high topspin balls and immediate success. But the one-hander lends itself to the one-handed slice, more power, more topspin and maybe more deception.

But who said it has to be one or the other? Gilbert is envisioning a future Top 5 player who uses both. The player would use a one-hander most of the time during rallies, but a two-hander when returning serves or for rally shots above his shoulder.

Having both shots would also give him the element of disguise. His opponents couldn’t constantly go back to the heavy topspin ball above his shoulder, like Rafael Nadal did so often to Federer on clay.

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In the next 15 years, I feel like somebody’s going to have a two-handed backhand return, be able to play two and one and play a high level, Top 5 level,” Gilbert said.

The idea sounds good in theory, but convincing people, as Gilbert has found out, is another matter.

He’s been working with an eight-year-old boy who hits a one-hander because his father loves Federer. “His dad is a massive Fed fan, massive Fed fan,” Gilbert said.

The child can hit the one-hander pretty well, “when he’s completely set and the ball is at his waist level”.

But at tournaments, his opponents hit high balls and the child doesn’t want to back up and wait until the ball drops; he wants, at the age of eight years old, to hit the high backhand like he sees Federer do on TV.

That’s a tough sleddin’ shot when you’re eight,” Gilbert said.

So Gilbert pitched his hybrid idea – hit the two-hander on service returns and for over the shoulder balls, and the one-hander on slices and most of the time during rallies.

His father, however, has spent too much time watching – but clearly not listening to – Federer.

He kind of assessed what I said,” Gilbert said, “but he said, ‘No, Fed’s our guy. We’re going to copy Fed.’”

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Del Potro: 'I Had A Beautiful Tournament'

  • Posted: Jun 03, 2019

Del Potro: ‘I Had A Beautiful Tournament’

Argentine says Khachanov made him play ‘to the limits of my capabilities’

For Juan Martin del Potro, there is victory in defeat. Despite a four-set loss to Karen Khachanov in a bruising baseline slugfest in the Roland Garros fourth round Monday, the Argentine leaves Paris with pep in his step and a positive outlook for the second half of the season.

“I think that I had a beautiful tournament,” said the 2009 US Open champion, who laced up for just the fourth time this season. The eighth seed twice rallied from a set down, including in a gutsy five-set win over Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in the second round, and his right knee – which he fractured in a fall in Shanghai last October – successfully came through 16 tough sets on clay.

Although the current World No. 9 will slip outside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings next Monday, he is thankful to be contemplating a return to grass rather than a return to rehab, which consumed a large part of his early season.

“I’m feeling well, beyond this defeat, which is pretty harsh,” said the 30-year-old former World No. 3. “As of tomorrow, we will be talking about my future tournaments, Queen’s, Wimbledon. And I think that we won’t think about rehabilitation or recovery after this week.”

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Against Khachanov, Del Potro found himself in the unusual position of being outhit by the 23-year-old 6’ 6” powerhouse. The Russian clipped 58 winners to Del Potro’s 42 and made 13 fewer unforced errors (35 to 48).

“In the first set, the weather conditions were faster, and I took advantage of that,” Del Potro said. “So I had started better. But then it’s true that Karen has very good physical shape, and he’s able to load the ball, give a lot of power to it.

“In the third and fourth sets, on these errors that I made because of taking too many risks, he took advantage to be more solid in his game. And in these conditions, very few players can hit the ball so hard. Karen is one of these players, and he made me run a lot…

“I really played to the limit of my capabilities. That’s why I made errors.”

Did You Know?
Del Potro’s 22 match wins at Roland Garros are his most at any major except the US Open (35). He is a two-time semi-finalist in Paris (2018 & 2009).

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Preview: Federer v. Wawrinka, Nadal v. Nishikori In Roland Garros QFs

  • Posted: Jun 03, 2019

Preview: Federer v. Wawrinka, Nadal v. Nishikori In Roland Garros QFs

Quarter-final action kicks off on Day 10

Roger Federer faces Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal takes on Kei Nishikori for a chance at semi-final berths on Tuesday at Roland Garros. Federer leads his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Wawrinka 22-3, but the 2015 champion scored all three wins on clay. Nadal leads Nishikori 10-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series and has prevailed in all four of their clay-court battles.

More to come…

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Court Philippe-Chatrier start 2:00pm
WTA match
[2] Rafael Nadal vs Kei Nishikori

Court Suzanne-Lenglen start 2:00pm
[3] Roger Federer vs [24] Stan Wawrinka
WTA match

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Court Simonne-Mathieu start 11:00am
Men’s legends match and two WTA matches
[11] Rajeev Ram / Joe Salisbury vs Jeremy Chardy/Fabrice Martin

Court 1 start 11:00am
Men’s legends match and WTA match
Dusan Lajovic / Janko Tipsarevic vs Kevin Krawietz / Andreas Mies

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Thiem cruises through against Monfils but Del Potro out

  • Posted: Jun 03, 2019
2019 French Open
Venue: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: 26 May-9 June
Coverage: Live text and radio commentary on selected matches on the BBC Sport website and app.

Last year’s runner-up Dominic Thiem reached the French Open quarter-finals with an impressive straight-set victory over home favourite Gael Monfils.

Thiem, 25, saw off the 14th-seeded Frenchman 6-4 6-4 6-2 in one hour and 48 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The Austrian will play 10th seed Karen Khachanov of Russia in the last eight.

Khachanov, 23, won 7-5 6-3 3-6 6-3 against Argentina’s eighth seed Juan Martin del Potro on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

It is the first time Thiem has won in straight sets at Roland Garros this year.

“It was my best match of the tournament so far, some great rallies, it’s always fun to play Gael,” he added.

Thiem produced a superb between-the-legs winner in the final set that brought applause from his opponent.

“There was no other choice to play that ball. When a ball like this goes in it is a hot shot!” said the fourth seed.

Khachanov took the opening two sets against Del Potro and lost the third but broke the Argentine’s serve at the start of the fourth set to move into the last eight of a Grand Slam for the first time.

“It’s the best result, for me to be in my first quarter-final in a Grand Slam,” said Khachanov.

“The atmosphere was really good and I really have good energy here.”

French Open men’s singles quarter-final draw
Novak Djokovic (1, Ser) v Alexander Zverev (5, Ger)
Dominic Thiem (4, Aut) v Karen Khachanov (10, Rus)
Stan Wawrinka (24, Swi) v Roger Federer (3, Swi)
Kei Nishikori (7, Jpn) v Rafael Nadal (2, Spa)
  • Djokovic beats Struff to move into quarter-finals
  • Thiem accuses Williams of showing ‘bad personality’
  • Live scores, schedule and results
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'Everything coming together beautifully': Djokovic through to French Open last eight

  • Posted: Jun 03, 2019
2019 French Open
Venue: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: 26 May-9 June
Coverage: Live text and radio commentary on selected matches on the BBC Sport website and app.

Top seed Novak Djokovic created a piece of French Open history by becoming the first man to reach a 10th consecutive quarter-final after a routine win over Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.

The 32-year-old Serb, aiming to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time, won 6-3 6-2 6-2 in one hour 33 minutes.

Djokovic, who has not dropped a set at this year’s Roland Garros, said he was happy to be “cruising along”.

“I’m really pleased with every aspect of my game,” he added.

“So everything is coming together beautifully.

“I reached the quarter-finals and played as closest to my best tennis on clay as I think I can be at the moment.”

Djokovic will face fifth seed Alexander Zverev in the last eight after the German beat Italian ninth seed Fabio Fognini in four sets.

Zverev, 22, lost the opening set but recovered to win 3-6 6-2 6-2 7-6 (7-5) and make the quarter-finals for the second year running in Paris – the only place he has reached the last eight of a Grand Slam.

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After winning the Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open titles, Djokovic is aiming to hold all four majors at the same time by claiming the French Open for a second time.

The 15-time major winner previously achieved the feat when he claimed his maiden Roland Garros title in 2016, which saw him become only the eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam.

But 12 months ago, after form and fitness problems, the possibility of Djokovic putting himself in this position again seemed unlikely.

Despite his recent dominance, the world number one has insisted 11-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal must again be considered the favourite.

However, it is hard to separate the two top seeds judging by Djokovic’s ruthless performances – he has strolled to the last eight, albeit against opponents with an average ranking of 85.

Against Struff, Djokovic took his second break point of the match at 4-3, ending the world number 45’s resistance by putting away an overhead after he left the German scrambling in a baseline rally.

From there it was one-way traffic as Djokovic outclassed his opponent, winning 11 of the next 13 games to move two sets ahead and with a double break in the third.

Djokovic’s power and placement was simply too much for Struff, who could not convert a break point in what proved to be final game as the Serb upped the tempo again to seal victory.

French Open men’s singles quarter-final draw
Novak Djokovic (1, Ser) v Alexander Zverev (5, Ger)
Dominic Thiem (4, Aut) v Karen Khachanov (10, Rus)
Stan Wawrinka (24, Swi) v Roger Federer (3, Swi)
Kei Nishikori (7, Jpn) v Rafael Nadal (2, Spa)
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Konta 'can go up a few more levels' as Briton bids to make semi-finals

  • Posted: Jun 03, 2019
2019 French Open quarter-finals
Venue: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: 4-5 June Time: 13:00 BST
Coverage: Live text and radio commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

Johanna Konta is aiming to become the first British woman since 1983 to reach the French Open semi-finals – and her Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong says she has yet to hit her peak.

Konta, 28, meets seventh seed Sloane Stephens, last year’s runner-up, in Tuesday’s quarter-final at 13:00 BST.

The Briton had never won a main-draw match at Roland Garros until this year.

“A lot of things are coming together but she can go up a few more levels if pushed,” Keothavong told BBC Sport.

“Jo has played some fantastic tennis and the best thing is she can play even better – she is still very much playing within herself.”

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Konta, seeded 26th, only claimed her maiden first-round victory on the Paris clay against German qualifier Antonia Lottner last week.

The former world number four fought off sickness to battle past American Lauren Davis in the second round, then eased past young Slovakian Viktoria Kuzmova and Croatian 23rd seed Donna Vekic to reach the last eight.

Now she is bidding to compete in her third Grand Slam semi-final after reaching the same stage at the 2016 Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2017.

‘Fed Cup success has helped Konta’

Former British number one Durie – the last woman to reach the Roland Garros last four – says she would be “very happy” for Konta if she emulated her feat.

“Johanna has worked out a way to use her game on the clay to really good effect,” Durie, 58, told BBC Sport.

“She’s worked very hard to get back to this kind of standard.”

After little previous clay-court pedigree, Konta has enjoyed surprise success on the surface having also reached two WTA Tour finals at the Morocco Open and Rome Masters going into Roland Garros.

That came after she helped Britain win promotion to the Fed Cup World Group II stage – which Durie believes has boosted Konta’s mental toughness.

Konta has won 13 of her 15 three-set matches this year, including a victory over American Stephens on clay in Rome.

“I think the whole team atmosphere at the Fed Cup worked very well and she won some really tough three-set matches,” former world number five Durie added.

“I think that has helped her so much mentally and for her to take so many three-set matches this year.”

‘Open draw gives Konta great chance’

Stephens is one of only three top-10 seeded players left in the women’s draw, along with Romania’s defending champion Simona Halep and Australian eighth seed Ashleigh Barty.

Konta and Barty are among five players in the Roland Garros quarter-finals for the first time, along with 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova, Croatian 31st seed Petra Martic and Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova

Keothavong believes Konta can take advantage of an open draw and go on to win the tournament.

“Any one of these players still left in the draw has a good shot at it,” she told BBC Radio 5 live.

“She is playing with confidence and it has been building over the last few weeks.

“She has performed very well and this has been her best season by a country mile on clay.

“With each match she is looking more and more comfortable.”

Along with the victory in the Rome second round, Konta also beat 2017 US Open champion Stephens in straight sets on the hard court at the Brisbane International in January.

Stephens says those two defeats will have no bearing on the encounter in Paris, insisting she will go in with “a clean slate”.

“When I played her in Brisbane it was the first match of the year, so that’s totally out of my mind,” said Stephens, who lost to Halep in last year’s final.

“And then the one in Rome, bad circumstances. Out of the mind.”

French Open 2019 – women’s singles quarter-finals
Madison Keys (14, US) v Ashleigh Barty (8, Aus)
Simona Halep (3, Rom) v Amanda Anisimova (US)
Sloane Stephens (7, US) v Johanna Konta (26, GB)
Marketa Vondrousova (Cze) v Petra Martic (31, Cro)
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BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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