Roger Federer: Owner of the Last Great One-Handed Backhand?
It's a lonely place for Roger Federer in the ATP's top 10 rankings: not just because he's the only Swiss there, but he's also the only player that hits a one-handed backhand. The rest of the ranking elite all get that extra bit of oomph on the backhand side by taking the two-handed approach.
With the way the game is going now, will there ever be another men's Grand Slam singles champion with a one-handed backhand, or is Federer the last of a dying breed?
A look outside the top 10—extended to the top 30—reveals that the only other players besides Federer utilizing the classic style are Nicolas Almagro, Richard Gasquet, Stanislas Wawrinka, Feliciano Lopez and Ivan Ljubicic. Four of the five, save for Lopez, have spent time in the top 10, and all are multiple title winners.
However, of those five, there are only two Grand Slam semifinal appearances: Gasquet at Wimbledon in 2007 and Ljubicic at the French Open in 2006. That doesn't exactly bode well for the prospect of them lifting any of the game's big four trophies by the time their careers are all said and done.
The pace of the game continues to get faster and faster. When some players are capable of consistently serving balls targeting the backhand at a speed of 130 mph, there's only so much a player who hits with one hand can do by bunting back the return. The extra support the two-hander gets enables him to garner more chances when it comes to breaking serve.
As a matter of fact, the only name that can be found in the top 10 of the ATP's statistics when it comes to returning and breaking serve is Federer, who stands at number nine in the Points Won Returning First Serve department.
Will a male player with a one-handed backhand, besides Federer, ever win a Slam again?
Then again, he is Federer—perhaps the most talented ball-striker the game has ever known—and one would think that he would make his mark when it counts the most.
But as his recent ranking and some of his results might indicate, perhaps he might be finally getting caught up in the progression of the game. Back in the 1980s, it was a rarity for a player who hit with two hands to win a Grand Slam: Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander and Michael Chang being the only players to do so. The '90s saw double-fisters make their mark, but there was still Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras holding down the fort.
The 2000s have mostly been a different story: Federer's dominance aside, the last player to win a Grand Slam singles title with a one-handed backhand was Gaston Gaudio at the French Open in 2004.
That really doesn't bode well for a kid coming up looking to build their game around the stylish shot. Emulating Federer is already a near-impossible task; going the one-handed route might be an even more difficult one.
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