Dirk Nowitzki, one of the most famous European basketball players in the NBA, said in a recent interview with ATP that Roger Federer has one of the best single-handed backhands in tennis.
Nowitzki said that while there are several impressive one-handers on the tour, the one belonging to the 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer stands out.
"Roger to me is of course one of the best," Nowitzki said. "Stan Wawrinka has a laser of a one-hander, and he’s super-fun to watch with his power game. Dominic Thiem is coming up and his one-hander is beautiful and powerful. That’s just to name a few. There are so many great one-handers in the game.”
Nowitzki, a 7-time NBA All-Star winner, further said that he loved playing tennis while growing up. But unlike Roger Federer, Nowitzki's weapon of choice at first was a double-handed backhand.
"I grew up playing a double-handed backhand, and then once I stopped playing when I was about 14, 15, I kind of went away and put all my eggs into the basketball basket and took 10, 11 years off and never really played (tennis after that),” Nowitzki said.
Nowitzki then revealed that he shifted his focus to basketball for a decade and lost the touch on his double-handed backhand grip when he resumed playing tennis for fun. It was at this time that the legendary NBA player shifted to a one-handed backhand.
“Once I got to my mid-20s, in the summer I started playing again and then my double-handed backhand was completely gone! I didn’t even know how to hold it anymore. Then I actually switched to a one-hander.”
Roger Federer - one of the last few exponents of the elegant one-hander
Roger Federer is one of six players in the top 20 of the ATP rankings who has a single-handed backhand. But that is a statistical anomaly, and not an accurate representation of the shot's prevalence in the top 100.
As on the week starting 5 August 2019, only 16 of the world's top 100 ranked players employed a backhand unaided by the non-playing hand - as opposed to 43 single-handed players in the top 100 back in May 1999.
The single-handed backhand is a difficult shot to master compared to its double-handed counterpart. However, it is also one of the single most aesthetically pleasing shots in the sport.
Generally hit with more topspin than a double-handed backhand, the single-hander allows low balls to be hit with greater power and penetration than a double-hander. The double hander, as opposed to the single-hander, is a far easier shot to master and is more effective to counter high rally balls and angled serves out wide.
The single-hander used to be the preferred backhand type in the 70s, before the likes of Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg materialized on the tour. That was when the double-hander began to gain in popularity, and the pattern has continued since.
Roger Federer's backhand, apart from its aesthetics, is a formidable albeit less consistent weapon in his arsenal. Long troubled by his left-handed nemesis Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer started hitting his single-hander with less topspin and more power starting from the 2017 Australian Open - with devastating results.