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Tennis Singlehanders in the top 100

ANALYST
Feature
Timeless

The single-handed backhand (often called the 'single-hander') is a difficult stroke to execute but is one of the single most aesthetically pleasing shots in the sport of tennis.

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.

It used to be the preferred backhand type in the seventies till the likes of Connors and Borg materialized on the tour and the double-hander began to gain in popularity.

The aesthetic beauty of the single handed Federer backhand
The aesthetic beauty of the single handed Federer backhand

Juxtaposed with the shifting of two Grand Slam events away from the game's fastest surface of grass (Australian Open and US Open) in the mid seventies, advances in racquet technology over the years (from wooden to composite frames), "homogenisation of surfaces" and the use of a heavier tennis ball significantly slowed down the game and made it easier for a player to use a double handed backhand.

The double hander, as opposed to the single-hander, is a far easier shot to master and is more effective to counter high balls on the backhand side and lefty slice serves out wide.

A player with a double-hander does use a single-hander to hit a slice or to retrieve a very wide ball on the run but a single-hander would never employ a double-hander even if the shot is more beneficial to return high balls above the shoulder.

Despite the dramatic downturn in fortune for the single hander over the years, single handed players like Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and more recently Roger Federer have had tremendous success in the backdrop of the burgeoning double-hander club.

Pete Sampras
Pete Sampras
Stefan Edberg
Stefan Edberg
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However both backhand types are pretty effective in equal measure, if employed with the right technique, as tennis doesn't reward players for aesthetics alone.

At the end of the day, a single hander or a double hander is a matter of individual player preference.

Not surprisingly, Jimmy Connors was the only top ten player with a double handed backhand in the year end 1973 world rankings.

In May 1999, that number improved to three and swelled to nine for large swathes of the late 2000s as Federer was the only player in the top ten to use a single-hander.

Ten years further down the line, the number of double-handers in the top ten is down to seven.

However the 30% prevalence rate of the single-hander in the top ten today is a statistical anomaly and not a microcosm of the shot's prevalence in the top 100.

As on the week starting 5th August 2019, only 16 of the world's top 100 ranked players employ a backhand unaided by the non-playing hand as opposed to 43 single handed players in the top 100 in May 1999.

Let us have a look at this exclusive 'club of 16' in descending order of ranking of the concerned player.


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