5 October 2018

One hand or two? Which is more beautiful and which is the best!

When it comes to choosing between a one handed or two handed backhand, Andy Murray says its no contest- two handers win every time. But is it as beautiful? You decide

Earlier this week, Wimbledon took to Instagram to celebrate National Poetry Day “with some of the finest on-handed backhands to grace Wimbledon’s lawn”. Cue the elegance of Henin, Gasquet, Mauresmo, Warwinka and Federer. Andy Murray, however, was having none of it. “I’m here to stick up for two handers,” he replied.

“The one handers are said to be more beautiful, more artistic, poetic etc..but almost all the best backhands in the game are double handers."

In a swift and witty return, Wimbledon created an "ode" to backhanders which was it said,"by popular request (hello@andymurray)."

There was a time when one handed backhands were the only way to play. Then came players like Borg, Connors and Agassi who muscled the two fisted backhand into the modern game. Reliable, consistent and easier to learn, two handed backhands offered control and power and could deal with high bouncing balls. Gradually they forced the single handed shot into retreat and by 2013, former player and veteran coach Brad Gilbert said:

“I think 10 to 15 to 20 years from now, you’ll be shocked to see one.”

In the women's game, they are increasingly hard to spot. Of players in the top 50, you will have to seek out Carla Suárez Navarro or Tatjana Maria to see one in action. 

They do however maintain a magnficient foothold in the men's game with Federer, Warwinka, Gasquet and Dimitrov keeping the shot alive. The crowd loves them for it. As Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’s coach, says they are beautiful to watch "and people are touched by what they find beautiful." But they are also more difficult because there is so much that can go wrong. Indeed, it is precisely because it is so much harder to deal with the power of the incoming ball with one hand that William Skidelsky, author of Federer and me: a story of Obsession, insists the one handed backhand is:

“The stroke of champions…the most thrilling shot in tennis”. Writing in the Indpendent, he called it “a shot for gamblers and swashbucklers. The excitement of watching it stems not just from its inherent elegance but from the knowledge that the player is taking a risk.”

 A piece in the New York Times Magazine agreed, complaining of the “inherent, cramped unloveliness” of a two handed backhand and even going as far as to say the one handed backhand was a happier shot. Pete Sampras said switching from two hands to one on the backhand transformed him "from a grinder to a shot maker" and made playing much more pleasurable. "Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that one-handers bring more joy to a player, if only because they are beautiful, and to hit them well, you have to let them go.”  

Andy Murray, however, has heard it all before.

“Art does not need to be complex. There is beauty in simplicity. Double handers for the win!”