The double-handed backhand: dominatrix of women’s tennis
I read with interest in USA Today, June 25, 2008, an article entitled, “Women’s one-handed backhand becomes mostly a dropped shot.” The article points out there are 7 women players in the top 100 that have a one-handed backhand and the highest ranked is Francesca Shiavone (20th). The ages of these seven players features one 19-year-old and the remainder are between 25 and 34. The precocious retirement of Justine Henin took out the only bona fide champion with a single hand backhand (and a beautiful one at that). A few women have a single-handed slice backhand (Ana Ivanovic, for example). However, the game, its style and creativity, seem to have run the single-handed backhand out of the system. Evidently, the Eastern European machine is fabricating top class double-handed backhanders (Serbia and Russia together own 7 of the top 10 slots). Kudos meanwhile to the Williams sisters for penetrating into that fold and dominating Wimbledon...again. Too bad Serena wasn’t named Mars though. How much more fun would it be to see Venus facing off against Mars? As we know, Mars never dominates Venus.
As much as the double-fisted Jimmy Connors was exciting to watch in the 1970s and 1980s, a double handed backhand in men’s tennis is common currency today–if not the norm as well (13 of the top 20 in the ATP men’s ranking today have a double-handed backhand). There are still many single-handed backhanders in men’s tennis, including Federer’s; but, trailing Roger in the rankings are six straight double-handers. If it is a less common site in men’s tennis, a “beautiful” [single-handed] backhand has become an exceptional thing to see in women’s tennis.
As a single-handed backhander, I feel nostalgia for the era when single double-handed backhands and net games were common, since it was also when the game was far more varied in style and creativity. Is it possible that tennis, like music, needs some good old fashioned bases? For tennis’ sake, the game will need to find an edge to keep the larger public interested. The general elimination of net and finesse players is doing tennis a great disservice. The thumping 2001 Wimbledon men’s final between Goran Ivanisevic and Patrick Rafter (38 aces and lots of net action) seems to be in the distant past. I, for one, now watch much less professional tennis (would rather be playing, yes). Maybe the uncovering of the [oh so evident] doping among the top players (read: Nadal in particular) will help stem the tide of power. What else can be done? Change the rules? Make the balls lighter?