‘The one-handed backhand is a dying stroke’ they said.
‘It shouldn’t be taught to juniors’ they said.
‘There’s no place for the one-handed backhand in tennis’ they quipped.
Who are they? I’m sure that’s what you’re thinking. The one-handed backhand has a lot of critics in the sport of tennis and their aversion for the shot is not without its viable rationale. For the better part of a decade, Rafael Nadal reinforced this thought process by absolutely brutalizing Federer’s one-handed backhand. Richard Gasquet didn’t help matters either. He rather solidified the notion that the one-handed backhand had become nothing more than an aesthetically pleasing shot with very little in the way of effectiveness.
As I’ve stated in earlier articles, the one-handed backhand has made a comeback of its own in recent years. The ascension of Stanilas Wawrinka, who has used his overpowering one-handed backhand to batter his way to three grand slams, and the advent of players like Dimitrov and Thiem, show that there is yet a place for this shot in tennis. Perhaps more convincing is what is happening at the Nitto ATP World Tour Finals. In the two groups named after great one-handed backhand players, Pete Sampras and Boris Becker, the two players who find themselves in a position to clinch the top spot in either group are Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov. Talk about irony.
And so it was that Grigor Dimitrov would use his one-handed backhand to carve David Goffin to pieces in a match where the Belgian was slightly hampered by a nagging knee injury he picked up at the French Open. Make no mistake though, Goffin did come to play. Despite his knee injury, he was moving well for most of the match and picked up the level of his game deep into the second set. I’ll wager he could have beat most other players even with his knee injury. However, he was playing a Dimitrov in full flight and I wager the Bulgarian would have defeated a fully healthy Goffin with the way he was playing. His backhand return was particularly lethal, causing the Belgian fits all through the match. He also found success slicing crosscourt with the backhand, pulling Goffin all the way to his left before redirecting the weak response up the line for winners.
This was a clinical display from Dimitrov and it was built around a shot that was a weakness for him when he first burst onto the scene. More impressively, he used his backhand to neutralize a player known to have one of the most solid two-handed backhands in today’s game: David Goffin. And so Dimitrov moves into his final match against Nadal’s substitute, Pablo Carreno-Busta, already qualified for the semifinals of the tournament. David Goffin could still qualify if he manages to defeat Dominic Thiem in the last match of the group stage – no easy feat.
Could Grigor Dimitrov finally be on the ascendancy we’ve all been waiting for? It is a question I have chosen to resist addressing for now. Consistency has never been the Bulgarian’s strong suit. However, when he’s in this sort of form and with that free flowing backhand, his game is a joy to watch. It is effective too.