The State of the One-Handed Backhand

Don’t write the eulogy just yet. The one-handed backhand isn’t the common sight that it used to be, but there are still plenty of them out there.  When the current generation retires, however, we might have an endangered species on our hands.  Here’s a quick look at the prevalence of the one-hander in today’s men’s game.

About 1 in 5 players (62 of the top 300) at the ATP and Challenger level use a one-handed backhand.  To focus more narrowly: 10 of the top 50, 14 of those ranked 51-100, 13 from 101 to 150, 9 between 151 and 200, and 8 each in ranges 201-250 and 251-300.

One-handed backhands are slightly more popular among righties than lefties.  Among the top 200, there are 28 lefties, six of whom (21.4%) have one-handers.   That compares to 23.3% among righties.

When we split the top 300 into quartiles by age, a distinct preference appears.  About 30% of the oldest half of the top 300 (those born in 1986 or before) use one-handed backhands: 23 of the oldest 75 and 22 of the next-oldest quartile.  Of the second-youngest quartile–those born between the beginning of 1987 and July 1989, there are only 10 one-handers, or 13.3%.  The youngest quartile is bleakest, with only seven one-handers among the 75 players. Six of the seven are Europeans, including the youngest man in the top 300Dominic Thiem. The only non-European is the American Daniel Kosakowski.

To summarize more concisely if a bit less dramatically, the average age of those with one-handed backhands in the top 300 is 28 years, 63 days, while the average age of two-handers is 26 years, 103 days.  Given the number of second tier players clustered in the late-20s range, that is a bigger difference than it might sound.

Last year there were 137 matches at the ATP level between two players with one-handed backhands.  At all 137 of those matches, someone was heard to say, “Two one-handed backhands! You don’t see that much anymore.”

One thought on “The State of the One-Handed Backhand”

  1. As someone who has coached and switched from two hands to one (in my 20s) this is interesting reading. Unfortunately, the dominance of the two hander has another impact – that of players imitating and coaches coaching the two hander. One coach I know gets all his kids to play with a two hander, whatever they come with. When Federer finally hangs up his racket, unless another one hander comes to prominence in the top five, it will be probably result in a greater impact, given his influence as a role model.

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