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Is The One-Handed Backhand Going Extinct? Maybe, But It Still Inspires Awe
4 Min Read · March 10, 2024

Three one-handed backhand warriors tell why they are proud to carry the torch

They are the last of a dying breed. They eschew the machine-like precision of modernity and opt for the aesthetically pleasing poetry of yesteryear. 

Think poetry. Dance. Shadows, light and magic. Think Matadors wielding the mighty sword beneath the burning bronze sphere of the endless summer sun. 

To clarify: we’re talking about backhands, and not your typical, run-of-the-mill two-handers. We’re talking about the one-handed backhand, an endangered – but beloved – species. 


When news broke on Feb. 19, 2024 that there wasn’t a single player inside the ATP’s Top 10 with a one-handed backhand for the first time since the ATP rankings were created in 1973, alarm bells started ringing. 

There are just 10 men who employ the one-hander (or one-y) in the Top 100. Can it be saved so that future generations can enjoy it, or is its fate already determined? 

“For now, we're holding the fort, let's just put it that way,” said World No. 13 Grigor Dimitrov, who is one of four one-hand wielding players to have reached the third round at this year’s BNP Paribas Open. “For sure I'm counting on every guy that's still out there with one hand to keep on pushing and playing for that. Of course, I will probably be the biggest supporter of that shot.” 

Dimitrov, 32, hits a dreamy one-hander that would be right at home in the Bolshoi Ballet, but what happens when players his age have retired? Who will be left to hold the fort then? 

“When it comes to a different generation, yeah, we're going to see less and less,” he said. “I feel like the game has changed so much. It has evolved, of course, and I think from generation to generation, the players traditionally have changed a lot. You see them stronger, bigger, so you need that extra help [that the two-hander provides].”

But there is no denying the beauty of the one-hander. In tennis circles, the die-hards swoon over it. It turns out that so do the players. 

France's Diane Parry shows off her one-handed backhand during her second round match Saturday.

France’s Diane Parry, one of three WTA players with a one-handed backhand inside the Top 100 – and the only woman in the third round at Indian Wells to employ the shot – takes immense pleasure in being one of the few. 

“I'm proud, because it differentiates me a little bit from the others,” she said. “I don't like to be like everyone else. I also like doing different things on the court.” 

The 21-year-old Frenchwoman hits the shot beautifully, much like the great Roger Federer, whom she calls an idol. World No. 61 Parry switched to the one-hander when she was 12 years old because she adored Federer and because her coach also hit the shot. He told her to try it at some small tournaments and once she did, she never went back. 

“Federer has always been my idol, and I always found the one-hander beautiful,” she said. “It wasn't easy [to switch], but in any case I had fun doing it and so I wanted to keep it, and then it stayed like that.” 

Parry and her fellow young gun Lorenzo Musetti of Italy, who is 22, could be the torch bearers for the single-handed backhand in the years to come. 

Musetti, who learned the one-hander from the minute he picked up the racquet as a kid, also loves the artistry of the shot. 

“I’m kind of proud to be one of the last one-handed backhands on tour,” he said on Saturday after taking down Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in a rare battle of one-handers. 

Musetti says that two-handed backhands have an advantage when it comes to absorbing pace and returning big serves, but he still believes in the irresistible beauty of the one-hander. 

“I know that probably in the aesthetic part it’s probably a little more beautiful, but at the end of the day a lot of players, they don’t care about the aesthetic part and they like what they need to win,” he said. 

There is that glaring reality, however, and it hurts. The fact that it’s easier to win with the two-hander. 

“It's a bit tougher to return serve with a one-y,” said 2022 BNP Paribas Open champion Taylor Fritz, who hits the two-handed like 90% of the Top 100. “I think pretty much most of tennis is serve and return – the two most important parts of the game.” 

Sure, it’s a more stable, and more reliable shot. But that makes the quest of our one-handed warriors even more inspiring, doesn’t it? 

“I think the beauty of the one hand is just that there's so much to it in order to hit the ball right with one hand,” Dimitrov said, adding: “It starts with the timing, looking at the ball, the swing, the height. Oh, there's a ton. I think every time you try to hit that shot and you make it, the feeling is, I mean, simply stunning for me.” 

We asked Parry if she would enjoy playing the sport as much if she hit the two-hander. At first she balked at the question. Then she had to admit: 

“Maybe a little less because the single-hander gives me pleasure when it goes well, when I’m hitting a lot of winners with it. It is a little something extra, so I would say maybe a little less.”

Long live the one-y! 

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