Sometimes in Tennis, One Hand is Still Better Than Two

Gunter Bresnik, who coaches Thiem, agrees that the shot will continue to have its place, and he played a major role in the process by switching Thiem from a two-hander to a one-hander.

Unlike Tsitsipas, Thiem was not given much of a choice. Bresnik began coaching Thiem when he was 9, but ultimately decided that Thiem’s two-hander was going to prevent him from becoming a great player in the long run by encouraging him to remain too defensive.

“He was 12, and I decided to change it, and for one year, his results went down,” Bresnik said. “He went from like No. 3 in Austria to like 13 or 14, and then he came back the next year and started winning everything.”

Pete Fischer, one of Sampras’s boyhood coaches, convinced Sampras when he was 14 to abandon his fine two-hander. Fischer’s goal was for Sampras to play more effective attacking tennis: players with one-handed backhands can often make a more seamless move to the net, where backhand volleys are hit with one hand. After struggling to adjust, like Thiem, Sampras went on to win 14 Grand Slam singles titles, including seven at Wimbledon.

Skeptics could argue that Sampras’s strongest groundstroke was still his forehand, much as it is for Federer, Thiem, Dimitrov and, it appears, for Tsitsipas and Shapovalov. Could they all have been better? A two-handed backhand would have allowed them to produce more consistent power off returns and balls struck above shoulder height and to better compensate on off-center hits.

Perhaps, but tennis is not a beauty contest, even if beauty can certainly help secure sponsorship. The one-hander is surviving in the men’s game because it is an effective option and if there is ever a genuine revival of net play or serve-and-volley play in singles, it could become an even more effective option.

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