Who has the greatest backhand in the history of tennis? Tennis historian and author Steve Flink throws out his thoughts on the debate ranking the top five men’s and women’s backhands of all time in his new book THE GREATEST TENNIS MATCHES OF ALL TIME, available on Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Greatest-Tennis-Matches-Time/dp/0942257936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354551927&sr=8-1&keywords=greatest+tennis+matches+of+all+time The except of the best backhands is excerpted below.
1. DON BUDGE When he captured the Grand Slam in 1938—the first player ever to realize that feat—Budge had it all, but the single biggest strength in his game was his majestic backhand. Most of those players who preceded Budge at the top of tennis were better off the forehand, but his backhand was the first of its kind. His aggressiveness off that side was ground breaking in many ways. He drove the backhand essentially flat and all students of the game marveled at its magical simplicity.
2. KEN ROSEWALL The diminutive Australian’s backhand was legendary. He prepared early, turned his shoulders unfailingly, kept his eyes glued to the ball, but, most significantly, Rosewall’s backhand was a slice. Across the history of tennis, many slice backhands have been used primarily for defensive purposes, but not Rosewall’s. His slice backhand worked in every way: as a rally shot, as a passing shot, for the lob, and on the return of serve. It was multi-faceted. It was incredibly versatile. And above all else, it was unmistakably elegant.
3. JIMMY CONNORS Watching Connors launch into one of his two-handed backhand drives was one of the great joys for all erudite observers from the early seventies until the outset of the 1990’s. Connors retained the old fashioned flavor of a flat, one-handed backhand, producing flat and penetrating two-handers of unrelenting depth and immense power, yet gaining stability with his right hand. His backhand was the picture of purity. It was his signature shot.
4. NOVAK DJOKOVIC A mesmerizing athlete, Djokovic can be forced well off the court by wide balls to his two-handed backhand and still recover in time to play the shot with assertiveness and astounding control. He returns with unswerving authority off that side, and in long rallies from the baseline, his two-hander is rock solid. Djokovic finds just the right blend of flat and topspin shots with his two-handed backhand. This shot made him the great champion he became.
5. LEW HOAD and GUSTAVO KUERTEN One match away from winning the Grand Slam in 1956, Hoad at the height of his powers was impenetrable. The gifted Australian had every shot in the book, could perform brilliantly on any surface and was universally admired for his immense talent. Off the ground, his one-handed backhand was widely appreciated. He drove through the ball with an essentially flat stroke and was lethal off that side. To be sure, he was a streaky player, but when he was on, there was nothing he could not do on a tennis court, including cracking the backhand mightily. Kuerten’s one-handed backhand was the cornerstone of his game—a majestic, sweepingly beautiful, fluid, one handed stroke that carried him to three French Open crowns. Kuerten sparkled off that side, hitting winners at will, driving the ball both crosscourt and down the line with extraordinary pace and minimal topspin. His backhand was singularly inspiring in its time.
1. CHRIS EVERT While both Connors and Borg made substantial contributions toward the cause of the two-handed backhand, it is safe to say that Evert’s impact was larger. Her success charted a new course for women’s tennis and the two-hander became a staple. But that did not mean it was easy to replicate the geometric precision of her backhand. The daughter of an outstanding teaching professional named Jimmy Evert, she worked diligently on her two-hander. It was the shot that never deserted her across the years. In rallies, her depth was unmatchable and she seldom missed. Her returns were crisp and solid and her passing shots were unimaginably precise and unerring. Meanwhile, the topspin lob was always at her disposal. In my book, the Evert backhand was the best in the history of women’s tennis and the precursor for so many great two-handers to replicate.
2. MONICA SELES Just as Djokovic broke new ground by taming the Rafael Nadal forehand with his backhand, Seles did essentially the same thing with her lefty two-handed backhand against Graf. The German always was more comfortable running around her backhand to play the inside-out forehand, but if you could keep her pinned deep in her forehand corner, she was not able to control rallies in the same manner. Seles forced Graf to do that by virtue of the depth and speed of her two-handed backhand crosscourt, forcing Graf back on her heels. That was no mean feat. The Seles backhand was immaculately executed.
3. JUSTINE HENIN The Belgian brought an awful lot to the table of competition. She was a complete player with all of the tools to succeed in her trade. Yet her one-handed topspin backhand was her trademark. Henin’s backhand was sweepingly beautiful, a spectator’s dream, an opponent’s nightmare. She was willing to miss off that side because her goal was to make things happen off the backhand, and, if that meant making some aggressive errors, so be it. But she more than balanced the scales by sprinkling the court with clusters of topspin backhand winners, going down the line or crosscourt, long or short.
4. LINDSAY DAVENPORT At nearly 6’3,” Davenport was an imposing physical presence on a tennis court. Over the years, she became decidedly better as a tennis player and athlete by losing weight, gaining momentum in the process. Across time, her two-handed backhand was strikingly effective, particularly crosscourt. She kept it uncomplicated, going for one deep, penetrating and flat shot after another until she could break down the defenses of her adversaries.
5. EVONNE GOOLAGONG The Australian often looked like a ballerina on tennis court, but never more so than on the backhand side. She was very flexible, using the slice backhand to keep herself in rallies, raising the tempo whenever she saw an opening to release her glorious topspin backhand. She did not have to think when she hit a backhand— it was all flowing and instinctive. The Goolagong backhand remains frozen in the minds of tennis fans everywhere.