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TennisOne Lessons

Richard Gasquet and the One-Handed Backhand

Jim McLennan

Richard Gasquet faced Jerzy Janowicz in 3rd round action at the BNP Paribas Open. Gasquet is coming off a very fast start to the 2013 season, having won titles in Montpellier and Doha. An experienced Frenchman, Richard is currently ranked 10th in the world, having earned in excess of $7 million on the tour, now in his 11th year as a professional. Interestingly, he was the number one ranked junior in 2002 with junior titles at Roland Garros and the US Open.

The 6’8” Janowicz is ranked 24th in the world, but at this same time in 2012 he was ranked 213th. He shot up the rankings largely with his results at the 2012 World Masters 1000 in Paris where he reached the finals beating Kohlschreiber, Cilic, Murray, Tipsarevic, and Simon before losing to Ferrer. Interestingly, it may be that his serve holds up much better indoors, as we will see in the match stats, for this match did not feature the same Jerzy the guys faced in Paris.

Click photo: Jim McLennan

Richard jumped out to a fast and imposing start. Simply keeping the ball deep, retrieving well, winning a surprising 100% of the points played on his first serve, Jerzy was not really in the match at this point. The second set was closer, Richard breaking Jerzy’s serve in the all important 7th game courtesy of a double fault and some loose play.

As always the stats confirm the story:

  • Break points saved — Richard was 2 for 2, Jerzy was 4 for 7
  • First serve percentage — Richard 64% to Jerzy serving at 41%

Basic tennis is about getting your first serve in play, as well as on the receiving end getting the return in play — on that score Jerzy was remarkably low, winning just 12% of the points against the confident Frenchman’s first delivery.


But what about the one-handed backhand. In the past years we have had a lively debate about the pros and cons of the one and two-handed backhand. At this end, I suspect the two-hander may be more useful when returning serve (think Djokovic or Agassi) and certainly a defensive one-handed under spin return (think Federer) may not be the most forceful way to return serve. On the other hand, one-handers appear to play with more variety and fluency, and this stroke generally enables those players to volley with much more confidence.

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In this first series note how each of the guys shift to the backhand grip as they begin their preparation — and in each case the move is Up and Back. Further the take back (as it were) is done with the shoulder turn, this is in no way “racquet back.”

That said Richard drives the ball with impeccable form. In the mold of Almagro, Haas, or even Federer — Richard can and does chip the ball in some instances, but in the main he rockets the ball off his backhand wing.

Classic mechanical elements include the following — and if you are working on your one-hander please read carefully and determine if you can check off the following elements.

  • Eastern backhand grip — not the continental
  • Full shoulder turn when preparing
  • Weight poised on the back foot
  • Stroke begins with a step into the ball followed by a strong leg drive
  • The racquet swoops beneath the ball and finishes up — well up
  • The follow reminds us of the original topspin one-hander of Rocket Rod Laver

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Here the players drop done into the "slot" and are fully prepared and ready to fire. Note again in each case the racquet is well up the elbows are bent (to varying degrees) and the back foot is fully weighted. This stroke does begin with a “stepping in” sounds old fashioned doesn’t it. And with the step, the racquet begins it’s downward descent in a swooping motion accelerating quickly to get under the ball.

If you want to revisit the nuts and bolts of the one-hander, try the following. My childhood coach required that on all drop hits, when anyone asked, “Ball please,” that I set a full eastern backhand grip and shoot the ball to the opponent/partner. Every darn time! You will find in a few months if not weeks that you will gain confidence and feel in this classically beautiful shot.

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In the third series the players are nearing contact. In each case the racquet head is beneath their hitting hand, said another way, in each case the shaft of the racquet is pointing up and at the ball. They have stepped in and are now grounded on their front leg. This is clearly the position through with players swing inside out. Note that the ram is straight through contact and how darn far in front the guys meet the ball. Underspin backhands can be played later, almost at their side, but for this topspin stroke the contact is well in front. Finally the high racquet finish, classic for sure, reminds me always of Rod Laver

Are there nuances between these four players? Absolutely. Truly there are many ways to hit the ball, sometimes with more legs, other times with perhaps slightly later points of contact. And within these videos we have no way to know the nature of the incoming shots and how they might have differed from one player to another. Further this stroke can be used in defensive, neutral, or offensive situations depending on the opponent’s positioning and the length and difficulty of the incoming ball.

Among these my favorite is always Roger, but certainly each of these players represent outstanding form, worthy of your study and emulation.

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