The top men tennis players from the United States are getting better, but there is something holding all of them from challenging for the number one spot. That something is the woeful backhand.
Serve and forehand, but…
From John Isner to Jack Sock, the top men follow the classic American formula of a strong serve and a huge forehand. This style can get you so far, but at the very top, the backhand needs to be more than just a ‘keep it in play’ stroke.
The recipe to beat Isner is to get his rocket serve back and hit to his backhand. Sock’s serve is very strong and his forehand is deadly, but it’s the same game plan. Get to the backhand.
The Big 4
The big four have shown that a more rounded game is what’s necessary to be the number one player. Even Roger Federer, whose backhand used to be a liability, has turned that stroke into a point maker. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray have shown that their two-handed backhands are the great compliments to a forceful forehand.
Of course, there is always an exception and that is Juan Martin Del Potro. The currently ranked no. 4 has a backhand that is not consistently a weapon, but his forehand, maybe the best of the bunch, more than makes up for the backhand.
Why the problem
The weak American backhands are more than just a mechanical flaw, it’s also a strategy problem. Sock will run so far around to hit his massive forehand that he is outside the double’s alley. If the forehand isn’t an outright winner, the whole court is open.
Many of the other top U.S. men have the same issue. Sam Querry’s backhand is maybe the best but it’s not consistent enough and Stevie Johnson relies solely on a slice backhand. Neither will cut it when trying to break into the top rankings.
When the up and coming players like Frances Tiafoe show the same ‘fear hand’ and the ‘not to my’ backhand, one wonders if it is a training method used by the USTA. Some of the younger players like Taylor Fritz are showing signs of decent backhands but that yet to be proven.
American men tennis players are in and all around the top ten. It will take more than just a good backhand to be a threat for the top spot, but it would be a good start.
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