The best backhand ever?

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by theagassiman, Mar 17, 2009.

  1. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    I've seen Laver hit backhand with great speed but obviously I don't have a way to measure the speed. Clips aren't bad to see but as I wrote in a post earlier even John Newcombe thought Rod Laver hit the best backhand return he had ever seen in the second point of the 1973 Davis Cup doubles. I did see it on television and the point was over in a blink.

    Here's a post I wrote earlier with parts from John Newcombe's book Newk.

     
    Last edited: May 28, 2011
  2. piece

    piece Professional

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    That's cool that you actually saw that shot. It gets brought up fairly often around here.

    I'm not saying that Laver couldn't hit as hard on occasion as Djokovic did in that clip - especially off a return. I just don't think the videos limpinhitter posted include backhands that are comparable in speed to that one Djokovic hit.
     
  3. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    I edited my previous post to included the Newcombe comment. Check it out.

    Frankly I agree with you the average groundstroke speed nowadays is faster than in the past but remember it's harder to hit heavy topspin with the older smaller wood racquets. The players want to keep the ball in play and trying heavy topspin with wood with tend for a player to make errors unless you're Borg or Vilas. Laver hit topspin most of the time on his forehand but his usual backhand was slice from the baseline but he was able to hit with great speed on his topspin backhand. It's hard to really check clips out too and know the real strength of a player or shot. Some people have made highlight clips of Federer's backhand and you would think from the clips all Federer does on the backhand is drive the backhand for winners. That's obviously not true either. But we can see at least the type of stroke the player uses and perhaps we can see how efficient the stroke is.

    Here's a video from the Laver-Connors challenge match that I think is fair for both Laver and Connors on the type of backhands they had.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SptdffCeVmM

    Here's Laver-Ashe. Nice backhands here also by both.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43csIDKmkMk
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2011
  4. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    There was a better video of that Laver/Ashe match up on YouTube a while back. I think it belonged to Krosero. I don't know what happened to it. Anyway, the angled slice return that Laver hits at about 7:35 is pretty sick, even moreso for a guy who was 5'8". Laver was known for those kinds of angles. I once heard a commentator refer to a similar shot as "strictly Laverian."
     
  5. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    That was one of laver´s abilites, the ability to play the most unexpected shot at the most unexpected moment, and made a terrific transiction from attack to defesne and the other way back.amatter of wrist, extreme talent, but mostly, mind and self confidence
     
  6. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    When I first made the Laver-Ashe clip and posted it to YouTube, there was a flurry of activity on these boards about it -- not so much here but actually in the General Pro section. As I recall some posters were stunned that players back in 1969 could hit so hard. I was a bit surprised by the reaction because I did not know what people thought, one way or another, about how much pace there was in most days. I wasn't even thinking about that question, and I only made the clip because some posters in Former Pro were saying great things about that match. Personally I thought the Laver-Newcombe final that year (which Limpinhitter gave the link to above) was a more interesting match.

    But, Laver-Ashe did feature a lot of power, and that got some attention on this board.

    And I should include myself among those who were surprised. I found Laver-Ashe a few years, and while the power in and of itself did not surprise me for a match from that time period, I was surprised to find out that Rod Laver was a player who constantly went for winners. In other words, I guess you could call him a "power hitter" to use a phrase from today. I had heard that people like Vines or Hoad were known for hitting winners and for hitting with great pace, but Laver did surprise me.
     
  7. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    That's why they called him "The Rocket." He was the biggest hitter ever with a wood racquet, and he went for winners relentlessly, for better or worse. I can only imagin what Laver could have done with a modern frame. I also saw Budge play several practice sets against his D1 coaches at the age of 59. That's when I learned the lesson that current players aren't necessarily better than the greats of the past.

    Having seen Ashe and Laver play in their primes, I knew they could rip the ball. (I saw Rosewall beat Ashe in an exhibition match after an ABA basketball game on wood. Rosewall won the match and just seemed totally unfazed by Ashe's power. I guess he was used to Hoad and Laver). So, what happened to that Laver-Ashe match you posted? That was a much better quality video than the one still up on YouTube.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2011
  8. piece

    piece Professional

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    I think I remember one of the threads posted about it. There was a poster claiming that modern players wouldn't stand a chance against the power of the guys from the late 60s, or something to that effect.

    It was a hell of a video, if I remember it right,
     
  9. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Sorry about the video but it got taken down.
     
  10. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    I believe that Hopman nicknamed Laver "The Rocket" as an element of Australian sarcasm, not to characterize his power hitting.

    Same thing was true of Rosewall being nicknamed "Muscles"--not because he had huge muscles.
     
  11. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Hoodjem,

    Did you have a list of the best Women's backhands? If not I'll nominate a few.

    Chris Evert
    Evonne Goolagong
    Billie Jean King
    Justine Henin
    Kim Clijsters
    Serena Williams
    Maureen Connolly
    Suzanne Lenglen
    Pauline Betz
    Monica Seles
    Martina Hingis
    Tracy Austin

    My number one would be Chris Evert.
     
  12. slice bh compliment

    slice bh compliment G.O.A.T.

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    I usually don't like two handed BHs, but...props to Djokovic, Safin and Rios. Wilander could thread some needles with the BH passes, too.

    I love the players of the past, like Budge, Hoad, Laver and Rosewall, but my favorite BHs came offf the frames of Becker, Edberg, Stich and Guga.

    In the end, I think the best backhand right now is the best backhand ever. N. Djokovic.
     
  13. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    Urban legend! It wouldn't surprise me if something so ridiculous originated here on TT! Laver was called the rocket because he smoked the ball! He was always a huge hitter even in juniors.

    PS: I think you are confusing sarcasm with irony. In short, sarcasm is nastiness. Saying the opposite of what you mean is one example of irony.

    Yes, someone on TT once wrote that Hoppman calling Laver The Rocket was an ironic reference to his lack of court speed. Other than the fact that Laver was one of the quickest players who ever played, making such a premise utterly preposterous, I'm pretty sure the nickname "The Rocket" started when Laver was in juniors, before he even met Hoppman.

    If you can cite a reference to the contrary, please do.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2011
  14. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

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    See this: http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/rod-laver-2447.html

    See: http://www.all-about-tennis.com/rod-laver.html

    Interesting Collins article on Laver, but it doesn't contain the reason as to why he was nicknamed "The Rocket":
    http://www.budcollinstennis.com/?p=1073#more-1073

    YET, this artlcle from Bud Collins does in fact support Hoodjem's view on this LH:

    http://www.budcollinstennis.com/?p=482#more-482

     
  15. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    Imo the Rocket reference simply has somewhat to do with Lavers hometown, Rockhampton, Queensland. Ashe wrote, that the astonishing thing was, that the Aussies actually called Laver Rocket all the time. The Aussies often used some interesting nicknames, including Nails (Carmichael) or Snake (Case) or Fiery (Stolle).
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2011
  16. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    :mrgreen:
    OK, your citations contain conflicting stories about the origination of Laver's nickname. Read carefully, they also confirm that Hoppman didn't coach Laver until he joined the Aussie Davis Cup team, after Laver won the U.S. and Aussie National Junior championships. Now tell me, do you think Laver won those junior championships by being slow? Pushing the ball? Think about it! Or do you think Laver's junior game was a precursor to his World class game: speed, athleticism and power?

    Here are some excerpts from Rod Laver's Tennis Digest (1973), from an article entitled "The Rod Laver Game," by Julius Heldman, pg. 149, which confirms everyting I witnessed when I saw Laver play on several occasions. I hope you find it interesting.

    "He is the only man today who can go through the last rounds of a major international tournament without dropping a set because he is the only player who can literally crush the opposition with his power."

    * * *

    "Rod swings at everything hard and fast. His timing, eye and wrist action are nothing short of miraculous. On either side, forehand or backhand, he takes a full roundhouse-loop crack at the ball, which comes back so hard it can knock the racket out of your hand. [An example can be seen in the Laver/Roche match at the 1969 AO SF which can be found on YouTube]. I saw Rod play Osuna in the semifinal at Forest Hills in 1962. It was murder. In the last game, Rafe bravely served and ran for the net. Rod cracked a backhand back full speed, free swing, so hard that Rafe's racket wavered in his hand. Not so amazing perhaps, but, the same scene was repeated four points in a row. Rod literally knocked Osuna down with four successive returns of serve, and Osuna was one of the quickest and best racket-handlers who ever played." [As was Roche].

    * * *

    "On the backhand side, Laver often uses a heavy underspin. Most players who come under the ball slow it up. Not so Rod; he is always moving in and hitting so hard that the shot is deep and attacking and has unusual pace. He often takes high backhands this way, but, he is just as liable to come over the ball with a tremendous wallop, ending with wrist turning the racket head over and the ball going with incredible speed and accuracy."

    "From the ground, about the only shot that Rod does not clobber is a forehand underspin chip. I don't recall his using the shot much or at all when he was younger, but, as he matured he began occasionally to hold the ball on his racket with some underspin and place it carefully while he ran for the net. But, the next time he would literally jump and throw his racket at the ball with all the force he could muster, wrist and arm smapping over at the hit. The shot is unreturnable. It always ends the point, one way or the other, and you can never predict when lightning will strike, although you know it will be often."

    "Volleying in top international tennis is more than technical proficiency. Rod is not a great low volleyer, but, he is merciless when he gets half a chance. He is competent on low balls . . . but he will cream any ball at waist level or higher. As time goes on, Laver takes fewer unecessary big swings at set-up high put-aways; he taps or punches them away. But, if he needs to, he can and does hit high volleys with all of his might as swinging drives or, on his backhand, sharp underspin angles as well. It is hard to believe a ball can be hit that hard and with that much angle, but Rod does it. No wonder he is the terror of all opponents."

    "There is not an Aussie netrusher who does not have a great overhead to back his attack. Otherwise he would be lobbed to death. Rod has one of the best, quite flat, angled to his left sharply by preference but capable of being placed anywhere. While Rod is not tall, he is agile and leaps well and is hard to lob over. What is worse, if you do get a lob over him, he will run it down and, with a powerful stiff wrist, rifle a full loop past his helpless opponent. This happens so often that players have begun to say that they prefer to lob short to Rod, at least on his backhand. Actually, if Laver has a weakness, it is on his backhand overhead, on which he does err, but in a way that is silly: how are you going to get in position to play that shot to Rod often?"

    * * *
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2011
  17. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    From "The Education of a Tennis Player" by Rod Laver and Bud Collin--page35-After a couple of days, Hop remarked, "You're the Rockhampton Rocket, aren't you?" "Rocket" struck. Since it's from Laver, I would believe this.
     
  18. slice bh compliment

    slice bh compliment G.O.A.T.

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    ^Yes. The Rockhampton Rocket. urban remembers it well. pc1, too.

    I am younger, I guess, but I loved Laver from the books and the old films.

    I remember seeing him play the Almaden Grand Champions tour. The man was still quick and incredibly strong. I am still, to this day, inspired by his perfect, clean strokes and that swinging one-handed topspin BH volley on the way in. One of the best BHs of all time, and well-deserving of a mention in this thread.

    I know the term, 'game-changer' is a little overused, but....that's how I feel about Laver. Just the dominance. The talent. The hard-work. The flair. He was so many different great players rolled into one.

    One of my friends' parents came back from a long weekend at Laver's in FL years ago. Brought me back a tee shirt. I loved that thing. Wore it everywhere and wore it out.

    I'd wear one today if I had one.
     
  19. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    Yes! The "hard work" is something that is often not mentioned with players of Laver's talent. From what I've read about the 60's Aussies, especially Laver and Emmo, they worked as hard at their conditioning and practice as any player today.
     
  20. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    Perhaps! But, to add that it was ironic is irreconcilable with the reality of Laver's speed and power.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2011
  21. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    The Julius Heldman article, Limpinhitter cites here, is imo one of the best descriptions on Lavers style, i have found. Some time ago, i put it in the Wikipedia article together with descriptions of Dan Maskell and Rex Bellamy. Heldmans article was new edited in the Book The Tennis Set, by Carryl Phillips. I think Heldman (obviously the husband of Gladys) wrote also some worthy articles on Gonzalez and Kramer in the Fireside Book of Tennis, edited by Allison Danzig.
     
  22. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    I just typed those excerpts directly from my copy that I bought the same year I first saw Laver play. Julius Heldman is also the father of former top 5 pro, Julie Heldman, and the founder of World Tennis Magazine, the publisher of Rod Laver's Tennis Digest (1973).
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2011
  23. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    Thanks for the information. I bought the Rod Laver Tennis Digest some time ago on the internet, but it was the 2nd edition, and didn't contain the Heldman article anymore.
     
  24. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

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    Yes, LH, I put the conflicting views there on purpose to cite the conflicting opinions floating around. Yet, the article from Bud Collins himself can't be dismissed very easily. I do think the fact that he's from Rockhampton, Australia has to have played a role in the formation of his nickname. That would be too much of a coincidence in my view. That makes sense to me. I do agree that the nicname does describe Laver's play to a T though. The guy could hit rockets and could move like a rocket, no doubt about that. Yet, as to the derivation of his nickname, it must be considered that perhaps the fact that:

    (1) He was from Rockhampton and
    (2) Perhaps when he was very young, he was not as fast as he would later become (as the Collins article points out here: http://www.budcollinstennis.com/?p=482#more-482)

    were both reasons for the nickname they chose for him.

    I have a hard time believing that the Collins article could be that off, but perhaps I'm mistaken. It could very well be only one of these possibilities we have discussed, or it could be a combination of the fact that (1) is true and then they built on that and then came up with "Rocket" which fit. Just my two cents.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2011
  25. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    I stand (or sit) corrected. You are quite right.

    "irony -a : the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning"

    I believe that Hopman was being ironic.

    I do not dispute that Laver was very, very quick and had hugely powerful strokes. I certainly endorse that opinion.

    I think Hop's comment was about Laver's less than speedy motivation when he was younger.
     
  26. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    Yes, it seems that most people use the word "sarcastic" when they mean "ironic." I don't know how or why that confusion got started.

    That's possible. But, despite what Collins or anyone else might have implied or made allusions to, given how hard Laver hit and how relentless he was about it in juniors and his early men's division play, I'm pretty sure it's a reference to how hard Laver hit. If Hoppman was being ironic about Laver's speed or power, he'd have called him something like slowpoke or powderpuff.
     
  27. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Thanks for typing out those Heldman excerpts, Limpin. Very interesting first-hand observations of Laver's game.
     
  28. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    And "Muscles"?
     
  29. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    THAT is most likely an ironic allusion to his size! Or, maybe it was a tribute to the fact that he was such a muscular competitor. ;)
     
  30. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    I am not 100% sure but I recall in his biography, Laver says that, when he arrived into the junior tennis squad, he was the slower guy and Hopman, to motivate and thrill him called him "Rocket".
     
  31. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Now, you're being ironic.:)
     
  32. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    Sooooo, where are all the kiddies who were teetering on the verge of declaring Djokovic's backhand the new greatest backhand of all time, just last week? They were ready to jump. They wanted a new hero to worship soooo baaaad you could smell it, taste it. But, that was last week. Where are they now?

    Djoko is so . . . last week. Nehhhxt! Hahahahahaha!

    PS: Unless he wins Wimbledon. Then he'll be back on the kiddie radar.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2011
  33. chrischris

    chrischris Hall of Fame

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    Federers .
    He can do so many great things with it.
    Block , dampen hard serves deep and to the corners if he wants to. Roddick knows about that :)
    He can drive it x-court and down the line. he can flick it on the run with his wrist to create passing shots form heaven . he can drop shot opponents silly. And his backhand volley and backhand smash are the best IMO.
     
  34. zagor

    zagor Talk Tennis Guru

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    One match doesn't change that much,I still think Novak has one of the best BHs I've ever seen.He doesn't have to be a freakin GOAT candidate for one of his shots to be considered among the greatest.

    We'll talk after the final on Sunday.
     
  35. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    The difference between one of the greatest backhands you've ever seen, and one of the greatest backhands of all time, can be enormous depending on how many of the greatest backhands of all time you have seen.

    Sunday is irrelevant. Neither Fed nor Ralph posses an all time great backhand, IMO.
     
  36. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    You forgot SHANK!

    PS: Wait, you didn't say Fed's backhand volley and smash are "the best." Bahahahahaha! OMG! That's just hilarious!
     
  37. zagor

    zagor Talk Tennis Guru

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    So do you personally rank Novak's BH among the best then? I have only watched 90s and 2000s.

    It's relevant in the sense that if Fed had one of the greatest BH of all time he would not lose a final against Nadal primarily because of that shot.Put an inform Guga in front of Nadal and I guarantee he would have not been able to abuse it nearly as much(if at all).
     
  38. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    I don't. It's a great shot. So is his FH. But, neither are all time greats, IMO. His athleticism and court speed is closer to all time great than his shot making. His mental toughness is also up there. He's playing in an era with two of the mentally toughest players of all time, Fed and Ralph. Only Borg was mentally tougher than those two. And Borg was burnt by age 26.


    OK! I agree that Fed's backhand is his weakness and that Ralph has been able to exploit it more than he has Djokovic's BH. But, that doesn't make either of their BH's all time greats. They're just not, IMO.

    I'd would have loved to see if Ralph would have started winning FO's as early as he did if Kuerten had remained healthy. I'm tempted to say that Kuerten would have won a few more FO's and Ralph a few less. Oh well. No doubt about one thing though, Kuerten's BH was an all time great. Top 10 for sure. Maybe top 5. His FH was pretty close too.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2011
  39. President

    President Legend

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    Are you arguing that Djokovic's backhand shouldn't be on this list at all? Because I am certain that it is better than quite a few of these, maybe not necessarily top 10 all time but somewhere on the list.
     
  40. TMF

    TMF Talk Tennis Guru

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    Haha!

    Good to see you getting involve in this forume. I always get outnumber by the old-timers in here.

    Fed's one handed bh against Nole yester was magnificant. I doubt that one handed Lendl, guga, wilander, Edberg or laver would have match the quality of Fed playing against Nole.
     
  41. TMF

    TMF Talk Tennis Guru

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    Limpinhitter needs to watch more of today's tennis to get a better idea of how good they are.
     
  42. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    How did you come to be so "certain?" To be clear, I don't completely agree with Hoodjem's list. But, I also don't think of any of Djokovic's shots to be tp 20 all time greats. That's just my opinion based on what I've had the privilege to see with my own eyes. Granted, I didn't get to see Tilden, Kramer, Gonzales and a few other all time greats live. Then again, none of them were considered to have all time great backhands either. You're entitled to your opinion, but, if you are going to say that you are certain about something, you should have some rational basis for your certainty.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2011
  43. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    You have no idea how much of today's tennis I've watched.
     
  44. President

    President Legend

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    "Certain" was probably the wrong word to use, but I really do think it should be higher. After all, its the guy's best shot and its proven over the last few months to be able to go head to head with the great "Ralph's" forehand and not be at much of a disadvantage. For example, I definitely think its better than some of the other current players on the list like Murray and Federer. I also believe it was a better shot than Kafelnikov's due to how steady it is and also how the Djoker can take it up the line very well.
     
  45. chrischris

    chrischris Hall of Fame

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    You forgot how very many balls he hits clean in relation to the shanks.. The fact is that he hits tons of backhands for the feeds are to that side normally . So if one has a seriuos look at the nuimbers of shots hit as shanks compared to made shots you get an idea.

    and yes his volley and smash of the backhand side are sublime.
     
  46. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Forget about Federer for a minute here and think about what we should do to evaluate a great stroke. A great stroke should be very consistent and accurate and of course have good enough speed to pass an opponent.

    If a stroke is mishit or an error is made one out of twenty times is it better than a stroke that makes an error one of out 50 times in unforced situations.

    Federer of course hits the ball on the backhand well a good percentage of the time but to evaluate correctly we have to decide if he makes more errors by percentage than a Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Nalbanian, Gasquet, Davydenko or others. Does he hit as many winners on the backhand as many players? How's his backhand return?

    If a person can objectively evaluate this only then can they make a comment on a player's backhand. We can't go by highlights alone because some highlight vids only show winners.

    Now if a player has a number of players in his or her time with better backhands than that person, how can that person have an all time great backhand? Can a person who has, to pick a number, the fifth best backhand in his time have one of the top backhands ever? Maybe. Maybe not.

    For example if someone evaluates the Connors backhand you would have a consistent powerful deep backhand which is able to hit a lot of winners, off the baseline and off the return? He can lob well off that side and hit changes of pace and most of all, it was generally considered the best backhand in tennis in his time, which was very very long.

    Now the question is, who would pick the Federer backhand to have as their own if they had the choice of any backhand in tennis today?
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2011
  47. chrischris

    chrischris Hall of Fame

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    Good points. I would. His backhand holds up very nicely if one considers what onslaught it elegantly and constantly withstands , weathers and beats. Year in year out.
     
  48. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Okay. It passes all the important points for you.
     
  49. BTURNER

    BTURNER Hall of Fame

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    I think we should also consider the effectiveness of the stroke in desperate defense, when pulled very wide or even on the half volley from the backcourt. how many options does it have, how deep can it remain?
     
  50. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    I agree. For example, while I think Agassi's backhand was superb, he really wasn't good with it on the run. Now maybe it's because of his movement but still it has to be considered.

    The Connors backhand for example (and others) was a tremendous shot on the run. Same with a number of others like Rosewall's, Laver's, Nadal's, Djokovic's, and Borg's.
     

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