Saturday, January 17, 2015

Should Juan Martin Del Potro Switch to a One-Handed Backhand?

Juan Martin Del Potro has finally returned from a serious left wrist injury that kept him out for most of the 2014 season.  While it's nice to see him back on the tour, he has indicated he still has some pain in the wrist and doesn't yet have the feel back in his two-handed backhand.  The wrist has obviously made progress or he wouldn't have returned, but some have suggested he switch to a one-handed backhand if it continues to give him trouble.

If it does become an ongoing problem, the idea that he make the switch shouldn't be immediately discarded.  He's already 26, and has missed a significant amount of time with injuries over the last few years.  If there's something in his power he can do to prevent more of his career from slipping away, it should at least be given some consideration.  This doesn't mean switching to a one-hander will be easy or is something he could definitely pull off, just that it's worth a look.

Some may argue the one-handed backhand is a shot that takes years to develop, and there's no way someone can pick it up at age 26 and hope to compete at the highest level on the ATP Tour.  Furthermore, making the change involves more than just the stroke itself, as it affects a players court positioning, footwork and overall style of play. 

There's no question it's a complicated stroke, and would take countless hours on the practice court to develop.  While many junior, college and professional players with two-handed backhands mess around with hitting a one-hander in practice (and often hit it fairly well), this doesn't mean it would hold up in match play against top professionals.  However, with enough practice, it is isn't crazy to suggest someone as strong and talented as Del Potro could learn to play the shot.

Jo Wilfried-Tsonga has occasionally turned to a one-handed backhand in his matches and has seen some success with it.  There's certainly a difference between hitting a one-hander occasionally when the situation calls for it and using the shot consistently.  However, it shows it isn't completely unprecedented for two-handers to utilize a one-handed backhand in matches. 

Del Potro could likely still compete at a high level without his one-handed backhand being a weapon.  So long as it wasn't a huge liability, he could dominate with his serve and forehand, and run around his backhand side (like many do already) whenever possible.  He could use his backhand slice to handle the more uncomfortable shots, and come over the top on shots that are easier to handle.  Many players with one-handers get by with slicing most of their shots anyway (i.e. Feliciano Lopez), so at the very least Del Potro could employ this strategy.  Lopez is top 15 in the world and hits a one-handed top spin backhand about as often as David Ferrer serves and volleys. 

Obviously Del Potro would only consider the switch if his left wrist continues to give him real problems.  Even if it's not perfect right away, there would be no reason to risk making the transition unless he's looking at missing another significant chunk of time.  However, if he is facing another prolonged absence because of the left wrist, it may be time to hit the practice court with the sole focus of developing his one-hander.  It's doubtful anyone would confuse his backhand for that of Wawrinka or Gasquet, but the idea shouldn't be dismissed as quickly as some would like you to believe.     

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