For a number of years, the backhand has been one of the most talked about shots in women’s tennis, primarily because of its ruthless consistency off the ground. However, in recent years, it is no secret that single-handed backhands are unfortunately starting to fade out of the women’s game, with the majority of tennis professionals deciding to use an extra hand to give their backhand more shape, control and sometimes more power in a world that continues to push the boundaries on what is possible.
With that being said, there is still a very select group of women who possess an aesthetically pleasing and versatile single-hander, which arguably allows them to hit with more variety while being able to have more lateral reach with a two-hander. Though the most talked about one-handed backhands are usually those that belong in the men’s game to players such as Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet, there are some incredibly underrated and effective one-handers in the women’s game. Players like Roberta Vinci, Francesca Schiavone, Margarita Gasparyan and Naomi Broady possess some of the most fearsome one-handed backhands in the game today, but there is one that stands out above the rest because it is both technically and practically sound, and is able to produce a ruthless consistency time and time again. That backhand belongs to Carla Suarez Navarro.
Fresh off of winning her first Premier 5-level title at the Qatar Total Open over the weekend, Suarez Navarro possesses arguably the greatest one-handed backhand in the women’s game right now for a number of reasons. From a technical standpoint, the new world number six’s signature stroke is a free-flowing, aesthetically-pleasing delight when she is able to time the ball to perfection, and is remarkably consistent, even when under pressure.
A Technical Breakdown of Suarez Navarro’s Signature One-hander
Like all top players, Suarez Navarro has incredibly early preparation in order to set up in time to hit her signature stroke. Shortly after split stepping, the current Spanish number two takes her racquet back, which consequently allows her to move her upper body synchronously, which is often referred to as a unit turn, while adjusting her grip to a Full Eastern backhand grip at the same time. This grip allows Suarez Navarro to hit her one-handed backhand with a deadly combination of power and spin without needing to meet the ball overly far in front, thus keeping her body balanced through the entire shot.
As she approaches the point of contact, Suarez Navarro must take a full swing in order to generate maximum power and spin, which is one of the few downsides of having a one-handed backhand. However, because of her early preparation, the Spaniard is able to make contact with the ball well in front of her body while transferring her weight from her back foot to her front foot, thus generating the majority of her power. One might also notice how Suarez Navarro’s shoulder is right underneath her chin as she takes her full swing – this is an incredibly important fundamental that the likes of Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Tommy Haas use to ensure that the ball has the proper path of trajectory that was initially intended to be hit at the point of contact.
Why It's so Effective
In a game with very few one-handed backhands, what makes Suarez Navarro’s one-hander so unique?
For starters, the current world number six’s backhand has a key factor that is often overlooked in the technical aspect of the stroke: consistency. Suarez Navarro possesses a ruthless consistency on her backhand that very rarely breaks down in every day rally-to-rally situations, even when under extreme pressure. In addition, the 27-year-old’s backhand is almost unknowingly deceptive. Right up until the point of contact where Suarez Navarro transfers her weight from her back foot to her front foot, opponents have little idea where the Spaniard will hit her lethal backhand next, as her sideways set up is almost identical whether she is hitting cross court or down the line. Unlike most of her peers, Suarez Navarro is extremely comfortable with hitting both cross court and down the line, but her favourite shot is undoubtedly her backhand cross court, where she is able to use her heavy topspin to create a sharp angle which kicks out along an angled trajectory, consequently giving her opponents less time to track it down.
However, there is only one downside to this – though Suarez Navarro can win cross court exchanges with the majority of the WTA, the Spaniard just simply doesn’t possess a defining weapon that she can hurt the top players with on a consistent basis, and these top players have the unique ability to exploit the weaknesses of their opponents by minimizing their strengths. Nowadays, getting the ball back in play simply isn’t good enough to help you reach the upper echelons of women’s tennis; one must have a defining weapon of some sort that can give them a chance to contend for those big titles and that elusive number one ranking.
Now ranked at number six in the world, if Suarez Navarro wants to break into the top 5, she will need to continue playing her astoundingly consistent brand of tennis while continuing to improve and find that defining weapon that could be the difference between being ranked number six and number one or two in the world. Perhaps, her masterclass of a backhand could be the defining weapon she has been looking for if she can continue to produce the goods on her strongest wing.
What do you think are some of the reasons why Suarez Navarro’s backhand is so effective? Do you think her backhand can be her defining weapon? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts by tweeting them to us at @VAVELUSATennis!