The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube. - TennisForum.com

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post #1 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 02:13 AM Thread Starter
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The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

Now of course this is the great Steffi Graf we're talking about: any weakness was relative to her strengths. Her forehand is still, to most objective observers, the mot mighty shot that has ever been hit in women's tennis. The sheer thrust and velocity of it from any depth, to all angles was nothing short of a wonder.

But there are two schools of thought as to her backhand side; that famous sliced shot which, except when called on to hit a topspin pass, Graf used in 99% of all her baseline rallies.

Weakness?

It is true that there were times when Graf's backhand, against opponents without her weapons or athleticism, could leave her vulnerable. Seles' success against Graf was largely down to her ability to hold Graf at bay by hitting all day to her backhand, before attacking the forehand corner when in position. Sanchez-Vicario would retrieve Graf's bludgeoning forehands to her backhand side and be back in the rally, ready to inflict a counter-punching sting from her nasty bag of tricks. Navratilova and Sabatini learned to approach the net on Graf's backhand side, with some success during the early 90s. Later in her career, Graf got a killing from Venus Williams in Miami, when her backhand in particular appeared innocuous against the sheer force of Venus' backhand. Venus had obviously practiced getting down low that morning, because on other occasions, as we will see, Venus struggled against that shot. Also, the technically perfect Davenport might have been outflanked by Graf's far superior movement, but she handled Graf's sliced backhand with decided ease.

Subscribers to this school of thought -- that her backhand was a weakness -- include none other than Steffi herself, who said on several occasions that, had she started from scratch, she would have used a double-handed backhand. Rumour has it that in c1991, with Seles on her case, Graf was seen practicing a double-hander (and doing it nicely) in training. But she obviously decided it was too great a risk to pursue at the age of 22.

But would Graf have really been a more formidable player with a double-hander, or even a Henin-esque topspun backhand?

Was the shot a strength?

First of all, Graf's backhand was a positional shot. She hit her sliced backhand as a precursor to that wallop which all her opponents dreaded - the forehand. Had Graf's backhand been more forceful, she might never have developed her forehand into the crushing shot that it was. She would have been more akin to Davenport, or Ivanovic, and thus many of her forehands would have been played safer, with more topspin, to temper the risk of her game. With a sliced backhand, Graf knew that with power hitters like Seles, Capriati and Huber emerging, there could be no compromise on her forehand. She simply had to dominate from that side to stay ahead. And to the end of her career, I never saw a player win against Steffi by attacking her forehand for an entire match. Seles and Pierce had the audacity at select moments, but all of the players knew, including a young Venus and Serena, that to try to outdo Graf on the forehand side was tantamount to suicide.

Furthermore, Graf's backhand was, in a subtle way, an extremely aggressive shot. She hit the sliced backhand harder and with more underspin than any woman I have ever seen. Most sliced shots float these days; Graf's seemed to reach her opponent's side in a straight line, skimming low over the net. On natural surfaces in particular, the spin on the ball practically burrowed a hole into the court. Her opponents almost had to use golf swings to dig the ball up, thus reducing the angle to which they could strike the ball without losing control, and in reducing the dimensions, the high percentage areas of the court were reduced. Often, her sliced backhand would produce a short ball from which Graf could climb round and fire her forehand; opponents dared not hit with power off her slice, such was the risk of hitting long. Thus, Graf was, to a very large degree, usually able to negate the power of a Venus Williams or a Monica Seles, because she did not offer shots which sat up, and technically they had to generate all of their own pace -- and most difficult of all, topspin -- from a very low centre of gravity. Players like Sharapova or Ivanovic would have struggled a great deal against Graf's backhand, such is their reliance on waist height balls.

Lastly, it must be remembered that Graf's backhand was her safe shot. When Graf lost, usually it was because her forehand misfired and the errors stacked up. Graf's forehand was usually 'hit', but sometimes 'miss'. In all of Graf's losses to Seles, Sanchez-Vicario and Sabatini, it was errors from her forehand side which caused her demise. It is arguable that it was her necessity to attack ferociously, due to her comparatively tame backhand, which caused her to over press on occasions. However, with a backhand of equal risk, Graf would have lost far more matches from unforced errors, as most players who forcefully hit double-handed from both sides are wont to do. A safer double-handed backhand, a la Capriati, would surely have left her more vulnerable to the likes of Seles, Hingis, Davenport or the Williamses, who would have gobbled up shorter or looping balls in their hitting zones.

Therefore, I argue that, all things considered, Graf's sliced backhand was actually a key part of her game, linked inextricably to the imperious might of her forehand. It is facile to argue that 22 slams would have been 30 had Graf hit a double-handed backhand; such a shot would have made her more vulnerable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bYms...eature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd7_hUhRRvA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8byg...eature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiZk3...eature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FlQr...eature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FlQr...eature=related (wind to 1m, 45sec)

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post #2 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 02:37 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

I really really enjoyed what you wrote! So nice to read about some TENNIS on a tennis board!
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post #3 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 02:41 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

I prefer, and rate higher Henin's slice, but I assume I'm in a minority there . I think Henin has more cut to her backhand.
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post #4 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 02:42 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

weakness.... In todays game it def would have been a weakness....If she had a top spin backhand to mix in, then the slice would have a great asset...

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post #5 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 03:08 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

Of course, relative to the rest of her game, Graf's backhand was weak.

I still like it though. But I don't doubt she would've been a better player if she had a backhand on par with her forehand.


And I prefer Henin's backhand still. I've never been a fan of Henin off court, but I would love to watch Henin on court because of her backhand.
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post #6 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 03:09 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

She was playing in a different era. That slice backhand would be a liability against today's power hitters. She could get away with just moving the ball around on the backhand side and using the forehand to unload and hit winners but these days you need to be able to hit winners off both wings. You just don't have the same amount to time to rally anymore.

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post #7 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 03:18 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

I really really enjoyed what you wrote! So nice to read about some TENNIS on a tennis board!
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post #8 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 03:32 AM Thread Starter
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

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Originally Posted by DaMamaJama87 View Post
You just don't have the same amount to time to rally anymore.
Right. And that's because players hit flat, hard shots against flat, hard shots. No wonder.

Graf's slice (far, far superior to Henin's defensive slice) would cut down their angles, and they simply weren't able to hit with as much power from such low balls. And plus it gave her a split second more time to get into position.

I think it would be stuff of nightmares for a lot of today's girls. It certainly troubled Venus at Wimbledon '99.
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post #9 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 03:38 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

Relative weakness. Check the 50 second long point from 2:37-3:27.


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post #10 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 03:46 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

weakness. for me it was obviously weaker than her forehand but it also gave her trouble against seles on slower courts. if you watch some of the rallies between monica and steffi at the french or oz open you can see seles just constantly bombarded the backhand of graf. with seles being like a mirror image off both sides graf couldn't slice it back to seles 'weaker shot' so seles knew hitting to it meant she could gain the upper hand in many rallies, and wait untill the forehand side was totaly exposed before going to it, which she was highly capable off both wings.
against other players graf could chip or slice her backhand back to the weaker side of certain players to get a midcourt ball or a badly directioned ball which she could attack with the forehand. having said that her slice was amazing and could on its day keep seles at bay. on fastcourts (esp grass) it obviously came into its own and was so much harder to attack as the balls stayed lower off that side. hence the fact that graf won the most slams at wimbledon.
so to some up against most players she could use it to great effect, against seles it was a weakness on slower courts, but it also became a strength dependant on the speed of the court. i went with weakness as had graf had a more attacking backhand, it would have not given her opponents (especialy seles) a easy plan of attacking the backhand.

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post #11 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 03:47 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

It could be both a weakness and a strength, depending on the surface and on the opponent.

It was most definitely a point of strength on grass. On grass, it was more of an aggressive weapon that set up the forehand for her. She also used it to great effect on clay too because she moved her opponents around with it so well. She had such tremendous mix of shots on it. Forward, backward, dtl, cross court..etc. You also could never see a drop shot when there's one.

It was more of a weakness on rebound ace for obvious reasons.

For all of those who think she would struggle in the modern game against big hitters, they need to watch the Venus Wimbledom match and even the Key Biscane match. Her bh was working tremendously and Venus was finding it hard to make anything of it. She was hitting winners mostly on Steffi's forehands. It would wreck havoc for a lot of the big hitters.
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post #12 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 03:47 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steffica Greles View Post
Right. And that's because players hit flat, hard shots against flat, hard shots. No wonder.

Graf's slice (far, far superior to Henin's defensive slice) would cut down their angles, and they simply weren't able to hit with as much power from such low balls. And plus it gave her a split second more time to get into position.

I think it would be stuff of nightmares for a lot of today's girls. It certainly troubled Venus at Wimbledon '99.
Venus 99 was Venus at her most erratic, and that's saying something because Venus is erratic even at her best. She had Graf on the ropes that day and mentally was not able to keep up her level and Graf fought through. It's too much of a presumption to give the credit to Graf's backhand. There were many things at play that day. I could say that Graf's slice didn't give Davenport any trouble in the finals that year and Davenport isn't such a great mover. Don't even talk about low balls, Venus may be tall but she is awesome at hitting agressive shots off low balls. Same with Sharapova. It's not low balls that trouble today's best power hitters, it's consistent hard hitting from the other side. That's something Graf would not be able to maintain with her style of play. Yes she would win points by being creative and changing up the pace of things with the slice, but on a good day she would still face the potential of being hit off the court. She even got hit off the court by Pierce one year and Pierce was one of the prototypes of today's power hitters.

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post #13 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 06:48 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

Blah blah blah about people asuming Graf's game was not going to be competitive against today's amazing power game. The same way they predicted Hingis's (more slower game than Graf) to be unsucessful with her comeback attempt.

Graf's backhand was perfect between 1994-1996 just after Graf changed to a newer racket, that definetly gave her more pop on that stroke.

Graf definetly would have been a top 5 with ease today, yet maintaining her same style and game. Her game had too much atheticism, speed, court coverage, power and mental strenght not to.

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post #14 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 06:54 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Apoleb View Post
It could be both a weakness and a strength, depending on the surface and on the opponent.

It was most definitely a point of strength on grass. On grass, it was more of an aggressive weapon that set up the forehand for her. She also used it to great effect on clay too because she moved her opponents around with it so well. She had such tremendous mix of shots on it. Forward, backward, dtl, cross court..etc. You also could never see a drop shot when there's one.

It was more of a weakness on rebound ace for obvious reasons.

For all of those who think she would struggle in the modern game against big hitters, they need to watch the Venus Wimbledom match and even the Key Biscane match. Her bh was working tremendously and Venus was finding it hard to make anything of it. She was hitting winners mostly on Steffi's forehands. It would wreck havoc for a lot of the big hitters.
Hard to judge by the Key Biscayne 99 match as Steffi barely put balls in play, that was a terrible match. And the very few she could, Venus just jumped on her.

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post #15 of 136 (permalink) Old Sep 21st, 2008, 06:59 AM
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Re: The Graf Backhand: Strength or Weakness? You judge with help of Youtube.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaMamaJama87 View Post
Venus 99 was Venus at her most erratic, and that's saying something because Venus is erratic even at her best. She had Graf on the ropes that day and mentally was not able to keep up her level and Graf fought through. It's too much of a presumption to give the credit to Graf's backhand. There were many things at play that day. I could say that Graf's slice didn't give Davenport any trouble in the finals that year and Davenport isn't such a great mover. Don't even talk about low balls, Venus may be tall but she is awesome at hitting agressive shots off low balls. Same with Sharapova. It's not low balls that trouble today's best power hitters, it's consistent hard hitting from the other side. That's something Graf would not be able to maintain with her style of play. Yes she would win points by being creative and changing up the pace of things with the slice, but on a good day she would still face the potential of being hit off the court. She even got hit off the court by Pierce one year and Pierce was one of the prototypes of today's power hitters.
Graf played a terrible final at Wimbledon 1999, from a strategic point of view.
She ran Lindsay off the court with her backhand at the French Open, just weeks earlier, using a lot of dropshots and in a court like Wimbledon where the dropshots could be lethal because of the low bounce, she opted not to use it. 1 miserable dropshot was the total for that final, in counter part with the at least 15 she used at Roland Garros 1999 against Davenport.. oh well.

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Sabatini vs Martinez ?
Seasons in the top ten: Sabatini 10 Conchita 9
Straight Seasons in the top ten: Sabatini 10 Conchita 6
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Straight seasons in the top 5: Sabatini 6 Conchita 4
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Sabatini 24 Martinez 17
Record at the Masters
Sabatini has 2 titles 2 Runner up and 3 SF
Martinez has 0 titles, 0 RU, and 0 Sf
Record against the best players
Sabatini 40% Martinez 21%
Head to Head
Sabatini leads 9-6 over Martinez
FWTT Hard 111(111 + ny)Carpet 104(104 + ny)Clay 107(107 + 4) Grass 100(100 ny)
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