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Fabunny
Jul 7th, 2006, 02:46 PM
Two finalists but only one hand on the backhand
Navratilova retires (really?) then drops both doubles matches

By Chris Bowers, Special to TennisReporters. net


Cynthia Lum/WireImage. com
DAY 11 FROM WIMBLEDON – The revolving doors of the global tennis scene have brought some fascinating new talent this year, but there’s a valedictory feel as this year’s Wimbledon enters its last three days.

Last Saturday Rafael Nadal extinguished Andre Agassi’s last candle at Wimbledon. Today Martina Navratilova played what seems (almost) certain to be her final two matches at Wimbledon. And Saturday’s women’s singles final could well be the last one to be contested by two players with single-handed backhands.

Wimbledon has always seemed to favour the one-handed backhand. Though Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors were the first two-handed champions in the same year, 1974, it took until Martina Hingis won in 1997 for the second woman to win with the two-fister – by which time the one-hander was in a distinct minority on the Sony Ericsson WTA tour.

Since then Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have all won Wimbledon with the two-hander, but this year the second hand will only be used to lift the Venus Rosewood plate, with Justine Henin-Hardenne and Amélie Mauresmo the last two standing.

Though the rankings say otherwise (for another few days), Henin-Hardenne and Mauresmo are the best two players in the world at present – with Henin-Hardenne probably a little ahead. They are the only players in the Top 20 to hit their aggressive backhand with one hand, which in normal circumstances might be enough to spawn a new generation of single-handers. Yet a glance at the junior events at the Grand Slams shows the two-fister has completed a near total takeover. A number of girls may feel they can start with a two-hander and try a one-hander later, yet such is the pressure on early teenagers to keep playing to keep up their junior rankings that taking a few months out to see if a one-handed backhand might suit a girl better seems now a luxury few feel they can afford.

While there is nothing intrinsically better about the one-handed backhand (coaches generally feel there are advantages and disadvantages with either), there is a clear correlation between those with a single-hander and an all-round game. Like Navratilova, Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova before them, and the Billie Jean King/Margaret Court/Virgina Wade generation of the 1970s, Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne use the one-hander as part of a more varied arsenal. That’s what makes Saturday’s final so mouth-watering: What does a player who has used her variety to thwart the one-dimensional baseliner do when her opponent plays the same way as her?
Mauresmo’s variety got her out of trouble when her age-old problem – her nerves – threatened to undo the winning position she had created when she led Maria Sharapova 6-3, 3-1, 0-40. Sharapova saved four break points in that fifth game before holding, at which point Mauresmo got tight, and the Floridian/Russian won five games on the run to level the match.

At the start of the third, it was a Sharapova onslaught against Mauresmo’s defences. But with her clever use of angles and irritatingly consistent sliced backhand, Mauresmo was able to weather the storm. By serving and volleying she gave Sharapova a constant target, and despite getting very nervous at the end, variety triumphed over baseline blasting. “She had to pass me lots of times,” Mauresmo said of her constant net rushing, “which is difficult to do. Of course I got a little nervous, a little tight, but you guys [the media] are always asking me what I have learned from my three lost semifinals here. Well I have learned not to let my level drop too much when I get tight, and while it wasn’t a perfect match, it was a win, and I think quite a convincing one.”


Ron Cioffi/TR
Martina Navratilova, arguably the greatest women's player ever, says she's played her last pro match.
Mauresmo’s 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 victory followed a match of higher quality, in which Henin-Hardenne beat Kim Clijsters 6-4, 7-6(4). Clijsters said she played a much better match than she did in losing to Henin-Hardenne at Roland Garros and Eastbourne, but even Clijsters’ best wasn’t good enough. “I love moments like that; it’s what I play for” said Henin-Hardenne about the culmination of the second set, which saw Clijsters serve for the set at 6-5. Tennis jargon has it that Clijsters lost her serve – a fairer description would be that Henin-Hardenne took it from her with some superb all-court play that gave her a crucial extra dimension. Clijsters may have out-hit Henin-Hardenne from the back of the court, but Henin-Hardenne’s angles and particularly her low volleys more than made up for it. Once again, more options made for the better player.

Navratilova suffered two defeats in the space of three hours which surely signal her farewell as a player from Wimbledon. She and Liezel Huber failed to win a game in resuming their unfinished women’s doubles against Zi Yan and Jie Zheng of China, and she and Mark Knowles then went out of the mixed doubles 7-5, 6-1 against Andy Ram and Vera Zvonareva. In the Wimbledon media centre, one British sports feature writer was proudly boasting about how many “farewell to Martina” articles he has written over the past 12 years, and Navratilova has so often changed her mind after saying “This is it!” with conviction that a definitive retirement can’t be taken for granted. She certainly left today with a lot less fanfare than she did in losing to Conchita Martinez in the ‘94 final.

BBC Television announced it would let John Barrett call the women’s singles final in his last Wimbledon. The 75-year-old Barrett, who has done most jobs in British tennis, is retiring from all his commitments this year. For the past four years he has been led to believe the Lleyton Hewitt-David Nalbandian ’02 final would be his last. But the so-called “voice of Wimbledon” has been granted one final sentimental hurrah. A fitting voice perhaps for a contest featuring the last two one-handed backhands in women’s tennis.

Barbarela
Jul 7th, 2006, 03:56 PM
Thank you! :wavey: Nice article!

treufreund
Jul 7th, 2006, 04:21 PM
the future of the one hander is dim for the women's game IMO. too many young girls feel the pressure to have a power game or do not feel that a 1-hander is feminine. I think you need to have a bit of the rebel in you to play one-hander and you need more athleticism and creativity. I am sad but I think the two handers are more popular as more young girls would seek to emulate Sharapova, Serena as they are divas. Justine and Amelie are a little too butch maybe. Sad really because they have the best, most attractive games IMHO

auntie janie
Jul 7th, 2006, 07:12 PM
Nice article, thanks! :)

pav
Jul 7th, 2006, 08:13 PM
I get a bit pissed off at hearing commentators constantly calling anyone with a one handed backhand a beautiful backhand, some who made the grave mistake of being a onehander do have very good backhands despite it being a terrible look, but it seems a compulsion to call a one hander a beautiful stroke. Franny fine is beautiful but is her backhand necessarily the same:confused: