“Seeing Federer hit a two-hander makes you feel like a witness to a double felony, a crime against both art and nature. Federer, Nadal, Murray and Novak Djokovic have dominated the second week of majors for a decade, but only Federer seems to take consistent and obvious pleasure in what he is doing on the court. In part that may come from Federer’s not having grown up subjected to the same preadolescent all-or-nothing pressure of his major peers. While Djokovic’s parents gambled what little they had on their oldest son’s tennis future, and while Murray’s mother, Judy, and the Nadals turned tennis into wildly ambitious family quests that made it far more than just a game, Federer’s parents were worried less about their son’s groundstrokes than about his need for a viable route to the middle class. Nevertheless, it’s no coincidence that Federer is the only one of them with a one-hander. Two-handers are easier to hit, especially for youngsters, and dependable as diesel engines. But anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that one-handers bring more joy to a player, if only because they are beautiful, and to hit them well, you have to let them go.
Pete Sampras, whose record seven Wimbledon titles was broken by Federer in July, once told me that when he went from a two-handed to a one-handed backhand, he was transformed from a grinder to a shot maker, and the game became immensely more enjoyable for him. The only top male player who ever hit a two-hander with abandon is Jimmy Connors (and those were hit in anger). But even if the correlation between happiness and a one-handed backhand is impossible to prove, watching Federer practice and make up shots on the fly clearly shows what sort of hand-eye skills and personality are required if, at age 35, you’re going to teach yourself a devastating new backhand.”