WIMBLEDON, England—There are two-handed backhands, and then there is Florian Mayer’s two-handed backhand. The German refuses to stray from the shot, keeping both hands on his grip like someone holding for dear life on the edge of a skyscraper, no matter the situation: He slices with two hands from the baseline, volleys with two hands at net, and of course, makes his compact swing during typical rallies with two hands. It’s easier to imagine Roger Federer adding a two-hander to his toolbox than Mayer taking one hand off his.
But if we're talking about two-handed backhands, it would be rash to omit Novak Djokovic’s from the discussion. The Serb's signature shot is one of the biggest reasons for his ascent to the top of the game. It is picturesque, reliable, and powerful, and while Mayer’s backhand can at times be all of those things, Djokovic’s could be described with such qualities more often. It was one reason he tempered Mayer, the highest-ranked unseeded player in the draw, in straight sets to open his tournament, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
It was not the only reason, however, which Mayer saw for himself in an admirable effort on Centre Court, at least after a noncompetitive, 29-minute first set. The world No. 1 recalled Federer’s play in the same venue yesterday with aggressive, confident swings, picking his spots and hitting his shots like LeBron James in H-O-R-S-E. It was 3-0 in eight minutes, with no real resistance until the third game of the second set, which saw Djokovic earn six break points yet lose them all. It was the first sign of the entertaining play to come, but it also foreshadowed the pressure Mayer would have to combat.
Mayer, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist last year (he lost to Djokovic) and conqueror of Rafael Nadal two years ago in Shanghai, nearly consolidated his bend-but-don’t-break act with a break of his own, earning his first break point of the match while leading 3-2 in set two. But a well-placed wide serve—the shot Djokovic would use in saving Mayer’s third and final break point of the match late in the third set—set up an easy putaway.
Both men would hold their next two service games with ease, then Mayer bent too far. At 5-5, after a Djokovic shot called out was reversed by Hawk-Eye, the top seed earned two break points, converting the second with the rally of the match, featuring a difficult overhead (by Djokovic), excellent retrievals (by both men), a tumble to the turf (by Mayer), and finally, a backhand winner into the open court. Djokovic nearly overhit the shot, but it clipped the corner, befitting the thin margin of victory in the set.
After serving out the set and breaking Mayer to open the third, Djokovic's path to the second round was cleared. He was never broken today or in any serious threat, and moves on to face either Bobby Reynolds or Steve Johnson. Mayer was no Steve Darcis today, but did as much as could be expected, and with his unorthodox strokes is someone many rec players—who tend to hit some creative shots of their own—could look up to. Leave it to the pros, with their inherently impeccable technique, to look up to Djokovic, as they’ve been doing for much of the past two-and-a-half years.
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