No. 7: Rod Laver
“I worked hard to improve my backhand and make it as natural a stroke for me as my forehand,” Laver said.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the ever-unassuming Rocket would describe his one-hander in such workmanlike and self-effacing terms. His backhand, after all, was just one cog in a well-oiled machine that made him the only two-time calendar-year Grand Slammer. If the shot hasn’t been lavishly praised by others over the years, either, that’s just a sign of how solid he was in every part of the game. From the start, all-around excellence was Laver’s goal.
“He was a stickler for correct form,” he said of his first coach, Charlie Hollis. “By putting me through endless drills, he taught me to hit every stroke—serve, forehand, backhand, volley, lob, slice and smash—as perfectly as I could.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Laver’s backhand was ordinary. When he was young, he was a self-described “flashy” player, and he hit his single-hander the way he hit all of his strokes, with urgency and compact abandon. He had the slice, but with his long extension and trunk-like left forearm, he could also drive the ball and hit it with more topspin than most of his contemporaries. He used the shot to transition to net, to block returns at his opponent’s feet, and to throw up deftly-placed slice or topspin lobs. It was a quiet difference-maker.