© Dirk Nowitzki Foundation/ATP Tour

Three of Dirk Nowitzki's favourite one-handed backhands on the ATP Tour belong to Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem.

Dirk Nowitzki Eyes Federer's Backhand, Among Others

Learn more about the NBA legend's love for tennis

Dirk Nowitzki is widely considered one of the best NBA players of his era. The German was a 14-time All Star, the 2007 Most Valuable Player, and plenty more. Not many know that growing up, he loved playing tennis.

“I grew up playing a double-handed backhand, and then once I stopped playing when I was about 14, 15, I kind of went away and put all my eggs into the basketball basket and took 10, 11 years off and never really played,” Nowitzki said. “Once I got to my mid-20s, in the summer I started playing again and then my double-handed backhand was completely gone! I didn’t even know how to hold it anymore. Then I actually switched to a one-hander.”

That is the shot the basketball star enjoys watching most in today's game, and there are a few players in particular whose one-hander he is in awe of.

“Roger to me is of course one of the best. Stan Wawrinka has a laser of a one-hander, and he’s super-fun to watch with his power game. Dominic Thiem is coming up and his one-hander is beautiful and powerful,” Nowitzki said. “That’s just to name a few. There are so many great one-handers in the game.”

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Has Nowitzki been able to replicate their one-handers when he gets on the court?

“I slice a lot and if I do get it, I do a little spin,” Nowitzki said. “I’ve tried both in my career. My backhand is definitely my weak spot.”

If Nowitzki had to pick one all-time one-handed backhand to add to his arsenal, it would come from his good friend, fellow German Tommy Haas, who is less than three months older than Nowitzki.

“I love a beautiful one-handed backhand. My boy Tommy Haas has one of the prettiest one-handed backhands ever on Tour, so I’d probably use his,” Nowitzki said. “My game is more forehand and serve, so backhand definitely needs some help.”

Growing up, Nowitzki had star Germans to look up to in Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. “Everybody tried to be like them,” he said. Nowitzki played attacking tennis in his junior tournaments, keeping points short.

“When you’re tall, the movement is not quite there as much for me,” Nowitzki said. “I tried to keep the points short with an aggressive serve and aggressive forehand.”

Dirk Nowitzki Charity event
Photo Credit: Dallas Mavericks
The German has held four annual Dirk Nowitzki Pro Celebrity Tennis Classics to raise funds for the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation. At those events, current or former pros like Haas, Andy Roddick, John Isner and Mark Knowles play with celebrities, like Nowitzki and his former Dallas Mavericks teammates. But that’s not a one-off tennis moment for Nowitzki each year.

“I’m still a tennis fan more than anything. I watch it all the time. Sometimes I’ll sit there in the evening and the kids are in bed and I’ll just flip to the Tennis Channel and watch random tournaments somewhere indoors in a little town and it’s a Challenger,” Nowitzki said. “I love watching tennis, I watch it all the time and it’s fascinating some of the shots they hit out of positions that are really hopeless. It’s just an amazing game and something new always happens. It’s such an athletic game now and the shotmaking is incredible.”