The slice backhand is an important shot for anyone wishing to be competitive on the tennis court. It is a major component of an effective defensive game that also plays an equally important role as an offensive shot when the match strategy calls for keeping the ball low or short.
Some of the world’s best champions – too numerous to mention – have used the slice backhand with winning results. A few notable examples include Ken Rosewall, who was known for his slice backhand and could place the shot on a dime, working opponents around the court until he found the right opportunity to attack. Tony Roche, used his knifing left-handed slice to keep the ball low and make opponents hit up, exposing them to his quick net attack. Martina Navratilova mounted a furious net attack with her own court-skimming slice backhand. And who can forget Steffi Graff’s consistently relentless slice backhand, which helped her win twenty-two grand slams.
Today, Nadal and Federer wield two of the most effective slice backhands the game has ever seen, using the shot for both offense and defense on all surfaces.
How do you hit an effective slice backhand?
In the past, players were taught to hit the shot with a stroke that was fairly parallel to the court. But the old idea of “hitting on the table” to execute the slice does not always create the most effective shot in today’s game.
With advancements in racquet and string technology, and the increase of racquet head speed players now generate, players today create greater spin and shape on this shot. The path of the racquet during the stroke has also changed as a result. Players now hit more inside the ball and accelerate at a steeper downward angle to create maximum rotation to shape the ball. They also finish across the body, in a more open position than in years past.
Here is how two grand-slam winners hit the slice backhand. You will note that both U.S. Open doubles champion and SportsEdTV featured instructor Martin Damm (above left) and all-time men’s record grand-slam title holder Roger Federer (above right) start the slice backhand by loading the outside leg and leveraging the inside leg. The racquet head is above the shoulders and the face is open with the wrist relaxed and slightly coiled upward to create a contraction in the hitting forearm. In our example above, Martin executes the shot by staying in the open stance so he can recover quickly on the baseline for his next shot. His racquet follows a steep path to the ball and the finish is across his body. He is facing the net at the end of the shot and fully recovered to continue the point. Roger, on the other hand, while still loading on the outside leg, is stepping forward with the inside leg in our example, hitting the ball with a closed stance while he attacks moving slightly forward.
The important thing to note is that BOTH strokes start with a LOAD OF THE OUTSIDE LEG and both shots employ a STEEP ANGLE OF ATTACK that finishes ACROSS THE BODY. Learn to hit both shots to add versatility to your backhand arsenal and you will be a better tennis player.
by John Eagleton, SportsEdTV Director of Tennis