The Art of the Slice Backhand
The slice backhand is an important weapon on the tennis court and it can be used offensively just as effectively as it can defensively.
We spoke to our super international coach, Dave Ireland to get some thoughts on the backhand slice, and have brought it all together for you so you can make some improvements to your game.
If you’re looking for the full scoop then check out our helpful video on how to hit the perfect slice backhand.
Benefits of the Slice Backhand
Change the Rhythm of the Point
One of the big benefits of the slice is it gives your opponent something different to look at.
In the modern game we spend so much time smashing big topspin drives, but the slice is a great option to change things up and make your opponent solve a different problem.
The ball keeps low meaning your opponent has to get down and really get the ball to go up and down over the net.
You want to find your opponent’s weakness, and playing against slice might be one of them.
Particularly if you play with a double handed backhand, then the slice backhand gives you extra reach, making it much easier to play when you’re pulled out of position.
While you see some players like Djokovic playing with unbelievable power when stretched on the two handed backhand, there are times where even he is forced into hitting the slice.
If you’ve got a great slice backhand then there is nothing wrong with this, and it can be a great tool for digging yourself out of difficult situations.
The natural flight path of the slice backhand also makes it easier to play the lower balls, which is why you often find when you hit a slice you often get a slice back from your opponent.
It Stays Low
If you were asked where you would ideally be playing shots from, then you would likely say a high forehand inside the baseline.
Seeing as that’s where most people want to be playing the ball, the slice is a great option because it makes your opponents play the ball from down below their hip, and hopefully below their knee.
The back spin on the slice backhand means the ball skids off the court, shooting forward rather than up like a topspin shot would.
Difficult to Attack
Because the ball stays lower off the slice, it makes it more difficult to attack.
Think about the shots where you can inject the most power into the ball – the serve and the smash – it’s because you can hit the ball virtually straight down.
When you’re playing against the slice, you’ve always got to make sure the ball goes up and down if it’s going to land in court, which makes it that bit more difficult to attack with power.
If your opponent doesn’t have great topspin shots, then they’re really going to struggle with this.
Great on the Approach
One of the times when the slice comes in handy is on the approach.
When you come into the net, your opponent is either looking to pass you or get the ball low to your feet to make your volley more difficult.
If you approach with the slice though, it means they have to get the ball up and down in a much shorter space of time.
You will often benefit from this by finding yourself with a high volley that you can easily put away.
Difficulties on the Slice Backhand
Keeping it Low Over the Net
To get the ball to stay low when it reaches your opponent, it generally needs to take a low flightpath over the net.
A lot of people find that they get too under the ball and this causes the ball to float and not achieve the desired effect.
The slice isn’t going to have as much pace on as your backhand drive, so when it floats over the net it becomes a disaster and your opponent can easily capitalize on it.
Getting the Ball to Skid Off the Court
One of the reasons people tend to find their slice backhand floats over the net is because they’re super preoccupied with getting under the ball so they can get the backspin that helps the ball skid off the court.
When you’re trying to hit under the ball though it’s a double whammy, because not only does the ball float, but it still won’t have enough revs on it to get that skidding effect.
Rather than hitting under the ball, this spin is created by chopping down the back of the ball, which will get you more revs, and keep the flightpath of the ball low.
Technique of the Slice Backhand
The slice backhand should be played roughly with a continental grip where the ‘v’ that’s formed between your thumb and index sits on top of the racket.
This is the basic slice grip, but people will vary it slightly to the left or right to find a balance of what’s comfortable and most efficient.
Generally, if you want to make it slightly easier, then you will move slightly to the left (for a right hander,) and if you’re a little bit more advanced you might creep a little bit more to the right.
Your stance is going to be dictated by the type of shot you’re hitting.
If you’re on balance, then you want to be sideways on, with the toe of your lead foot pointing to 10/11 O’clock on an imaginary clock.
Nadal is obviously the other way round, but here you can see him stepping in vs on the run where he is in a very different position.
If you’re on the run and being moved side to side, then your lead foot is going to be much further across almost parallel with the baseline.
The motion of the slice backhand goes from high to low, so your first movement is up above the shoulders as you can see here with Nadal.
To reach this position, he is going to turn his hips and shoulders, loading his weight onto his back leg, and bending his arms slightly in an upward position.
From here, he is going to transition his weight onto his front foot as he swings, placing that front foot either across or in front of his body depending on where the ball is.
This is where things start to go wrong for a lot of people. The swing really has to go high to low, not high to low to high.
As you swing, the strings are going to slide down the back of the ball, creating the spin and chopping the ball low across the net.
The racket is going to come up on the follow through, but generally, that’s as the ball has already left the strings.
The main feeling needs to be of the strings coming down the back of the ball.
In terms of contact point, you’ve got quite a lot of margin for error with the slice backhand and it can be a bit further out in front or behind you, but ideally you want the contact to be just in front of your lead knee.
Unlike with your topspin shots, the slice backhand doesn’t have the body movement on follow through.
Instead, you’re going to stay sideways on and keep everything very linear, coming through with the arms straight down the court.
The big thing with the slice follow through, is that the non-dominant hand doesn’t come through with your racket hand, instead, it splits on contact, thrusting back behind you.
We think this is a second serve return, where the Fed is approaching the net off a backhand slice, but it emphasizes the split between the two hands nicely.
This action helps you to keep your balance, and get power through the ball, allowing you to keep the ball low over the net and give your opponent less time to react.
There are lots of benefits to the slice backhand, particularly if you’re mixing it in with strong topspin shots.
It’s a shot that’s not overly complicated in terms of technique, but it’s not easy to get it daggering across the net and biting off the court.
With the right technique and practice though you can turn your slice backhand into a weapon and really boost your game.
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