The serve is one of the most important parts of tennis, and the more you can improve this shot, the more free points you’re going to win. One of the key weapons you can develop is the tennis slice serve, which is extremely effective at taking your opponent out of the court, putting you in control of the point.
You’ve got three main options when it comes to the serve, the flat sever, kick serve, and slice serve. Although the flat serve is the one that gets all the attention because it allows you to hit the ball hard and clock up those big serve speeds, it’s often the kick serve and the slice serve that are the more effective weapons.
This is because spin adds an extra dimension to your serve. When you’re returning a flat serve, the ball comes straight, you can get in position early and the main thing you have to worry about is the timing.
When you’re facing a slice serve though, things are a little more complicated. The ball is going to move laterally in the air, and it’s also going to skid off the court after the bounce. This makes returning that little bit more difficult and is one of the reasons why the slice serve is so effective.
Benefits of the Slice Serve
Drag Your Opponent Out of the Court
One of the great things about the slice serve is that the angle and spin on the ball take your opponent out of the court, wide into the tramlines, leaving a huge open space to play your next shot into.
For right-handers, this is true when serving to the deuce court, and for left-handers, to the ad court. Lefites have quite a big advantage here because when they hit their slice serve out wide to the ad, it’s going to a right-handers backhand which is generally their weaker return.
This means the benefits are doubled for lefties because they’re taking their opponents (most players are right-handed) out of court and they’re doing it on their opponent’s weaker side.
That’s not to say the slice serve isn’t effective for right-handers too, but it’s a reason why lefties tend to focus on the slice serve even more than right-handers.
Another option with the slice serve is to jam your opponent by giving them little space to work with. You can use the movement of the slice serve to get the ball spinning into your opponent, making it much more difficult for them to unwind on their return.
This is a good option for right-handers against other right-handers because it allows them to target the weaker backhand side.
This is a benefit we’re always stressing on the serve – variety. If your opponent is getting the same look every time, then it’s going to make it much easier for them to return. If, on the other hand, you mix in lots of different serves, with different spins, different placements, and different speeds, then it makes your opponent’s life so much harder.
People always talk about speed on the serve, and speed is great but it’s not everything. If you return a serve that comes straight at you, straight into your forehand every time at 125mph it’s not going to be that difficult to return. However, if you don’t know what you’re going to get from one return to the next, and your opponent has the option of the 125mph screamer, then life is going to be hard.
Slice Serve Technique
It’s important that you’re not making massive changes to your technique in order to hit the slice serve. First off, you learn your serve technique because it’s the optimal way to hit a serve, and if you start making big adjustments to hit the slice serve, then it’s going to throw the rest of your serves off.
Secondly, you want to keep your opponent guessing as to what serve is coming. If there are obvious changes to your technique, then your opponent can spot the slice serve and prepare accordingly.
Check out Federer’s first serve in this video (a kick serve) to the second serve (slice out wide) and see if you can spot any differences. You might think there would be big differences, but you’ll find it very hard to spot any apart from the way the strings address the ball.
For the average person who doesn’t have quite the skill level of Federer, you are probably going to make a little adjustment to your ball toss to help you with the slice. For right-handers, this will mean throwing the ball up a little bit more to the right and for lefties, this will mean throwing it up a little to the left.
This just allows you a little better angle to hit round the ball with, making it easier to combine spin with power.
However, you’ve got to be careful you’re not throwing the ball too far out to the side. The more the ball goes out, the easier it is for the returner to spot what’s coming and it’s also harder to get power through the ball.
As you start to get more comfortable with the slice serve, you can gradually start to straighten the ball toss and blend it in with all your other serves. The more neutral you can make the ball toss, the more power you will get, and the harder it will be to spot it.
You might be trying to slice the ball, but you’ve got to do more than just hit around it. The ball still has to do the motion of going forwards, up, and over the net, before dropping down into the court, so the slice has to be just a part of this journey.
For this reason, you’re going to look to brush around the outside of the ball but you’ve still got to make sure you pronate. That final snap of the wrist is what unleashes all your power into the ball and it’s a vital step no matter what type of serve you’re trying to hit.
Dave has some handy tips for getting the pronation right, and this can make all the difference to your serve.
Drills for Developing Your Slice Serve
It’s difficult just to step up to the baseline and perfect a new serve. Instead, it’s much easier to break things down and learn the individual parts.
Here are some drills that can help you develop your tennis slice serve.
The Break Down
Start out by getting a feel for contacting the ball on the outside by throwing the ball up and catching it with your hand in a serving motion. When you catch the ball, make sure you are doing it on the outside where you would be looking to contact it if you had a racket.
This will help you get that feeling of coming around the ball when you do introduce the racket.
Once you get comfortable catching the ball on the outside, add in the racket and do the same thing. Keep things simple by holding the grip halfway up to shorten the racket and abbreviate the swing, focusing on nothing but contacting the ball around the outside.
Don’t worry where the ball goes, just get used to the feeling.
Keep moving down the grip and building up the swing and ball toss to make things harder, and continue to look for that contact point on the outside of the ball.
When you get more comfortable again, you cant introduce the net. Start right on top of the net, making sure you’re getting the desired spin, and then, as it gets easier, keep moving back towards the baseline.
The Magic Chair
One aspect of the slice serve that people can find particularly difficult is getting the ball to go up and down whilst still having the desired effect.
To help you get that feeling of making the ball go up and down, try introducing a chair and sit down while hitting the serve. Again you can start off with the abbreviated swing and shortened grip and put the chair nice and close to the net.
Sitting on the chair forces you to get the ball going up over the net, giving you a better flight path.
As you get more comfortable you can move down the grip, make the swing bigger and move back towards the baseline.
To help you out initially, it’s useful to experiment with widening the angle to make it easier to hit the slice serve out wide. The further you are from the centerline, the more court you have to work with, making it easier to hit your target and use that natural angle.
The problem is, when you stand out wide it leaves a massive gap for your opponent to play into, so you don’t want to be doing this in a singles match, but it can be good for practice. As you get better at hitting the slice serve, you can move towards the optimum serving position, about 2-3 feet inside the centerline.
Tactical Usage of the Slice Serve
The thing with the slice serve is that it’s not all about power.
I remember playing a doubles match one time against a guy who was a really good returner and I was absolutely smashing my serve. I’ve got a lefite serve that’s generally really hard to return off the ad side because it swings through the air and moves away off the court, but on this day, the other kid was returning it as if it was nothing.
My first reaction was to hit the ball harder, but as my coach pointed out after, the more power I put on it, the less it moved, and the more my opponent liked it.
The reason you’re hitting the slice serve is for the movement – both through the air and off the court, and you’ve got to give it a chance to do its thing.
We’re believers in developing control, accuracy, and power in that order, and it’s definitely true with the slice serve. The power is only useful if you can combine it with the movement, otherwise, you might as well hit a flat serve.
Serve Plus One
We put this is every serve article because it’s such a good way to improve your game. The serve plus one is where you package your serve and first shot after the serve together to maximize your chances of winning the point.
The slice serve is a great weapon for this because it opens up the court for you to attack the next shot. You see Nadal do this over and over again where he hits the serve out wide to the ad and then is ready to pounce on the next ball and attack down the line.
For right-handers, it’s a little more tricky because the slice serve goes into a right-hander’s forehand but it’s still a great weapon. If you hit a good slice serve out wide to the deuce, then you know your opponent is likely going to try and hit the return cross-court. When you know this you can look to run around your backhand and attack with your stronger forehand into the open court. So,
Start making plans to use your serve to get the shots you want!
Final Notes on Jamming
We mentioned this at the start but we thought we’d add an extra little bit about it. The slice serve isn’t just good to drag people out wide, it’s also really useful to jam people up and make it difficult for them to take big cuts at the ball.
For right-handers, you can do this into your opponents backhand by hitting slice down the T and bringing it into your opponent’s body. Taking away your opponent’s space is an ideal way of keeping them on the back foot and allowing you to get the upper hand in the point.
The tennis slice serve is an important part of any player’s armory. Variety is extremely difficult to return against because you just never know what you’re going to get, and the slice serve is a big part of that.
Once you’ve got the technique down, you can use the slice serve to set up your points, allowing you to get your best shots into play.
For lefties, this serve is so useful that it needs to be a big part of your game. The ability to drag right-handed players out of the court on their backhand side is invaluable and it’s a distinct advantage you have being a leftie.
For right-handers, the benefits aren’t quite as big, but it’s still a serve that can add a lot to your game when you perfect it.
Article by: Will