Keys to an Effective Backhand Slice

An effective slice can add some much-needed variety to your game.

In today's game, and you see it all the time at the professional level, players are most comfortable when they're in a routine of hammering balls back and forth. They like to exchange shots hit from their strike zones, which is between thigh and chest height, and use some degree of topspin on a majority of shots.

You can be successful playing this style, but it makes your game pretty predictable. If you work a dependable slice into your repertoire, though, you'll add some variety to your attack.

A slice is effective for many reasons. If you're stretched wide, the slice can be a safe, defensive shot that will get you back in the point. When hit as a rally ball, the backspin slows the pace of the shot and keeps the ball low and out of your opponent's strike zone. And when you're inside the court, you can be more aggressive with the slice by driving a deep, low, skidding shot that you can follow to net. It's also the spin you need to be successful with volleys and drop shots.

Here's a quick lesson on the slice for all skill levels.

BEGINNER

Objective: Learn the proper swing path and keep your wrist firm.

When players first learn the slice, they sometimes start by drastically swinging down on the ball. Although the basic motion is from high to low (opposite of the low to high you're first taught for your ground strokes) and back to high, it's actually fairly subtle.

If you hack down severely on the ball, you may put a great deal of underspin on it, but the resulting shot will float and have little pace, penetration or consistency.

Rafael Nadal utilizes his backhand slice to change pace and buy time to re-position himself on the court. AP Photo/Carlo Baroncini

You never want to lose that feeling of hitting through the ball. The other thing to stress is keeping your wrist firm. Many players snap or flip their wrists, trying to get pace and spin on the ball, and end up suffering the same problems as those who chop down when they swing.

For a penetrating slice, use a swing that moves gradually from high to low and back to high. This way you hit through the ball instead of chopping at it.

In fact, the swing path of the slice is almost parallel to the court. One way to think of the motion is to compare it to that of a karate chop. You start with your arm bent, and you straighten it out toward contact with a gradual reduction from high to low, keeping a slightly open racket face. That way you're still driving the racket through contact.

INTERMEDIATE

Objective: Incorporate your bigger muscles into the shot and learn to cup the ball.

Players who use their whole bodies when they swing are generally more consistent with their strokes.

Take the serve as an example: A player who gets good body rotation and uses his shoulders and legs is going to have a more effective serve than someone who just uses his arm.

Using the big muscle groups will sustain consistency for the course of the match, whereas using only the smaller ones will cause fatigue (which will lead to inconsistency). With the slice, it's no different.

To better control the ball's flight path and add pace to your slice, cup the outside edge of the ball. If you cup the inside, the ball will float with sidespin.

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