The slice is much more than a defensive stroke. It can be used to control the pace of your opponents groundstrokes and turn the tide of a rally in your favor. Two of the most notable players that come to mind when thinking about the slice is Roger Federer (17 Grand Slam Singles titles) and Steffi Graf (22 Grand Slam Singles titles). Federer has one of the best forehands of all time (so did Graf), so when he comes under fire its usually on his backhand side. When the pace of the opponents shot starts to bother him or he feels that his timing would be compromised by coming over the ball, Federer uses his slice backhand so make his opponent play from under the level of the net. The returned slice stays low after the bounce and forces the opponent to apply more spin and clearance, which reduces its pace. Once Federer gets a ball he likes, he can run around and tag the forehand or come over his backhand with topspin to establish more offense.
Nobody used the slice backhand in the women’s game to greater effect than Steffi Graf. Much like Federer, Graf’s strength was a potent off forehand that she could take inside in or inside out. Her slice backhand was so reliable that she rarely ever used topspin on this wing. She kept the slice low so that her opponents couldn’t use their hard flat groundstrokes against her, then pounced on any returns that were high or short with her forehand. Graf was a great example of the slice complimenting a big forehand.
Current world #1 Andy Murray is a master at using the slice of both sides to defend and take the pace of the ball from the baseline, making it harder for his opponents to generate enough pace to hit the ball through him. His depth of slice in these scenarios are key to his ability to extend the point when needed and make his opponent play one more ball, shrinking the court and earning unforced errors. Mentally devastating big hitters who feel like they are playing against a wall.
Stan Wawrinka is one of the only players inside the top 10 ATP rankings that consistently slices (forehand and backhand) most of his 1st serve returns. This is a solution to a grip change issue and a way for Wawrinka to control the pace of big first serves and get the ball back in play. The chip return Stan uses is typically deep down the middle of the court to reduce the opponents angle of attack on their second shot and give Wawrinka a chance to get back to offense. Not many players have the ability to skip neutral and go from defense to offense like Stan Wawrinka. The shorter more compact slice strokes allow him to time the ball better than topspin swings and get more balls back in the court. When he is slicing his returns well it is very hard to get free points from Wawrinka when he is returning.
Work on your slice in practice and use it in matches to control the pace and get back to offense.
See you on the courts!
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