The Art and Science of Victory
Slice Backhand (Single Handed)

The slice backhand is the most underrated shot in tennis. We tend to be so over-awed by looping and diving topspin winners that the lowly slice backhand is rarely given its due. Even those pros who have mastered the shot sometimes seem to forget to use it.

Unlike the one-handed topspin backhand, the slice can be hit with little or no backswing. The slice is therefore an ideal choice for returning a hard serve. It is the foundation for the backhand volley and the approach shot.

The aerodynamics of under spin tend to make the ball sail, so all things being equal you cannot hit a slice ball as hard as a topspin ball and expect it to stay in the court. An under spin ball tends to bounce much lower than a topspun ball, however, so sliced ball is harder for your opponents to hit hard. They have to hit the ball up to get it over the net, so if they hit it hard it will find the back wall before finding the court. Thus slice interferes with your opponents passing shot and therefore makes the best approach shot. If you like to follow your ground strokes to the net, you must have an effective slice.

A more subtle advantage of the slice backhand stroke arises from its similarity to the topspin backhand. In both strokes you start with a high backswing and finish with a high follow through. Both are U-shaped strokes; first down and then up. They both use the same (open) stance and footwork. The only difference is at what pont of the 'U' you make contact with the ball. To hit a slice you make contact on the way down, while to hit a topspin you make contact on the way up. This similarity permits you to alternate between the slice and topspin one handed backhands more or less at will. Since the balls are very different in pace, bounce and trajectory this can prevent your opponent from getting into a groove.

One handed Slice Backhand Stroke

One-handed slice backhand - note similarities to the topspin backhand. The stance is closed, backswing and follow through are high,

This stroke is very similar to the one-handed backhand topspin, so that stroke should be studied in conjunction with the slice.

The keys to the one handed backhand slice:



Back to the Ball

Back to the ball - your opponent should be able to read the logo on the back of your shirt in the backswing.

Turning your back to the ball is the key to hitting anything with one hand on the backhand side. It applies to the volley, overhead, ground strokes, even the drop shot. This is because when the arm is across the body, the shoulder is in its weakest position. you simply can't generate the torque you need to create a solid shot.
Follow Through High

Follow through high - compare the follow through of the slice backhand above with the topspin backhand. The stroke starts high then comes down through the ball but still follows through high. In the topspin stroke the racquet goes down and then up into the ball. Remember that the hitting arm is like a pendulum, so what goes down must come up.

Under spin is achieved when the racquet is pointing slightly up while it travels down through the ball; the opposite of topspin. Oddly, the slice backswing, stroke and follow through look very similar to the topspin stroke. Both are 'U-shaped' strokes. They both start high in the backswing, swing down and then finish high. The difference is in the timing. To hit under spin you contact the ball on the way down, and for topspin you have to go first down below the level of the point of contact then up into the ball (see below).

Now follow this carefully because it is important. The topspin stroke cadence is back-up-down and up into the ball. The slice cadence is back-up and down into the ball. One less beat means one less thing to do before the approaching ball reaches the point of contact. Thus choosing to hit the slice over the topspin saves you precious milliseconds when your opponent is trying to rush you. You can push this advantage to the extreme with the chip and squash strokes

Head Down

Head down - for a split second after striking the ball.

After your gaze follows the ball to the point of contact it must linger a while. This sometimes looks (and feels) a bit wacky. After all, the ball is gone, there is nothing happening at the point of contact and a whole lot is happening on the other side of the net. Of course there is very little you can do to hurt your opponent for the first few seconds after you strike the ball, so there is no reason in particular you need to watch him hop around. Instead, invest the time in the stroke you just hit. Keeping your head down for a split second after the stroke has left keeps you from opening up your stance before the point of contact and weakening or disrupting the stroke. I like to imagine that I will jinx my own shot if I look at the ball too soon after I hit it.

Continental or Eastern Backhand Grip

Continental grip - this 'unigrip' is a natural for hitting under spin because the meaty part of the hand is behind and on top of the racquet. An adequate forehand can also be ht with this grip making it the best grip to hold when you are being rushed.

The one-handed backhand slice can be hit with the continental or eastern backhand grips. The continental is the easiest to find and is also the 'unigrip', so it can be used for the serve, overhead, and both backhand and forehand volleys and ground strokes.