When it comes to adding worthwhile shots to your tennis arsenal, the backhand slice is one of the most useful and effective swings to consider.
It seems that whatever situation you are in, the backhand slice can be used to do something awesome.
For instance, if you find yourself on the defensive with your opponent adding more and more velocity to each shot, you can use the backhand slice to throw off his timing.
If you are stuck in a long rally and want to change the pace, use the backhand slice.
Want to attack the net? Get into a better position on the court? Manipulate your opponent’s position? Show off? The backhand slice is your answer.
What the heck is a backhand slice?
If you happen to know about golf, here’s a hot tip. There is no relation between the golf term, slice, and the tennis term, slice.
The last thing you want to see is your tennis ball curving away, high and wide of your target. Also, it is not considered humorous to yell, “Fore!” if this happens to your opponent.
The backhand slice is called that because of the racket motion involved. You will swing the racket in such a way that you slice through the ball.
For a better visual, think of a swashbuckling pirate attacking with a sword from his backhand position. He starts off high and left and finishes low and to the right.
That’s because every pirate worth his mettle knows it's easier to cut a guy in half horizontally than from head to...toe. More on that later.
Want to know how to do it?
Of course you want to know how to do it. It’s awesome! As with all tennis shots, getting into position is the first step.
With a backhand slice, you want to position yourself next to where the ball will land with your body facing the sideline. You want to use small steps to get there, almost shuffling, until you are in position with a shoulder-wide stance.
Your weight should be on the heel of your front foot. As you swing through the ball, you will roll your weight forward to your toes.
Wind it up to start
As you are positioning your feet, you want to pull the racket into the ready position over your left shoulder with the racket open to the ball.
Most players start with two hands on the racket, but as you draw the racket back, your left hand (if you’re right-handed) should slide up the handle until it is in such a high position that it seems to be holding the racket back.
Your shoulders should already be sideways, with your left hand high on the racket which is completely over your left shoulder.
As you are moving the racket into position, your grip should change to the one you use to serve and volley. Most instructors will tell you this should be the continental grip.
Now hit it! Hit it! Hit it!
The actual swing will come forward in a slightly downward motion with the racket fully open to the ball. As contact is made, the racket will pass underneath the ball to remove some of the return velocity.
Do not make the mistake of exaggerating the downward motion at the expense of the forward swing. You still have to hit the ball hard enough to get it over the net.
Some inexperienced players think the point is to give the ball a tremendous backspin, but that is not necessary to achieve what we want the ball to do.
Remember what the pirate knows: it is easier to slice horizontally than up and down.
We Probably Should Have Mentioned This before...
When the backhand slice makes good contact, the ball will slow down significantly on its way to your opponent. This is what makes it effective.
Your contact point should be just slightly ahead of your right shoulder. If you hit the ball too early, it may go straight up. Too late, and the ball can sail long and wide.
You will have better control of the shot if your grip is moderately loose and your knees and elbows are bent and flexible. If your return continues to go too high, speed up the swing. This allows the ball to grab the strings a bit more.
Now Finish it Up
Of course your shot is not officially a backhand slice until you complete a convincing follow-through. Even though this is a one-handed swing, the follow-through requires both hands.
As you swing forward, shifting your weight onto your front-foot toes, your left hand will probably start moving in the opposite direction automatically.
In fact, if you don’t find yourself falling in a twisted heap, you can assume this is the case.
At some point, you will become aware of where your left hand is. As your swing continues forward, your left hand continues backward.
When you are done, both arms should be fully extended. Your hands will wind up behind you enough to feel a bit of a stretch in your chest muscles.
If you’re new to competitive sports, picture Leonardo DiCaprio trying to impress the new girlfriend in front of the Titanic.
The Highs and Lows of a Backhand Slice
A backhand slice sounds pretty easy, right? Well, the motion is easy, but there are a few other things you should know.
For one, you have to be ready to hit the ball at varying heights. You simply won’t know until after you have committed to the backhand slice how high the ball will arrive.
You have to adjust to a ball that bounces too high by extending your legs and stretching to a point where your swing still starts higher than the ball and can slide under it on contact.
Don’t think that because it is high that you have to overplay the angle. If anything, you will probably need to stay more horizontal until you pass the racket underneath.
For a low ball, bend your knees to bring the racket to a height close enough to maintain the smooth horizontal frontward motion. Trying to adjust the contact from a full-upright position will probably result in a missed shot.
The technique of a backhand slice is easy. Shuffle over to a 90-degree angle. Turn your shoulders a bit as you bring the racket over your left shoulder.
Swing forward with a slightly downward trajectory and slide the racket under the ball as you make contact. Extend the racket arm and the opposite arm fully until you look like a hood ornament.
What we can’t teach you- and if we can’t teach you, no one can- is the touch of the shot. Expect to wallop a few balls into the surrounding courts and to dribble a few balls off the racket frame before you master the backhand slice.
You can not practice it enough. Most experts recommend using a wall or a partner hitting short shots to start out. Extend the distance until you can use the backhand slice from the baseline.
Instructions for Use
Initially, you should not try to get fancy with a backhand slice. Be satisfied with just getting it over the net. The change of speeds is a weapon in and of itself.
As time goes on, you will get better at placing the return all around the court. This is when things get fun.
Pushing the ball at the feet of your opponent forces him to get defensive. Making him charge in for a short ball or move side to side will make a typical player’s return more predictable.
The lack of speed also causes the ball to bounce lower than a topspin return. For that reason, the return should come from an upward angle, resulting in a higher, slower and more predictable delivery.
In other words, you’re set up for a great follow-up shot.
If you feel your opponent is taking control of a long volley or simply has you out of position, a backhand slice may give you time to get into a more comfortable location for the return.
But Wait! There’s More!
This article is about the backhand slice, but if you read on for the next few hundred words or so, we’ll throw in some tips about other swings you can make with the same technique.
Once you have a great feel for the ball on this shot, you can start to get creative.
When you have an opponent on his heels waiting for another deep backhand slice, he is set up beautifully for a drop shot. The backhand dropshot looks just like the slice until it is too late.
For a drop shot, you start out with the same exact same positioning, grip and wind-up. The difference is in the swing.
Whereas you swing through a slice, you will hit a drop shot in more of a rainbow motion with more of an undercut.
To practice, place a bucket about a meter on the other side of the net. Hit two slices and then try to drop the third shot into the bucket.
And That’s Not All!
If you are really feeling good about your ball control, you can try experimenting with a side spin instead of a slice. Do this by pulling off the ball sideways more than underneath.
Sometimes, the effect will look like a simple one-handed backhand. But if you can disguise it to look like a slice and then put a serious spin on the ball, it will skip instead of bounce, leaving your opponent marvelling at your tennis prowess.
What a Player!
Mastering the backhand slice will improve your overall game by giving you control over your opponent. Use the slower pace and good placement to keep the other player pinned to the baseline, running all over, or scrambling in for a drop shot.
Control your own game too. Charge the net on your own terms. Use the backhand slice to get yourself out of any trouble.
You might now win every match, but at the very least you will extend rallies so both you and your opponent can enjoy your tennis game that much more.