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Slice and Dice: The Best Way to Mix it Up
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
While the slice stroke is far more prevalent among club and recreational players, its use at the pro level (relatively rare just a few years ago ) is becoming much more common. Skilled players use the slice shot as a calculated manner with an awareness of how it can be effective. The variety of slice shots by skilled players include approach shots that stay very low, drop shots that are not just effective but can be winners in and of themselves, and rescue shots that can help salvage a point when all seems lost.
On the other hand, the use of the slice among unskilled players is seldom a decisive or premeditated shot designed to exact a specific response by an opponent. The slice is usually a result of a limited ability to hit other shots that usually are considered more appropriate. However, there are both exceptions to this statement as well as times that a slice is indeed effective against certain opponents by unskilled players.
Similar Spin Advantage
One reason so many recreational players use a slice is because it actually feels comfortable to hit. The explanation for this comfort comes from what is called "Similar Spin Advantage." When a shot is hit towards a player on a tennis court, after the bounce almost every ball, even those hit with significant underspin, will come out of the bounce with topspin. (The exception to this is a ball hit with a lot of underspin on a trajectory that has fairly significant loft relative to a slower forward velocity. This ball can indeed have enough spin and limited forward velocity to change the ball’s rotational component completely.) So, any ball that is bouncing will always have forward (topspin) rotation towards the receiving player. A slice stroke will hit an incoming ball with the strings moving across the ball in the same direction that ball is already spinning. Thus, contact with the ball will have far less friction against the strings with a slice stroke than if the player were to hit up the back of this ball with a topspin stroke.
The result of the Similar Spin Advantage influences players to resort to a slice because the stroke feels more comfortable and much easier to control.
Because of these issues, players learn–perhaps subconsciously–they can control balls more consistently, especially balls hit with a lot of topspin, with a slice and end up using the slice almost exclusively.
Good Slice–Bad Slice
In my experience, I’ve seen many recreational and club level players hit a slice both intentionally and effectively. Obviously, if pros hit the slice (usually on the backhand wing), that the slice has both purpose and effect beyond the Similar Spin Advantage.
What differentiates the skilled slice from the unskilled can be boiled down to one word--wrist. One of the worst words in tennis vernacular to call a player is “hacker.” This word evokes the connotation of hitting at a ball with unsophisticated strokes usually involving the use of the wrist as in flipping, flicking, and flailing at a tennis ball. The action or use of the wrist causes the tennis racquet’s face, (plane of the racquet), to change dramatically within the hitting window. This creates the need for nearly perfect timing on such hits, especially when a player tries to swing harder.
A good slice is a relatively smooth stroke that involves a fluid swing path of the arm with the racquet quiet in the hand. This action allows the racquet face to stay on the desired target line longer, creates a longer hitting zone (where the racquet’s plane is maintained throughout this zone), and allows the player to improve his or her aim within the stroke, especially over time and when hit with greater pace.
Players need to hit the slice with this concept in mind. Early preparation–setting the racquet angle early and moving into position so the shot can be executed in this way assures the integrity of the stroke. When these issues have been met, the shot is often hit with great success and effect.
Against Severe Grips
One more recent use of the slice has been against opponents who use severe grips on their forehands and Roger Federer is notable for this tactic. Players who use a semi or full western grip often have difficulty hitting very low balls which Federer hits short to their forehands. The reason for the difficulty is that the grip closes the racquet face so severely on such balls that players can’t get their racquet low enough to cleanly hit their forehands.
Today, players and coaches are revisiting the backhand slice as a weapon to use against these strong grip forehands. We are seeing players even running around their forehand at times to slice a backhand towards the forehand side of their opponent’s court. And, unlike more conventional strategies, this slice is oftentimes more effective when it is hit shorter rather than deeper. Often, we see such a slice shot result in opponents mis-hitting balls, or, at best, hitting weaker balls that can be attacked.
Today the slice shot is not only increasing in use at the pro level, it is being fully integrated at all levels of the game. The key, of course, is to learn to execute the shot in ways that are favorable to the intended outcome; limited wrist action and early preparation are two important keys.
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A Tale of Two Americans
The contrast between the performances of impressive Andy Roddick and inept Venus Williams in the Sony Ericsson Open finals was stark and instructive. Why have the two American stars declined since the end of 2003? And based on those two matches, what should we expect from them during the rest of 2010 and their pro careers? Paul Fein has some suspicions as to where the two players go from here.
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The Fear of Losing
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