So you want to hit a slice, do you? You see Federer ripping backhand slices to his opponents and he makes it look so easy. But as you may have discovered, it’s not.
Hitting the backhand slice can be very challenging for beginner players. This is because you need to put backspin on the ball and still hit with pace.
Heck, even intermediate players can struggle with their backhand slice. But why?
It’s because the slice is hit with a continental grip and from high-to-low, unlike the other groundstrokes. Often beginners end up opening their racket face too much. This causes the ball to pop up and lack pace, which is the most common issue on the slice.
Here are the keys to hitting a great backhand slice:
- Continental grip
- An exaggerated shoulder turn and high take back of the racket
- Swinging from high to low
- Contacting the ball with a slightly open racket face
- Keeping to the side on the swing
- Following through in the right position
While the stroke looks easy to pull off, there’s a lot that goes into it. And a lot can go wrong with it as well. I’ve broken the backhand slice down into six steps, which are listed below.
Go through each step slowly. Get each one correct before moving to the next. If you follow my instructions, you’ll be hitting smooth backhand slices in no time.
How To Hit The Backhand Slice
Step 1 – Before you hit any shot in tennis, you’ll want to be in the ready position. Your body should be facing the net with toes pointing forward. Feet are slightly wider than shoulder width, knees bent slightly.
Once you decide to hit the backhand slice, position your hitting hand into the continental grip on the racket. This is essentially the hammer grip with the pointer finger knuckle on the second bevel.
This grip will place the strings in a slightly open position at contact. The nondominant hand should hold the throat of the racket. The grip of both hands should be a medium squeeze, neither too light or too hard.
This is all you need to do for step one. But let me give you a few caveats about the slice, which are often the result of grip issues. This could save you a lot of time and frustration later.
The tricky thing about the slice is making sure the racket face is at the perfect angle when contacting the ball. You may, therefore, need to adjust your hand ever so slightly on the grip if the ball is not being hit flush.
The angle of the racket face should be slightly open at contact – no more than 10 degrees. If the face is straight on, you can still slice the ball if you swing high to low. But if the face is too open or too closed, it won’t work.
Step 2 – There’s a ton of information in this step, so pay attention. If you watch the video I made and read this blog post, it’s probably best for learning.
While video is awesome, I like writing these blog posts, as I can fill in all the details that video usually lacks. Okay, now onto step two.
You’re going to make a strong unit turn of your upper body to your backhand side. Raise the racket up to head level. I like to bring my hands up to eye level.
Keep your elbows away from your body. I see a lot of players keeping their elbows close to their body on groundstrokes, which is incorrect. This is an important tip for all groundstrokes when getting into the power position.
As you make the unit turn, your head should still be somewhat facing the net. This takes some dexterity and will probably be easier for younger players. Turn as much as possible without straining your neck.
When I first started teaching, many adults told me they couldn’t turn very far because their necks would strain when trying to keep their heads forward. If you learn to play at an early age, it just seems natural, so it surprised me to hear this.
Keep in mind, we all need to work within the limitations of our bodies. So only turn as much as comfortable.
After your unit turn, your opponent should be able to see your back. Your hands and racket should be behind you and up high. The hitting hand and racket will be close to your neck. Your eyes should be looking at the court.
The butt cap of the racket should be facing to your left. As for the angle of the racket face, I like to point the hitting strings toward the sky, like Dominic Thiem. You can have the hitting face at a 45-degree angle if you want, pointing half-way to the sky and half-way to the net.
Your feet will pivot to the left (if you are right-handed) and your right foot will be on the toes. This will place most of your weight on your left foot. If you are left-handed, simply do the opposite of the instructions in this post.
Step 3 – At this point, you should feel a good stretch on the right side of your body. Now here comes the point at which we step into the shot.
I want you to hold everything in the same position. The only change is that we’re going to step forward and to the left with our right foot. This will place our right foot about 18 inches in front of the left (meaning 18 inches closer to the net).
The heel of the right foot should be around the toes of the left foot. This will place our feet in perfect alignment to hit the slice.
Keep in mind that when you hit the slice for real, you’ll want to step in as you hit the ball. This helps transfer your weight forward. In other words, you won’t step, wait a couple of seconds and then hit. It should all be one continuous motion.
For now, we’re going through the backhand slice, step-by-step, so you can learn it.
Step 4 – You’re now in the full power position of the backhand slice. This is the optimal position to swing the racket down and forward to contact.
When we initiate the swing, we can keep our feet in the same position. The only difference is that our weight will be transferring from left foot to right foot during the swing. This is crucial for maximizing power.
Begin the swing by letting go of the racket with the left hand. The swing path of the racket will be forward and slightly down. One beginner error I see here is overemphasizing the downward part of the swing too early. Think more straight on than down if this problem is happening with you.
As the hitting arm moves from behind you towards your body, it should completely straighten. A straight arm on contact gives us more power.
One point about the role of the left arm. After letting go of the racket with the left hand, move the left arm back to stabilize the body. Don’t just let it hang at your side.
Step 5 – Contact the ball with the racket face open about 10 degrees. This means the strings will be pointed upwards slightly at contact.
This is a very crucial part of the backhand slice. If the racket face is too open the ball will pop up with no pace. If too closed, you’ll end up hitting the frame.
A big mistake I see here is players opening the face well past 10 degrees. Often, they have no idea how much they are opening the face and can’t correct it. This makes it difficult to hit the slice.
If this is you, I have a drill that can help. Step over to the fence for a moment. Get relatively close and initiate a slice, swinging your racket into the fence.
Do it slowly and see what position the racket face is at when it strikes the fence. This will your contact point. For the sake of this drill, try to keep your racket face completely straight-on to the fence at contact.
There’s a reason I want your strings to be directly impacting the fence head-on. This will exaggerate a closed racket face, which will counter keeping the face too open. Shadow swing into the fence 15-20 times or until it feels comfortable.
Now back to the court and the action.
Once you contact the ball, keep the arm moving forward and down. By doing this, your arm will automatically move to the right side of your body, which is where it should go.
Step 6 – Keep your body maintained in the same side position as long as possible. Once the racket moves across your body, it will feel natural to square the shoulders to the net.
Squaring the shoulders at this point is fine. But if you square up too early (before the racket is nearly finished moving), you’ll compromise the stroke. This is another common issue beginner players have with the backhand slice. I called it opening up too soon.
Now, if you’ve done the stroke correctly, your weight should be completely on your front foot (right). If you want to add more power to the slice, you can slide your left foot under your right, kind of like bowlers do.
We need to slide up our left foot because the right foot still has the weight on it. Sliding up the left foot is not necessary to hit a powerful slice, but it does help.
You’ll notice that after your hitting arm is near completion, it will raise up. This is natural. I think of the slice as an up-down-up motion.
The arm does raise back up on most shots towards the end. This is just the natural biomechanics of the body at work.
At the end of the stroke, the hitting face of the racket should be pointed to the sky. However, in some instances, the hitting side will finish facing the net.
There are no one-size-fits-all rules in tennis when it comes to strokes. The strokes will always vary slightly depending on the player and what situation he or she is in.
As an example, you might see Federer hit his backhand slice in five different ways. But each one is hit from a different position, so they’ll vary.
Backhand Slice – Putting It All Together
I’ve given you step-by-step details on how hit the backhand slice. Look at the pictures and check out the video as well. The combination of all three will give you a great idea of how to hit the shot.
Here’s my advice on how to practice the backhand slice. First, I would go through each step. Start with step one and slowly make your way to step six. Practice slowly by yourself. If you do it at home in front of a full-length mirror, that would be ideal.
Once you can put all the steps together and blend them into one stroke, shadow swing the backhand slice at least 100 times. After you do at least 100 reps, you can take it out to the court.
If you’re alone, you can use a tennis ball machine to practice your stroke. Or, if you don’t have access to a ball machine, go to a wall. If you have a practice partner, have your partner toss or hit you slow, high balls to your backhand.
You may want to start in the power position at first. Once you feel comfortable working from there, you can start in the ready position and perform the whole stroke.
I just taught the backhand slice to a 10-year-old student of mine. She’s a good player and caught on quickly. I used all the information in this post in our lesson. It worked beautifully and I’m certain she’s going to take a step up in her tennis game by adding the slice.
Early in the lesson, and as I expected, she opened her racket face too much on contact during the first hits. So I took her over to the fence and we worked on the drill I shared with you earlier.
The fence drill helped, and she kept the racket face closed more on contact. Within 10 minutes she was hitting good backhand slices.
They had backspin and were landing deep to the other side of the court. The only thing they lacked was pace. But that comes in time. In only one lesson, she was hitting the backhand slice!
I tell you this because I believe anyone can learn the backhand slice. And it shouldn’t take long to learn either.
Uses For The Backhand Slice
Now, using the backhand slice in a match is different. In a match, you’ll be on the run and under pressure. I would suggest using it in practice first and then trying it in a match.
You may be wondering when to use the slice. Here are times you’ll want to use the backhand slice during a match:
- When you receive a very high ball to your backhand side
- When you want to “chip and charge”. This entails hitting a slice and coming to net.
- On the return of serve. This is especially true when the ball kicks up high.
- When you’re on the defensive and don’t have time to set up for a topspin backhand.
- When the ball is too low and far in front of you to hit a topspin backhand. On these occasions, the slice is usually your only option.
- When you’re tired. The slice will allow you to hit a deep shot back to your opponent with less effort than a topspin backhand.
- When you want to vary the spin or change up the tempo on your opponent.
If you’re serious about improving in tennis, you’ll definitely need to add the backhand slice to your arsenal. I just gave you seven different reasons why you would use it in a match.
All the top players in the world work the backhand slice into their games – and quite often. If you’re a one-handed backhand player, it’s almost mandatory you learn the slice. This is the only way you can handle the high shots.
Why You Should Learn The Backhand Slice
Hitting balls up high to your backhand is one of the most uncomfortable shots in tennis. The slice makes it a lot easier. By slicing, we can hit strong, effective shots that come high to our backhand wing.
What I like about the slice is that it can be used equally effectively on any height shot. You can hit high balls, medium height shots, and even low balls with the slice. All can be hit hard and with good spin.
Most consider the slice a defensive shot, but it can also be used offensively, like on the chip and charge. The overall effect of the slice is to keep the ball skidding low. This forces your opponent to hit a low shot and usually robs them of time.
I’ve played against great players who hit almost all their backhands with slice. I can specifically recall two (Manny and Charlie). Manny’s a 5.5 player who exclusively hits backhand slice. I didn’t think it was possible to play at 5.5 level without a great topspin backhand, but Manny proved otherwise.
Manny has the best and most effective slice I’ve ever seen. It comes in fast with tons of underspin. Trying to volley it at the net was almost pointless. It was so good he never needed to hit a topspin backhand.
Charlie’s slice is also excellent but doesn’t have as much spin or pace as Manny’s. That’s not to say it doesn’t. It has excellent spin and pace.
But Charlie places his slices better. He can slice deep to the baseline or to the middle of the court. Even more tricky, his slice and drop shot look identical, so you never know if he’s dropping. This one wins him a lot of easy points.
I share my experience with these players with you for a reason. And that is to inspire you to learn the slice. For those who have a terrible topspin backhand, take comfort in knowing that you can still reach a good level in tennis (4.0-5.0) with a strong slice.
If you have any questions about the slice, drop them in the comment section below. Thanks for coming this far with me. Now go practice!
Featured Image By Mike McCune from Portland [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
Where is the Vedio showing the Backhand Slice discussed throughout this article?
This was excellent! I too make sure to teach this critically important stroke to all my students–its versatility and high percentage of error makes it an invaluable stroke. My one small issue would be concerning the use of the back (left for righties) arm at the initiation of the swing forward into the ball’s path. I would suggest that you emphasize more so that the left arm reach back parallel to the baseline with a feeling of the shoulder blades pinching together at the end of the swing. In addition: its important to recognize the “Physics” involved– as the hands separate, the player is utilizing the Law of Physics that basically states: “For every action–there is an opposite and equal reaction”….this is where a great deal of the power of the straight hitting arm is derived from…its akin to stretching a rubber band in opposite directions…my point being-the reaching back with the left arm has much more to do with a successful swing than simply acting as a counterbalance. Again, well done–nice to read instruction that was correct and concise in its detail.