How To Hit The Slice Shot – Tips From a Pro in 2024

I believe the slice shot in tennis is one of the most underrated shots, especially in an era of power. I still believe it is one of the most effective strokes on a grass court given how low the ball keeps on the skidding grass. Just look how effective Roger Federer has been at Wimbledon over the years.

Mastering how to hit a slice shot in tennis can add a strategic layer to a player’s game. This stroke not only varies the pace but also creates a lower bounce, often disrupting an opponent’s rhythm. I consider it an essential tool for both defensive and offensive plays. Importantly, a well-executed slice can provide the necessary time for repositioning or can be used as a setup for an aggressive shot to finish off your opponent in a point.

how to hit the slice shot

When I hit a slice, I try to focus on technique and finesse rather than power. It’s about carving the ball, using a backspin to reduce its speed and alter its trajectory. For instance, an effective forehand slice requires a continental grip, a sideways stance, and a high-to-low swing path, brushing beneath the ball. Understanding the mechanics and purpose behind the slice enables tennis players to decide when and how to use it for maximum impact during a match.

A well-timed slice can be deadly in a game of tennis; The slice shot can be cunningly offensive, too. By staying low to the ground, the ball forces opponents to hit upwards, setting me up for a potentially dominant position in the next shot exchange. Fine-tuning this stroke often takes practice and patience, but the strategic advantages it provides are well worth the effort.

Read on to further understand this shot;

Understanding the Slice in Tennis

Characteristics of Slice Shots

This is a type of shot where I apply an underspin to the ball, causing it to spin back towards me. When I hit a slice, the ball travels with a flat trajectory and typically has a low bounce, making it a challenging shot for my opponents to return effectively.

Watch this shot by Benjamin Paire to understand extreme slice and spin.  Watch how much the ball bites and bounces back. I’ve not seen anything like this.

The slice is particularly useful as a great defensive shot; it can buy me time to recover my position on the court. It’s also handy in disrupting the rhythm of a player who prefers a high-bouncing ball. Here’s what I consider when executing a slice:

  • Contact Point: I aim to strike the ball slightly on the outside, allowing me to impart that crucial underspin.
  • Racket Face: At contact, I ensure my racket is slightly open to guide the ball with a downward trajectory.
  • Follow-Through: I focus on a shorter follow-through than a regular groundstroke, maintaining a high to low racket path.

Slice Shot Variations

Within the slice shot category, tennis has a variety of strokes that I can use to outmaneuver my opponent.

  1. Slice Forehand: Not as common as the backhand version, but it allows me to approach the net with a different spin and speed, creating an awkward shot for the opponent. It is most like a squash shot.  Most players use this when they are under extreme pressure or might use it when approaching the net.
  2. Slice Backhand: More frequently used; either a two-handed or a classic one-handed backhand slice. It’s excellent for defensive plays and neutralizing high balls.
  3. Drop Shot: A delicate form of the slice shot where I softly touch the ball, creating minimal bounce, often just over the net to make it unreachable for the opponent.
  4. Slice Approach Shot: This prepares me to move to the net by keeping the ball low, forcing my opponent into a less advantageous position to pass me.

How to hit a slice

Fundamentals of a Tennis Slice

Mastering a tennis slice requires precise technique, particularly when it comes to the grip and the racquet’s movement. I’ll break down the mechanics and share with you actionable advice to refine your slice.

Grip Techniques

The choice of grip is integral to executing an effective slice. I always recommend using the continental grip as it naturally aligns the wrist and forearm for the slicing action. Here’s how I grip the racquet:

  • Continental Grip: I place my base knuckle on the first bevel of the racquet handle. This grip facilitates a better cut at the ball, creating backspin.

Some players may opt for an eastern or semi-western grip for forehand slices, though these are less common.

Racket Face and Path

Precise control over the racket face and the path of the swing is crucial for a successful slice. Here’s how I approach it:

  1. Racket Face: I ensure the racket face is slightly open at the point of contact, which imparts the desired backspin. The tilt of the face is subtle but essential.
  2. Racket Path: I swing the racket with a subtle high-to-low motion, making contact with the underside of the ball. The path of the racket head, through the throat and up to the top side, dictates the slice’s trajectory and depth.

For consistent slices, I focus on my racket’s initial position, keeping it high, and then I slice through the ball while maintaining an open racquet face.

how to hit a slice

Executing the Slice Backhand

I know that mastering the slice backhand in tennis hinges on two critical components: proper footwork and stance, and optimal body positioning. These two areas are essential for a strong and effective slice.

Footwork and Stance

To execute the slice backhand, I start with my footwork. It’s crucial to use a neutral stance or a closed stance, depending on the situation and my comfort level. In a neutral stance, I make sure my feet are parallel to the baseline, while in a closed stance, my front foot is closer to the net, which in the case of a right-hander like me is my left foot. My back foot – the right one – is used to pivot and align my body to the incoming ball. This enables me to properly transfer my weight from the back foot to the front foot as I swing.

  •  Stance Options:
    • Neutral Stance: Both feet parallel to the baseline
    • Closed Stance: Left foot forward for right-handers

Body Positioning

When I talk about my upper body positioning, I always focus on maintaining a sideways orientation to the net as I prepare for the slice. I need to ensure my shoulders are turned, with my chest facing the sideline, to create a robust shoulder turn. My non-dominant hand assists in extending the racquet at shoulder height, aligning it for a precise and controlled backswing. During the execution, the racquet cuts underneath the ball, maintaining a high-to-low motion. I keep my eyes on the ball and my head still to maintain focus throughout the stroke.

  • Key Body Positioning Points:
    • Upper Body: Sideways to the net with the chest facing the sideline
    • Shoulder Turn: Essential for preparing to hit the ball
    • Non-Dominant Hand: Helps in racket extension at shoulder level

Executing a slice backhand with the right footwork and body positioning ensures the stroke is both powerful and precise.

Mastering the Slice Forehand

Preparing for the Shot

In preparation for the slice forehand, I make sure to position myself in a ready position with my feet shoulder-width apart. It’s vital for me to perform a split step as my opponent is about to hit the ball; this allows me to react quickly. As I anticipate a low ball, my outside foot plants firmly, providing a stable base from which to initiate the slice. Here, I focus on keeping my balance and preparing my racquet head behind the ball.

Swing Mechanics

My swing mechanics start with a forward swing while keeping the racquet head up. I pay attention to my non-dominant arm, using it for balance and to guide my swing. The arm action should be smooth, creating a backward movement with the racquet to then move forward in a controlled manner. The goal here is to keep the racquet path traveling through a straight line toward the target, ensuring my body weight shifts onto my front foot during the forward motion.

Contact and Follow-Through

Making contact with the back of the ball is essential for a well-executed slice. I aim for a low contact point for low balls or adjust my stance slightly for high balls, ensuring that I strike the ball with a slightly open racquet face. This will impart backspin and control. During my follow-through, my racquet head moves upwards in a high-to-low motion, finishing high and across my body which adds finesse and places the ball precisely on the opposite side of the court.

Strategic Use of the Slice

In tennis, the slice is not just a defensive tool but also a strategic weapon. I use it to handle high balls effectively and to transition into net play, catching my opponent off-guard with a change in ball spin and speed.

Defensively Against High Balls

When facing high balls that push me into a defensive position, I often opt for the slice shot because it allows me to hit the tennis ball back with control. By imparting backspin, I not only manage to keep the ball low, forcing my opponent to hit upwards, but I also buy myself time to return to a neutral position. This strategic use disrupts my opponent’s timing and challenges them to create their own pace for the following shot.

  • Key Aspects:
    • Manage high balls with control
    • Disrupt the opponent’s timing
    • Create a low, challenging return for the opponent

how to hit a slice shot

Offensively as an Approach Shot

Conversely, I use the slice as an offensive strategy, particularly with the slice approach shot. I watched Steffi Graf constantly use this tactic against her opponents sending piercing slice shots so low they barely cleared the net.

This technique assists me in transitioning towards the net, as I hit the ball low and skidding, compelling my opponent to counter with a particularly difficult low passing shot. The slice shot’s backspin reduces the ball’s bounce, which combined with its direction towards the opposite side of the court I’m approaching from, complicates the passing attempt for my rival.

  • Tactical Intent:
    • Approach the net effectively
    • Force the opponent into a low passing shot
    • Guide the ball in the opposite direction for tactical advantage

Advanced Techniques and Tips

In my experience, taking your tennis slice to the next level involves understanding how to handle different types of balls effectively and incorporating the slice strategically in serves and volleys.

Dealing with Different Kinds of Balls

When handling a short ball, it’s crucial to adjust your approach. I make sure to move quickly towards the ball and slice it using a shorter backswing. This allows for a more controlled and precise drop shot, which can catch my opponent off guard. For a low-bouncing ball, I focus on getting low with my knees to maintain a good balance and to hit through the ball with a slice, ensuring the ball stays low over the net.

A common mistake I see is failing to adjust the slice technique when faced with a deep slice. I’ve learned to counter this by stepping back and slicing the ball with a high-to-low swing path, maintaining a firm wrist to impart backspin that causes the ball to skid on the opponent’s side.

Incorporating Slice in Serves and Volleys

During my service game, I sometimes implement a slice serve by using a continental grip and hitting the ball at a slight angle. This imparts side spin, making the ball curve away from my opponent. For an advanced slice serve, I might throw the ball slightly to the right (for a right-handed player like myself) to increase the angle of the curve. It can be an effective mix to change up the rhythm.

As for volley shots, I adopt a continental grip and ensure the racket head stays above the hand for better control. I use a firm wrist and a slight punching motion to slice the volley, keeping it low and forcing my opponent to lift the ball on their next shot. Combining slice volleys with deep baseline slices helps me build a varied and unpredictable game and keeps my opponents guessing.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

When hitting a slice in tennis, I’ve found that players often struggle with grip and swing technique, as well as footwork and balance. These issues can largely impact the effectiveness of their shots either sending the ball long out of court or into the net. Identifying and correcting these common mistakes is key to improving one’s slice.

Grip and Swing Issues

  • Common Mistake: Using an incorrect grip, such as the Eastern or Semi-Western. This results in insufficient backspin and control.
    • How to Avoid: I ensure that my grip is a Continental grip, conducive to opening the racquet face at the right angle for effective slicing.
  • Common Mistake: Swinging with too much pace. Slicing isn’t about power; it’s about spin and placement.
    • How to Avoid: My focus is on a controlled swing path, where I avoid over-rotating my body, which can often compromise precision and send the ball floating upward.

Footwork and Balance Errors

  • Common Mistake: Poor footwork, giving me little time to set up for the shot.
    • How to Avoid: I make sure to take quick adjustment steps, so my outside foot is properly positioned, enabling good balance and forward motion through the ball.
  • Common Mistake: Losing balance due to over-commitment on the follow-through.
    • How to Avoid: Maintaining a good balance is crucial for me. I use my non-dominant hand to help stabilize my body during the shot, ensuring that I hit with a controlled forward motion.

Practice Drills for Perfecting the Slice

To develop a great slice in tennis, I recommend incorporating specific drills that emphasize form, feel, and technique. My experience suggests that frequent and mindful practice leads to a solid slice. Below, I outline a few drills that can assist in perfecting the slice:

  1. Sideways Stance Drill: To maintain a sideways position after contact, I practice hitting against a wall or with a partner while consciously focusing on keeping my body 90 degrees to the net post-contact. I ensure that my hitting shoulder is aligned correctly and my feet are in the proper stance throughout the stroke.
  2. Feel the Slice Drill: It’s important to get a good feel for the slice, so I often hit slices from the high-to-low motion emphasizing a brushing motion against the ball. This helps me keep a smooth stroke while also ensuring the ball has backspin.
  3. Short Backswing Drill: For a more controlled and efficient slice, I practice taking a shorter backswing. This helps prevent over-hitting and keeps my slice sharp and low to the net.
  4. Target Practice: I aim for targets placed on the court to develop precision with my slice. I vary the depth and angle of targets to challenge my ability to hit slices in different court positions.

Remember: Practice with purpose. Each stroke should be deliberate, focusing on the correct form and desired outcome. My advice is to do shorter, more intense practice sessions (20-30 minutes). 

Analyzing Professional Players

In analyzing professional tennis players, I focus on the intricacies of technique and mental prowess that set the elite apart, particularly observing the slice as a strategic element and a testament to skill.

Techniques from Top Players

In my view, Roger Federer’s backhand slice is a compelling study of efficiency and elegance. I’ve noted the following key components:

  • Preparation: Federer sets up early, with a keen eye on the ball’s trajectory.
  • Grip: He utilizes a continental grip, which affords him both control and the ability to generate spin.
  • Stance: There’s a noticeable balance and fluidity even in Federer’s ready stance, which transitions seamlessly into his stroke.
  • Follow-through: Federer’s racket finishes high, indicative of hitting through the ball, not just chopping at it.

These elements contribute to a slice that’s not just defensive but offensive, allowing top players to maneuver into a more advantageous position or to slice sharply to change the tempo and rhythm of the game.

Who has the best backhand slice in the professional game?

While many tennis players have strong slices, Roger Federer is often credited with having the best backhand slice in the professional game. His slice is not merely a tool for defensive play; it becomes an offensive weapon. Federer uses it in various difficult situations, hits it short and then long, and uses it in defense and attack.

His ability to execute this shot with such finesse and purpose reflects his overall mastery and deep understanding of match strategy. One observation I note about Federer’s backhand is that he hits from very high to low and his natural talent and timing allow him to get away with it.  Most of us mere mortals should not be hit with that much downward swing as it will increase our error count.

Final Thoughts

In writing this article, I’ve aimed to equip you with a comprehensive understanding of the slice shot technique in tennis. Through practice, this stroke can become a strategic component of your game, offering variety and keeping your opponents off balance.

Key Takeaways:

  • Grip: Employing a continental grip is essential. Whether it’s for a backhand or forehand slice, the angle of the racket is paramount in creating the desired spin.
  • Body Position: I’ve emphasized the importance of a side-on stance with body weight shifting from the back foot to the front foot during the stroke.
  • Racket Movement: The path of the racket should travel from high to low, with the hitting phase angled slightly under the ball to generate backspin.

For many players I’ve encountered, the slice has become not just a defensive stroke but a great way to change the pace of the game. While this guide serves as a handy guide, remember that on-court experience is invaluable. Incorporate the slice into match play and work out your comfort level on where and when to use it.

As we wrap up, I encourage you to keep practicing the techniques and drills shared. It’s not just about knowing the mechanics but also about feeling them. Tennis is as much a physical sport as it is mental, and the slice is a perfect illustration of this interplay. Use this shot wisely, and it can very well become a key asset in your tennis repertoire.

Let us know how you get on.

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David Harris

David is the founder and chief writer at Tennis Pursuits. A tennis fanatic, David has extensive experience of the game and has reviewed 100s of products to date. He is passionate about helping others on their tennis journey.

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