For those starting out in tennis, getting to know the different types of strokes, stances, terms, grips, etc., can feel overwhelming. Not to worry, we have your back! In our new teaching series titled, “The Beginner’s Guide” (fitting, right?) we’ve enlisted some of Canada’s top instructors to provide us with their expert steps and hot tips on how to approach the various basics of tennis. A free lesson? Pretty sweet, right?
Background: Ralph Platz has been involved in tennis for the majority of his life as both a player and coach. He joined Tennis Canada’s National Training Centre in the fall of 2008 and currently works with the country’s top junior girls.
According to Platz, “The slice backhand is an extraordinary shot with multiple uses that every player, professional and recreational alike, should all have in their arsenal.” When to use it? In a variety of situations! His advice: “When attacking with precision, setting up an attack, neutralizing, changing the rhythm of a rally, putting pressure on your opponent, and of course defending.” Simply, the backhand slice can show up pretty much anytime during a game; “in the form of a drive, a return of serve, a sharp angle, a drop shot, a lob,” and Coach Platz’s personal favourite: “the chip and charge!”
Need a point of reference for what constitutes a death grip? So did we! Platz says to keep your grip lukewarm, “If we used a scale from one-to-ten, ten being the death grip and one being the racquet falling out of your hand, a player should be holding on with the firmness of a six to a seven!” Keeping your grip mildly relaxed enables a little more touch and more racquet speed.
Remember the grip you held for a volley? Good news! You can use the same one for the backhand slice! To successfully hold a Continental grip, Platz’s instructions are as follows: “Place your index finger knuckle (on the palm of your hand) on the third bevel of your racquet handle or on the right side of your racquet. The heel of your hand (the fleshy part of your palm right above your wrist) should be placed on the second bevel of your racquet handle. This grip will allow you to keep your wrist cocked upwards in order to keep your racquet head above your wrist throughout the stroke!”
Like with any good stroke, preparation is key! To do this, Platz suggests we say, “unit turn“ to ourselves before the ball bounces onto our side of the court. What does “unit turn“ mean? “From your ready position, turn your upper body about 90 degrees and bring your racquet back, changing to your continental grip simultaneously,” says Platz.
“Whenever possible, it’s a great idea to step into your shot,” says Platz, “this encourages you to move into the ball, using your stronger body muscles: your legs.” To nail this forward momentum, step in with your right leg, heel first, and rock to your toe through the swing, transferring your body weight through the shot. He reminds us that our step should be longer than our shoulder width.
“As tennis players, we can find great benefits in staying low, including a solid athletic base for balance and being able to keep our impact in our hitting zone, ideally between our hips and shoulders. With the slice backhand we often find ourselves in a situation of having to use our slice to reply to our opponent’s slice, low shot or short shot. When you step into your slice backhand, try to ensure that your back knee is lower than your point of impact. This will make you bend at the knees for stability, instead of at the waist, which could create poor balance and result in too much arm with your shot.”
Ideally, a player should be impacting the ball well in front of the body, with an arm that is almost fully extended. To perfect this, Platz says that your elbow should be slightly bent for relaxation.
“Generally the backhand slice is a high to low shot but the swing path can greatly vary according to the tactical situation we find ourselves in. If your opponent hits a high heavy ball, causing the ball to climb on you, you may find your impact to be around your shoulder height in which case the swing path could be at a sharper downwards angle, making contact with the ball slightly higher than the middle of the ball. If your impact is lower you might impact right in the middle of the ball. For a visual reference, draw a dot on the ball with a pen knowing where you might want to make contact with the ball according to the impact height.”
“Use your left shoulder to anchor your shot. As you make impact with your ball, you will want to split both your arms and shoulders, throwing both arms backwards at the same time. This will also allow for more swing and racquet speed, accelerating your racquet head through your impact. At the end of your stroke you should feel a slight stretch in your pectoral muscles. Try to keep your body on the same parallel as the shot you are hitting. For example, if you are hitting down the line, your body and follow through will be parallel with the doubles alley. If you are going cross-court, your body will finish on the same parallel as your shot. This measurement will help you to follow through towards your target and ensure consistent accuracy.”
“Essentially the set up (unit turn) and follow through are the same for a backhand slice drive and a backhand slice drop shot. For the drive you will want to hit through your ball. For a drop shot you will want to make impact more underneath the ball creating more backspin and a more rainbow shaped trajectory. Practice the two different impacts by driving your slice twice and dropping your slice on the third shot. Try to keep your set up and unit turn the same for each shot. The target for the drop shot could be a bucket placed about a meter from the net on your opponents side of the court. Another great way to practice this is on a backboard.”
Naturally, Coach Platz reminds us that practice is the key to success. With an endless number of ways to strategically incorporate the backhand slice into your game, have no fear and play around!
1) A slice backhand drive cross-court and then a slice backhand drop shot down the line!
2) A slice backhand down the line to set up an attack forehand drive!
3) A slice backhand sharp angle to set up a topspin backhand down the line attack!
4) A slice backhand approach down the line to set up a volley winner!
5) A chip slice return of serve and charge the net!
Class dismissed! Go on, what are you waiting for? Pick up that racquet!
Some hot tips on how to get your slice started:
Tweaking a few more of the basics:
Watch a pro nail it in slow motion: