Tennis Forehand Slice

tennis forehand slice

The forehand slice is a shot which is rarely taught or discussed in modern tennis. At the highest level, many matches go by without a single sliced forehand being played. Nonetheless, the shot can be very useful in a variety of situations, and some professionals have enjoyed quite a bit of success using it as their main option on the forehand side.

In this article I will tell you what you need to know about how and when to play a tennis forehand slice by answering some of the commonly asked questions.

How Do You Hit A Slice In Tennis?

The essence of a slice is that it is the opposite of a topspin. If you look at a tennis shot side-on from the player’s right, a ball hit with topspin will appear to be rotating clockwise. Aerodynamically it will appear to rise and then dip, kicking forward and up off the court surface when it lands. 

In contrast, a sliced groundstroke will appear to be rotating anti-clockwise. The ball will follow a low, flattish path through the air and then bounce up (but not far forward) on a grippy court surface like acrylic. On a  surface like grass which creates less friction, the ball will tend to skid and stay low.

To hit a slice, you need to strike the ball with a high-to-low movement, thus imparting backspin. This is most easily done if you are holding the racket in either a continental or Eastern grip (see ‘How to hold a tennis racket’ on this site for details of these grips).

Is There A Forehand Slice In Tennis?

After watching some players in action, you could be forgiven for thinking that the answer to this question was ‘no’, but of course this is far from the truth. There are many different types of forehand slice shot, all of which have their uses. 

When To Use Forehand Slice

It is possible to play every single forehand shot as a slice, but this is unlikely to be the most effective way to play. In this section, I will look at some of the circumstances in which a forehand slice shot can be played successfully, and the broad technique which should be used.

Return of serve. If your opponent has a very fast or heavily spun serve, and you are having difficulty controlling it with a flat or topspun return, a block return with a little slice can be effective. To achieve this, play the return rather like a volley, with a continental or Eastern grip, a short take-back and a punchy, high-to-low action.

Retrieving a wide ball. If you are under pressure in a rally and are forced to stretch very wide to retrieve a ball on your forehand side, it is unlikely that you will be able to play a topspin shot. Instead, the best option is to stretch wide, perhaps in an open stance, and move the racket from high to low and through the line you want the ball to travel. This is known as a ‘squash shot’ and a good one will fly low and fast over the net.

Approach shots. Sometimes, especially on a low-bouncing court like grass, your opponent may hit a low, short ball. When you reach it, the ball may only be a few inches off the ground, meaning that a topspin is not a realistic option. The best choice is, using a continental or Eastern grip, to cut sharply under the ball with a high-to-low action, following through either straight up the court or cutting across the line to impart additional side-spin.

Drop Shots. Slice will make the ball stop short after it hits the court, so it is the obvious choice if you want to hit a short ball to surprise your opponent. Disguise is key, so you will prepare as though you intend to hit an aggressive topspin, and, at the last second, cut under the ball with a high-to-low action, perhaps adding some side-spin for good measure.

Underarm (‘Underhand’ in the US) Serve. This is basically a drop shot played at the start of a rally, so the same arguments set out in the previous paragraph apply. Disguise is crucial, but if executed well against a player who is standing a long way back, it can be very effective.

Defensive Lob. If you are defending desperately, you are unlikely to be able to execute a topspin lob. Hitting a very high lob with some slice, by cutting under the ball with a flattish swing, can give you time to get back into a rally.

Rallying. Only a few top players will use a forehand slice routinely for a rally ball, but on a low-bouncing surface like grass the shot can be effective in preventing an opponent from attacking and keeping them on the move. The shot is executed with a flowing high-to-low action and a continental or Eastern grip, using a neutral or semi-open stance. An out-to-in movement can be incorporated to add side-spin.

Top Players Who Use A Forehand Slice

Many leading players will use the block-slice return and forehand squash-shot described above. The latter has been a key element of Roger Federer’s defensive game for a number of years. Most of the more adaptable players will also use the forehand slice for approach shots when necessary, although some are better at it than others.

Former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu is one player particularly renowned for her sliced forehand drop shot, which she likes to play with a continental grip. She has even used the shot effectively on hard courts, which is probably more difficult than employing it on softer surfaces. 

The underarm serve is most widely employed by players with big serves and a good touch, such as Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Bublik. It always adds to the entertainment value when it is played well.

Rallying with a sliced forehand is mainly done by players who lack confidence in their topspin game, but it can nonetheless be very effective in the right conditions. Tsvetana Pironkova and Monica Niculescu have both enjoyed success using this tactic, particularly on grass.

How Do You Return A Forehand Slice In Tennis?

The answer to this question depends upon whether you are aiming to reply in kind with a slice, or to hit a topspin. If you are happy to slice the ball back, the standard slice technique can be used, making sure that you stay in a low stance, as the ball may stay quite low.

Many players will want to take the initiative from the slicer by hitting an aggressive topspin. This requires care, however, as the ball may be low, and will not rise off the racket as readily as a ball which comes to you with topspin. To be successful with this tactic, you will need to stay low and develop plenty of racket-head speed, to allow you to control the trajectory of the ball.

Additionally, if the forehand slice has been hit with side-spin, you will need to recognise this and allow more space if you aim to reply with a forehand, as the ball will spin into your body if your opponent is right-handed.

Disadvantages Of Slice In Tennis

The slice forehand has many advantages, but using it for rally balls on slow surfaces like clay and some hard courts can result in the ball bouncing slowly and steeply, seemingly asking to be attacked. This can put the person slicing very much on the defensive and makes the game extremely hard work.

A sliced lob can be useful as a defensive measure, but it is generally slower and easier to attack than the topspin version.

Sliced returns need to be controlled with precision or else a volleyer can pick them off, especially in doubles.

In general, slicing can be very effective, but considerable precision is needed to use it frequently against a strong hitter. It tends to put you on the defensive quite often, so you must be physically and mentally prepared for that. 

Tennis Forehand Slice Summary

Key points about the tennis forehand slice:

– The forehand slice is a little unfashionable, but it is certainly not obsolete.

– The slice can be used effectively in several matchplay situations.

– Many top players, including male and female Grand Slam champions use the sliced forehand.

– Some professionals hit virtually all of their forehands with slice.

– Slicing does have disadvantages, so ideally it is used as a variation or in specific circumstances.

Do you like to hit a forehand slice? Let us know about your experiences via the comments.

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