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Don't Forget the Slice


Match Play And Spin Of The Ball was written in the 1920's by Bill Tilden; the great American tennis player of that decade. Much of the discussion in that book is still relevant in today's game. In a nutshell it's a treatise on the function of ball spin as it relates to specific tactics employed in the game. I'm targeting the slice shot for this article. From beginner to world class, from the turn of the 20th century to the year 2013, this shot we call by many names: slice, back-spin, underspin and even cut, can be the deal breaker in many matches.

Somewhere around 20-25 years ago our game saw a good deal of emphasis on topspin. The flat drive ball of the 70's was gone- spin was in, topspin that is. And everyone was trying to hit it. Coaches were emphasizing it. And it's obviously still in the conversation today. Nadal, the king of top spin, has taken it to new levels. And let me say, right here and now, I encourage the use of topspin myself but in moderate sound bites.

The problem I have, at least from a coaching perspective is when we as coaches over-emphasize its use, particularly at the expense of the import of a slice shot. And I think, in our profession, we need to be vigilant about placing too much emphasis on the use of heavy topspin in the very young junior players. This is a particularly "slippery slope" in my opinion for the young players. I've observed many of these juniors developing lack of depth because of excessive spin emphasis. From my perspective depth is key first. I've also witnessed too many elbow and wrist injuries that I believe were a result of too much topspin. I love Nadal's game but we need to be careful in how we use these "super-players" as stroke role models and sometimes who we use as models.

Really, all spins play an important role in developing a well-rounded and versatile game. For today's players, just like those of the past, the slice is one highly versatile shot. It's critical when forced into a defensive position, i.e. stretching for the wide and short ball, the defensive lob, slice approach shot, chip return of serve, chip cross-court angle passing shot, drop shot and lob volley. It's also useful just to change the shape of the ball in a baseline rally.

But, as many of today's top touring pros will tell you, it's not just for defense. It can be employed in a variety and range of offensive tactics. High balls, especially short ones can be driven with some real force on that slice backhand. A driving slice return of serve, taken on the rise, can be struck with tremendous speed and put a server on the defense in short time. The slice approach shot can be as effective as many topspin ones. And one of the nice added pluses, especially on the one-hand slice backhand is the ability to disguise the shot. It's impossible to read or anticipate the speed, direction, distance or pace of this shot until it is too late. I would encourage you to add the slice to your "tool kit" if not already in the box! Keep using it if it's already part of your arsenal. Maybe think about adding a new tactical use for it next time you're out on the court. As always, enjoy the process along your journey.



Please Note

To reserve a spot for STROKE OF THE WEEK clinic, RSVP to Lyle's email Lyle Schaefer or call at 220-7533 by 5 p.m. on the previous Friday.

Charge is $20 per session due upon arrival.

Summer Stroke of the Week drills held at the В Parklawn Tennis Courts in Middleton, Saturdays at 1:00 (Rain day Sunday)