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Entries in Slices (3)


4 Reminders: Below The Knees and Above The Shoulders

Unless you possess overwhelming power, then here are 4 simple reminders to help you increase your odds of winning.  

1) Make your opponent run.  This is why every great player is a master of the figure-8 drill.  Can you effectively control the ball accurately into the corners while you are moving, hitting over the high part of the net, and changing the direction of the ball?  Everyone talks about hitting great crosscourts (nothing wrong with that), but I challenge you to get really good at hitting down-the-lines and not missing!  Hit down-the-lines in a way that do not hurt you on the next ball- below their knees or above their shoulders.  The moment a coach says practice down-the-lines, the player swings for the fences.  This is not good tennis and will certainly guarantee you losing 1 and 1.  Don't want to be labeled a pusher, well you will be labeled a bonafide loser.  What the coach really means is to find a ball you can effectively hit 10 out of 10 times.  Yes 10 out of 10 is manageable and is what is expected of a great player.  

2) Make your opponent hit balls over the shoulder.  Work on their head.  See if they can mentally handle balls over the shoulder (you must be willing to do your part), point after point.  Be ready to defend and know that winners will be hit against you.  It's okay, that goes with the territory. Play the odds and frustrate them as the match unfolds.  You must not give your opponent any comfortable shots to hit (if you can help it).  You must send a message that this is your identity and you are willing to make them hit 24 winners to win the set. If they win the set, congratulate them and make them work just as hard in the 2nd.  Make life miserable for them, in fact, make them cry!  You will be surprised how many wimps and Momma's Boys there are in the tennis world (Rafa made a living on this!).  "Mommy, mommy!"  Make them cry.

3) Make your opponent hit balls below the knees.  Get really good at slicing.  Slices that bounce above the knees are not slices, so get back on the practice court and learn how to slice.  I don't care what anyone says, its very hard to hit winners against a good slice (ala Stevie Johnson, Federer, Schiavone, Feliciana Lopez).  The ball is below the level of the net and it defies physics to be able to torque a ball hard enough up and over the net to hit a winner.  Your opponent labors trying to generate enough pace to create an opening.  The slice has been known to drive some supposed "tough cookies" mad.  Federer chucked his racquet across the court against Santoro.  Djokovic should have lost the 1st set to Dolgopolov and was clearly puzzled/annoyed/pissed at the same time.  

4) Aim for the middle.  If all else fails, take all the pace off the ball and hit it up the middle.  Hit it high middle, low middle.  So many players can't volley, so make them beat you with a volley.  I would argue your pass is better than their volley.  Odds are your opponent has hit 1 volley for every 50 groundstrokes (sounds extreme, but I'm right).  Middle gives your opponent no angle and no easy way to run you off the court (if you hit it high or low or deep).  Smoke a cigar in-between points as the fume comes out of their ears.  Throw in a defensive moon lob for good measure to accelerate the crying process.  Be ready to run!  But next time you are on the practice courts, do figure eights to learn how to hit closer to the lines while on the move, so you can expand your game.   




Steal This Drill: Slice Backhands and Volleys

Here is another great drill for you to practice with your friends or coach (preferably the former). This drill involves volleys and slices - two strokes that are not often mastered by today's youth. If you want to become a great player, it is important to practice being multi-dimensional. Once you relegate yourself to a certain game style, a good opponent will be able to take you out of your comfort zone. However, if you have additional tricks in the bag to fall back upon, the opponent will have a more difficult time getting to you.

With the foregoing in mind, the drill is as follows: 1 player at the net; 1 player at the baseline. The baseline player gets to cover one half (his backhand half) only. The player at the net must cover his whole singles court. The baseline player can only hit slice backhands (including chip-lobs) but the volley player cannot hit any winners (i.e. she must move the baseline player around in the half-court with deep or angle volleys). At first blush, it seems like it would be a simple game, however, as the baseline player's slice develops, his shots will be more difficult to handle for the volleyer. The perfect slices will skim the net and go fairly close to the sidelines (without missing) (image #2). The baseline player should seek to move his opponent around with these knifing backhands and break down the volleyers legs. The players can play baseline games up to 11, 15 or 21 and then switch roles. This is a great drill to incorporate in your 1-on-1 practices outside of lessons (Note: drill can also be done 2-on-1 with two players at the net). Remember, don't wait for a coach to force-feed you information. Take accountability for your own development. 



For some reason, American coaches tend to de-emphasize the slice (and also, it's cousin, the chip). Perhaps, it's because these are not seen as forceful shots and we tend to view ourselves as an aggressive nation - always taking the game to the opponent. Maybe it's because so many of our players utilize a two-handed backhand. Nevertheless, slices are one of the most effective weapons (uhmmm.... Federer???) that a player can hope to master but the player will be successful only through lots of practice as the preparation, grip, stroke, footwork, balance, finish, etc. is quite different than on a topspin. The player should learn not only when and how to hit a slice but also when the slice is inappropriate. 

For example, a properly executed slice tends to skid and stay low. This will force the opponent to bend under the ball and strike it in a completely different manner than a topspin. Whereas the ball rotates "top-wise" into the string bed, the slice actually rotates (or seems to rotate) backwards in the same direction as the "brush" of the string bed. The two forces combined often result in the ball going into the net. In addition, slices are great for taking time away from the opponent (since they tend to clear the net by only a few inches) or, if struck in a certain way, provide you with more time to recover. Furthermore, a knifing cross-court backhand is great to combine with a heavy, exploding cross-court forehand in order to yank the opponent around the court. On many occasions, the rotation of the ball can also cause the opponent to either miss a volley or pop up the ball. It's not always a bad idea to slice to a net-rusher. 

The key element to the slice is to have a strong forearm. The slice (chip or even the volley) is not a "swinging" shot; it's a "leaning" shot in that the player leans (with the shoulder in front) against the opponent's ball for purposes of utilizing the opponent's pace. To execute a proper slice, try to finish with the racket towards the intended target in a crisp manner. The best way to practice this shot is, unfortunately, against the backboard. I say "unfortunately" because not many players make the effort to utilize this awesome training tool. Hitting hundreds of slices against the backboard will develop strength (in forearm), feel and control. Furthermore, you will notice that the slice is more effective on lower shots (below the waist) as opposed to high balls (over the shoulder). As a rule of thumb, unless I'm trying to purposefully alternate the spin, I will try to slice almost exclusively against low balls. Balls around the waist should, generally, be belted. Also, high balls are difficult to control with a slice (or chip) because the face of the racket is open to the sky which risks sending the ball long. Again, these are shots that should be top-spinned more often than sliced. However, with practice, you will develop deadly accuracy with the slice enabling you to open up the court for the rest of your weapons. 


Once you master the slice, try having some fun with it by combining it (if the play calls for it) with a heavy, short-angle cross-court forehand. Maybe slice down the line to your opponent's forehand/strength in order to open up the weakness. If you get good enough, the slice may actually get to curve outwards (i.e. away from the middle); take an aggressive step inside the baseline and pound the next stroke into the open court.