The Art of the Backhand Slice

The slice backhand is an important stroke for players of all levels. It is often used defensively, but it is also a great option to use it offensively as a weapon. Professional players known for their backhand slice include Roger Federer, Ashleigh Barty, Rafael Nadal, and Steffi Graf, to name just a few. The stroke creates backspin, where instead of rotating in the forward motion created by driving shots, the ball rotates backwards. The ball brakes when it lands and bounces low, making it difficult to attack. The slice also expends relatively little energy when compared to the backhand drive and becomes a wonderful way to conserve energy, particularly in long points on clay.

Video 1: Backhand Slice – View from the Front 


Change the Height of the Ball
The modern game emphasizes power and lethal drive groundstrokes. Forehand grips have changed from a basic Eastern (shake-hands grip) to semi western or western forehands. These grips allow the player to create more topspin that makes the ball bounce high. The slice is a great way to counter those high, heavy balls and creates a problem for the player with a western grip. Getting underneath the low bounce of the slice, necessary for a driving shot, is difficult, making the slice difficult to attack.

Change the Rhythm during a Point
It is much easier to change the pace of the slice shot than to change the pace of the drive. In addition, a slice can be placed short in the court, angled to one side or the other, or deep. This variety of placement and pace helps to keep your play unpredictable and your opponent off-balance. Using the slice against a heavy hitter can be particularly effective and elicit an abundance of unforced errors. Using the slice as a tactical weapon in this way is a great addition to any game.

Extra Reach
Defensively, a one-handed backhand shot allows players to reach balls they otherwise might not. For players with a two-handed backhand, being able to drop the non-dominant hand to hit the slice when out of position allows players to dig themselves out of difficult situations.

Approach Shot
When you approach with the slice, it keeps the ball low. This forces your opponent to hit the ball up, allowing you to take advantage at net.


Most important to developing an effective backhand slice is the grip. The continental grip is required where the “v” that’s formed between thumb and index finger rests on the edge of the handle that is on the same plane as the racquet face.

As opposed to using an open stance, the neutral stance, with one foot in front and the other behind, is what is called for to hit the sliced backhand. Your weight transfers from your back foot to the front, with a step towards the net as you hit the ball.

Video 2: Backhand Slice – Side View

As you start to execute a backhand slice, the first movement is to bring the racket above the shoulders by turning the hips and shoulders, loading the weight on the back foot. If you watch Federer doing this stroke, notices that it’s at this point he bends his racquet arm so that his elbow points at the ball.

The path of the swing, which creates the spin, is now high to low, so that it can slide down the back of the ball, then through the ball, and finish slightly higher (most visible in Video 1). Do not make the mistake of hitting down on the ball in a chopping motion, which will only make the ball go up! Ideally the contact point is right in front of the lead knee.

Video 3: Backhand Slice – View from the Back

When I teach this shot, I often ask the student to strike the ball and continue the forward motion of this neutral stance shot by walking. This helps to keep the ball on the strings longer and keeps the body linear and the racket in a line straight ahead. The non-dominant hand splits on contact and stays behind the body.

If you use the backhand slice, ask yourself – are you using it offensively as well as defensively? Should you be using it more often? If you haven’t mastered the shot, it takes patience and feel to learn to do it well. Take a lesson, watch instructional videos, and practice this important stroke. Put it in your arsenal and watch your opponent struggle. It’s worth the effort!

Note: These video clips are part of the Judy Dixon Coach in the Mirror website with many free clips for you to watch! With a computer camera you can also watch yourself in real time as you mimic the pro.

Judy Dixon


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