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Tennis Strategy #30 Is Underspin/Slice Is For Everyone?


It’s best to understand this spin by it’s clinical name, and what you get from it. Underspin makes the ball ride the air, but there can be dramatically different ways it interacts with the ground based on the speed of the ball and the amount of spin on it. Some magical shots hit by incredibly gifted players can take the slowest drop shot with massive amount of spin jump back on their side of the net. Realistically, that is not something to aspire to if you want to win a match. But that is one extreme part of the range of slices, drop shots that stop, come back and die. On the other end of the range are the balls that are really struck, and combined with an optimal amount of spin, the ball skids and stays very low, almost giving no other option but for the other player to slice it back.

Slice as nickname for this type of spin seems to have originated in 1886, after a very cursory amount of research, referring to a slicing stroke. It can be added that some of the better teachers of slice do refer to knifing the ball, and thinking of the forward edge of the frame as the edge of a blade. This can be taken a bit too far, because it’s also a great idea to think of the strings as fingers that are going to grab the ball, imparting more solid shot making.

If you turn the whole thing 90 degrees upward, then you get a slice serve, which is not an underspin at all, it’s a side spin, but I am not sure who needs to hear that.

Start Simply

The most simple characteristic of a slice groundstroke is that it changes the pace of the rally. Observe carefully how your opponent responds to your slice after you have done it five times or more. Do they hit into the net or too low and short? Do they try for an angle? The rest of your future planning for the next shot will be planned after you start to understand their tendency with this shot. Everyone can and will need to slice the ball some to play a modicum of defense. The approach you take to making the ball ride the air will have subtle differences based on your overall strategy.

The Power Player

You rarely want to slice a ball, unless you are coming to the net. However, even a good power player will need to play a little defense. Because you create so much pace, some players will connect well on one of your power shots and give it back very nicely. Stephanie (aka Steffi) Graf was famous for this. She would spend an entire match pummeling her forehands, but she could also play very good defense for a shot or two before going back to the assault. Use the slice so that you won’t have a “checkered flag or crash” approach. Most of the best power players in the game did not simply concede points because they had to hit one or two defensive shots. So when pulled wide, pushed back, or drawn forward off balance, a nice slice can help you reset the point.

Pressure Time And Space

Using different types of slice can make for a wide variety of effects. A hard drive slice can sneak up on people, getting there faster than they thought. An accurate slice approach shot can keep the other player low and wide, pay attention also to the chapter on side spin.When you give them the triple crown of not only having to move quickly backwards, diagogal, and getting low, that’s one of the most an extreme edge of time and space. Using a very short sharp slice can bring a player forward for you to attack, here you can get them ‘stuck’ to the court, finding it very difficult to recover for the next shot.

Pressure Movement

Using slice to get more depth in the court also creates more potential to move players around. A short angle topspin followed by a deep corner slice shot can create a very difficult movement pattern. Drop shots and defensives lobs are also slice shots, so a wide variety of slices can create many movements in your opportunity. Slice balls tend to get deeper more easily, topspins land shorter, so it’s easier to create a wider variance in where each shot lands, creating longer diagonals for the other player to run.

Disruptive Player

Just like with topspin, the variety of slice shots is critical to this strategy. It may be true that a wider variety of slices can be more disruptive than topspin, because topspin has become the norm for how most people are hitting the ball. Quite a few players hit only topspin and seem incapable of slicing the ball. Of course, if there is one underspin shot that your opponent is simply crushing, or it does not affect them at all, then you might want to eliminate that from today’s tactics.

The Grinder

Some grinding players hit a lot of slice shots, and it can be used to keep the offensive players from displaying full offense, and can make it more difficult for the disruptive player from having a maximum amount of disruption.


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