The Slice Backhand

Trey Waltke

The slice drive is a great offensive shot at all levels.

When I watch players today, they seem to treat the slice backhand as a second class citizen. I've always thought of the slice as a versatile shot that can be used for either offensive or defensive. Now I rarely see the players use it in an offensive manner.

I think the emphasis when kids are young on hitting topspin from both sides, and hitting backhands with two-hands, has resulting in a loss of understanding learning about the value of the slice. I think that it's a shot which you need to have in your arsenal. Maybe it's not as important now as when players used wood rackets, but it's important.

Even when I watch the players like Roger Federer who do hit the slice, it looks to me like they're taking that word "slice" way too literally. They have a very open racket face at the start of the swing and they're hitting way too much high to low. When you swing downward so much you're taking the pace off the ball to an extreme degree. Also notice how far Federer finishes around and to his side. Again this reduces pace because the racket pace travel along the line of the shot for a shorter period.

Most pro players finish the slice lower and further across the body.

I think there are other options that can be very effective. I think you can hit through the ball a little flatter, more like you're sweeping off the top of a table with the racket face. If you do this you can hit the ball with slice and generate pace and keep the point neutral. You can use the slice for depth and for placement. That's different than what I see with a lot of pro players. It's like they are almost admitting they're in trouble and resorting to the slice hoping to get a chance to start the point over.

I think the slice could be more effective in the pro game. But that's even more true for the other 99.9% of all tennis players on the planet. I see a lot of recreational players who think they have killer topspin backhands, but the ball lands short all the time. Slice is the easiest way to hit the ball deep. If you can have a good "flat" slice, as I like to call it, you can keep the ball deep consistently. If you can do hit the ball deep, you're going to win a lot of tennis matches.

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Trey Waltke was an elite American junior player from St. Louis, Missouri, who went on to a 10-year career on the professional tour, reaching a ranking as high as #40 in the world. Known for his graceful, attacking style and classic slice backhand drive, Trey had wins over most of the great players of his generation, including John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Stan Smith, and Illie Nastase. With partner Billie Jean King, he also won World Team Tennis Mixed Doubles Championship.

Trey is currently the general manager at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, the legendary training ground of some of the great players in the history of tennis from Bill Tilden, to Jack Kramer, Bobby Riggs, and Pancho Gonzales.

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