The Slice Forehand

If you watch films of the tennis legends, they all used the slice forehand – especially as an approach shot.  But in today’s game of extreme forehand grips, that shot has almost disappeared.  But should it be in your arsenal?

Why Use It?

The traditional teaching says that most approach shots should be hit down the line, and not cross court, to give your opponent less court to hit to.  While a forehand topspin going over the high part of the net would seem more logical, there is usually much more control in hitting the slice.

And rather than your loopy topspin sitting UP for your opponent to hit, the slice forehand would stay low and create a more difficult shot.

It is also very useful in tracking down the wide forehand, as shown in the picture.

It’s in the Grip

Years ago, I took a lesson from Larry Turville who had these key pointers on this, one of his favorite shots …

  • on low balls, hit with volley grip (continental);
  • like volley, racquet face starts out next to you (no back swing) and parallel to the body;
  • hit outside/in to put side spin;
  • aim safely inside the line to allow for sideways movement

How about you … do you use this stroke?

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11 thoughts on “The Slice Forehand

  1. Slice forehands are used because:
    1) The wide ball does not allow normal set up for “normal” top spin shot – this happens more often as you age, slow down
    2) You want to delay the ball coming back – the slice travels slower and gives you more time to move out of no man’s land and into better position
    3) Can be a safer shot when your first priority is do not miss versus aggressive shot
    4) Disguise – drop shot or angle off the court has same preparation as deep slice
    5) Penetration – on grass or a fast hard court, the ball can ‘bite’ and really skip low making it very hard to handle – not very effective on most har tru courts
    6) Return of serve variety, especially in doubles, but it must be taken early, closer to the service line or it’s slow movement makes for an easy poach

    The forehand slice becomes a more useful shot as you age but very few top senior players over use it. I look forward to playing tennis again rather than over commenting on the game! Rehab progressing.

    Winder, great added pointers — especially the one about using it to disguise the forehand drop shot. We all like seeing your comments; but also look forward to seeing you back on the court! thanks, george

  2. I use it somewhat frequently, pretty much for balls above the waist (like in the picture) and for chip and charge returns. I have some difficulty with lower balls as I can not open the face properly to slide across the ball due to the arthritis in my elbow.

    I actually have a nice lefty slice forehand which has some side spin and tails away when I go down the line.

    Chris, making your leftyness even tougher! Thanks. George

  3. the slice approach shot allows you to smoothly continue to the net, with your momentum not being interrupted. when going to the net using a topspin forehand,
    the motion is slower and more awkward.
    also always approach up the line. this also allows you to get into proper position
    quicker (shorter distance).
    at least that was my experience, when the net was a lot closer than it is now.

    Joe. Good stuff. Thanks. George

  4. The slice forehand is an effective shot in a number of situations— as a low approach shot to an opponent’s backhand, as a deep rally shot that can neutralize an opponent’s topspin off either side because the slice bounces lower than their strike zone, as a disguise shot for a drop shot, etc. But it is much harder to hit an effective slice off a heavy topspin coming at you than used to be the case when the legends mainly faced flat or slice shots from most opponents in the past. And that limits its utility in today’s game.

    Marty, you would think it would be like in ping pong… slicing off the topspin is natural. thanks, george

  5. Hi George — I love your frequent Emails especially this one and Winder’s comment. You are definitely improving this old guy’s tennis game. Also, our beautiful and historical Seattle Tennis Club is losing our head of tennis pro, Andrew Minnelli. His doctor wife accepted a position in Palm Springs. Currently the club is searching for his replacement. Your readers may alert a good prospect.

  6. A couple of players come to mind with regard to this shot…Jimmy Connors and Steffi Graf. Jimbo frequently employed the slice forehand approach down the line with great success. Steffi surely did a lot of winning at Wimbledon with her biting slices off both sides. I wonder if we’ll see a ‘modern’ ATP or WTA player use the slice forehand for anything other than the defensive side step get the ball back in play.

    Alan, the game seems to have changed (for the better/worse?). thanks, george

  7. Have had to go to it exclusively due to a ruined wrist. Would just add that with a high enough back swing and an incoming ball high enough to work with, a very fast, downward swing (without letting the racquet face close) can yield a pretty nasty shot. The ball can still have backspin on it after the bounce (“the book” claims that that never happens) and it skids low as the pace and Magnus effect can work together to cause the trajectory to come in below the 20° cutoff angle that “the book” says is the determining factor for having that shot “skid”. In my hands, letting the ball get well back in my stance before striking it is key. “The book” also explains how to modify one’s swing in order to deal with that ball. I’m not real big on spreading that info around. Also, see “Hank Ream”. 🙂

    Kevin, i have seen your tough slice! thanks, george

  8. Also, anybody who plays/ played squash at a fairly high level probably inadvertently still has a natural slice forehand that is quite wristy, because that is almost the quintessential squash shot.

    It can be pretty damn tough to play such an opponent, especially if he/she is able to move the opponent severely right to left with a heavily sliced groundstroke that also is well angled to pull the opponent wide on each side of the baseline. Because the slice forces the ball to stay low and have a skiddy bounce, it becomes exhausting trying to keep reaching and stretching wide and low to return these shots. Sooner or later you are just going to give up trying to run the ball down or you will hit the return into the net.

    I haven’t encountered such a player in a long while, but the former head tennis coach at the Lawrenceville School in NJ, Brad Caswell, an excellent squash AND tennis player, used to have just this kind of game when we played against each other a bit in the 1980s and 1990s. He routinely killed me every time we played with his heavy, heavy slice angle returns. Drove me crazy.

  9. George,

    Thanks for starting this important conversation and thanks to everyone who contributed to this fun and meaningful discussion.

    Those players who have played me know that my slice forehand is near and dear to my heart. I do need to say that I have been working on my topspin forehand for many years and I will be increasing the use of that mandatory shot every month moving forward.

    I’ve been teaching and hitting the forehand slice since 1972 and I have the following comments to share about it:

    1. I cringe when I hear an announcer call it a `squash shot’, because the slice forehand is a legitimate and important tennis shot that everyone should learn. A squash forehand is hit similarly but with different stroke mechanics than a tennis forehand slice.
    2. In today’s game nearly every ATP and WTA player will hit a slice forehand on the dead run, when it’s low, or on the return of serve.
    3. Oddly enough, relataively few professional players actually practice it or use it consistently in play—a fact that many have already mentioned.
    4. As mentioned by Jim, Monica Niculescu has a terrific forehand slice and there are several others in the WTA who have adopted this stroke as an important offensive tool in their tool kit. In the men’s game the last player to use a forehand slice as a big part of his game was Fabrice Santoro.
    5. There are a few top senior players nationally and internationally who employ the slice forehand regularly as an offensive weapon as well as a defensive option.
    6. All players should be taught the forehand slice and I teach it to players of all ages and abilities—from seven years to ninety years.

    Many people have mentioned the `why’ of hitting a forehand slice, and here is a brief summary of the reasons to hit this fun and fantastic shot:

    1. If a backhand slice is good, then for the same reasons a forehand slice is also—the ball doesn’t know the difference from backhand slice or a forehand slice.
    2. Having the ability to hit low balls to an opponent off both sides is a huge strategic and tactical advantage—opponents are not accustomed to playing against an all slice game. In addition, I often hit shots with my forehand slice that an opponent doesn’t even move for because they haven’t seen such a weird thing. It catches opponents by surprise.
    3. Not only is hitting low a good strategy because it’s new and different, but it’s exhausting and tough to keep bending your knees to dig out sliding slices coming at you all day long.
    4. When you hit a slice forehand the stroke is from high to low you can generate power much more easily than with a low to high swing required for topspin. Gravity is on your side.
    5. Slice forehands are great for return of serves because the swing is so short and compact and it’s nearly the same grip as the backhand slice.
    6. Hitting approach shots with the slice forehand is a huge advantage because any short low ball is most easily handled with a slice and because the approach shot bounces low making a passing shot very difficult to hit. Slice forehand approach shots need to be knives, not floaters.
    7. You can float or knife a forehand slice and it’s difficult to tell what type of slice is actually being hit.
    8. As said before if you hit slice forehands it makes disguising the forehand drop shot a piece of cake.
    9. If you hit forehand slices your forehand volley will be better. Check it out, most volley errors happen on the forehand side because the volley mimics the slice ground stroke and many players have good backhand slices but no forehand slice. The problem with forehand volleys is an even bigger issue in today’s game with western forehands grips now prevalent.
    10. When playing on grass or fast surface `hitting with slice is nice’ off both sides.

    I’ve used way too much space, but if you’d like a list of the basic mechanics from a player and coach who has been playing and teaching this for over 50 years, drop me a line at lfhammel@gmail.com.

    Forehand Slice Question of the Day:

    What world class player owned the most effective and offensive forehand slice in the history of tennis? Share both male and female forehand slices!

    PS Hitting flat and sometimes hitting with a bit of slice doesn’t count. To qualify the ball has to have an average of three rotations of underspin from contact to bounce to be considered a legitimate forehand slice. Therefore, Jimmy Connors forehand doesn’t qualify for this contest.

    The first winner of the male and female answer receives a free one hour lesson on the forehand slice from Laury Hammel.

    Laury, great stuff! thanks, george. On the female side, i nominate Steffi. On the male side, one of the Aussie legends. george

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