I wrote a chapter a while back regarding Women's Tennis, under duress, I don't like Women's Tennis for more than one reason but above all I dislike the lack of variety that is dished up. The lack of volleying is one thing but the variety from where they all sit, the baseline, well that's even more one dimensional. The two chapters that I wrote back to back involved the mix of play by Roger Federer and the lack of it in Women's Tennis.
So what about the headline ? The 50/50 ball in tennis is a ball that is put back into play that does not give your opponent anything to hit back to you with any real conviction. Whilst the heavily hit topspin ball is one option I believe that the other option is what Mr Federer again does better than any other player, the slice backhand.
The return of serve from Federer's backhand side is a shot that blunts the opposition's power when he chooses to slice it as opposed to hitting over it. Most Male Pro's serves' have such a huge amount of kick on it that the sliced return, if hit well is a much safer option than the driven one.
If you look at the return from the ad court by Roger in particular you will see two types of shot, one that is placed back deep with no real pace and the other, a short angled service box return. Both of these shots have merit. The one that is hit back deep is a ball that most players hate, a ball with no real speed on it that is tough to generate pace on. The other is a shot that a baseliner in particular probably dislikes even more as it forces them forward from a wide part of the court. Both of these returns are not easy to deal with and it's why Federer is known for having such a vast repertoire of variety in his play.
It's not just the return that Federer offers the slice on , he will also put a sliced ball in during a topspin rally that mixes up the pace. This type of shot quite often will throw his opponent's timing and rhythm out, a smart tactic. Even Rafa has learned to slice his backhand more now from both the return and the rally and it has added some more variety to his once one dimensional game.
Djokovic is not so happy to slice his backhand as the wide ball he receives to his backhand side will often be hit with just as much pace as the one in his hitting zone, freak of nature.
So to the ladies, why isn't the slice backhand a more commonly hit shot ? I don't believe that it is being taught, that would be my take on it. When a female tennis player is drawn wide it seems that the idea is to get there with the open stance and do the 'Djokovic style' type of backhand.
But wouldn't it be easier to hit a slice ? Well according to the 17 time Grand Slam winner from Switzerland it is, and it's rather obvious that the great man's preference is the shot that puts his body under the least amount of stress when under duress.
Even the great Andre Agassi learned to slice from his backhand side, it wasn't what you would call a text book style slice yet he used it as did Jimmy Connors. Now here was a backhand slice with a difference, he did it with two hands. Jimmy could return the high ball to his backhand side with a two handed slice just as well as could hit a short ball and approach the net with, it was a rather unique way of slicing.
Most players have a slice backhand but very few play it as regularly as Federer except for perhaps Feliciano Lopez from Spain, now there's a man who may even play it more than his topspin ball. When a slice is hit from the backhand side it is a shot of grace, an effortlessly guided shot that can do so many different things to an opponent's mindset. If a player is dealt a series of both topspin and slice it puts doubt into their mind as to whether the backhand side is actually the side to try to attack.
There is usually less variety from a forehand and if a player can deal with pace then perhaps the forehand is a better option to attack than a backhand that has two options.
I believe in teaching the slice backhand from a young age, it has merit, it adds dimension to a player's game and it can conserve energy.
There is more upside than down to learning a slice backhand........