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Roger Federer from Switzerland returns the ball to Karen Khachanov from Russia during the ATP tournament tennis match in Halle, western Germany, on June 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / CARMEN JASPERSEN (Photo credit should read CARMEN JASPERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Joel Drucker: Slice Backhand Major Part of Federer Arsenal

The joy of the two dirt-based Grand Slams, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, is that each is a superb showcase for a specific spin. On the clay, it’s all about topspin, demonstrated most notably by Rafael Nadal’s vicious topspin forehand that jumps so high and, repeatedly, has shattered many an opponent’s contact point.

Of course the prevalence of topspin on the clay is in large part an extension of how the game is played these days. Everything from Western forehand grips to revolutions in string technology to slower surfaces has made contemporary tennis largely a baseline-based game.

But on grass, the ball will likely never jump as high as it does on clay. And who wants to merely and repeatedly give an opponent a waist-high, user-friendly ball? Better yet to figure out ways to keep the ball low on the grass.

Enter the slice backhand. A shot that was once a lead player in tennis, in recent years the slice backhand has been treated more like a peripheral character. No one in today’s game uses underspin more effectively than Roger Federer. According to a story written by Stephanie Myles of tennis.life, in Federer’s 6-1, 6-3 victory over Alexander Zverev in the finals of Halle, he sliced his backhand 65 percent of the time. From rally balls and approach shots to drop shots, this shot repeatedly kept Zverev off-balance and placed the German in awkward positions.

Given the ways Federer reveals its value, why do so many players, coaches and, yes, parents, treat the slice more like an unwelcome visitor than a member of the family? So often it’s described as a defensive shot. Or it’s given oblique praise as a form of what some call “junk.” In the meantime, the topspin backhand is praised to the skies. To be sure, Federer’s improved backhand has been a key part of his success this year, particularly during hard court events.

But it works differently on the grass. Let’s see now: Roger Federer has won Wimbledon, the game’s premier grass court tournament, seven times. Yesterday he earned his ninth Halle title. Federer uses the slice in all sorts of ways – and not that often from a defensive part of the court. That to me suggests a shot that can be deployed quite aggressively. Hopefully, aspiring players of all levels can learn from this. Let the slice thrive.

By Joel Drucker

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