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Home   /   Does faster mean better in Tennis? (Part I)

The impression I have from many TV commentators and almost every tennis expert that I have read or listened to, is that they all seem to be in awe on how fast the game of tennis today is. Everyone seems convinced that players of the past played slower games and therefore could not cope with today’s fast game. Is it true that power and power alone and faster means better in Tennis? I dare challenge everyone to think twice.

Remember Mike Tyson in boxing? Who drove him to the border of insanity? A boxer that had mastered an “old” punch, the jab, Evander Hollyfield.

In tennis the two most dominant male players of the last few years Pete Sampras and Roger Federer mastered the “tennis jab” the “old” backhand slice from “eons” past. When you have understood the importance of such a shot and the advantages it brings to your game you will understand why sometimes slower is better.

Like in boxing the jab is designed to open up the opponents defense to allow a KO, in other words a powerful straight right (or left if you are a left-hander). In tennis the slice backhand is to allow you the put away forehand. In many cases if you do have an excellent slice, many opponents get so frustrated that they end up making unforced errors before you even need to put the ball away! That is a bonus!

What happens when the slice is well executed? That changes dimensions in the whole game, from fast to slow, from waist or higer level shots, to low skidding balls, from not bending to getting down on your knees, from being comfortable with your racket grip to having to change gripping slightly to get under a lower ball, from using the opponents pace to having to generate it yourself and so on.

So what does a good slice backhand do for you?

  • If you are in trouble it can give you more time to get back into position by floating it deep.
  • It can force the opponent into giving you a slower high shot that you can put away.
  • If you play it short with an angle it can bring any opponent into no man’s land and allow you to hit behind them into the open court.
  • Again, if you play it short with an angle it can force your opponent to have no other choice but to come to the net (where he may not want to be) from an uncomfortable position. Roger Federer has mastered it.
  • Once you have displaced your opponent out of the court with a punishing stroke, you can easily surprise him with a sliced drop shot (if you disguise it well) instead of a deep ball.
  • You can use it as an attack on second serves from your opponent (the so called chip and charge) and go to the net. Pete did it both with the forehand & backhand and Tim Henman executes it classically.
  • Then again, from an attacking position inside the court, if you play it deep with good pace and keep it low, you can approach the net with a much higher likelyhood of winning the point with your next volley.

In almost all point situations, time and variation are crucial factors. By playing the backhand slice judiciously, you will be putting both elements in your favor.

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