Long live the Slice!

In today's tennis game when the points are increasingly built around long rallies, and the best players the best baseliners whose games revolve around their consistent groundstrokes, it is hard to feel that the slice has as much use as it had in the good old days of the serve-and-volley. Roger Federer (we shall use him as an example throughout the rest of this article) begs to differ on this, for some very good reasons. Read on to find out what they are.

It is effective against tall opponents

It is perhaps a blessing for Federer (assuming that he genuinely enjoys slicing) that many of his current rivals stand at 1.96m or taller in height. Think Zverev, Del Potro, Berdych and Cilic. Sure these players have been getting the yields by leveraging on their above-average height to give their opponents poundings not doable by most players, but a more unconventional play which incorporates quite a lot of slice would bring them quite some trouble. A perfect example of Federer outclassing a giant with the slice is his match against Zverev in Brisbane earlier this year. I forgot the exact statistic, but somewhere over 75% of his backhands to Zverev to were slices. Although they travel at a slower speed and thus is seemingly a harmless defensive shot, the ball forces Zverev to bend down deliberately in order to execute a return of that shot at the right height. This extra deliberateness would affect the quality of such shot given the extra energy consumption of the knee bend, which would cause such shot to either land slower, with less spin, or with less weight, at the point of arrival on the opponent's side. This would open chances for Federer to hit a either a winning shot or an offensive shot that sets up a winning one.

It disrupts the opponent's rhythm

Unless you are Federer or someone like Federer. you would not take novelty within a tennis match kindly. What I meant is that unless you are someone with a game style of wild variety - you like to hit each shot a different way - being forced to hit different kinds of shots, or hit in different ways, would quite likely lead you to shank the ball or hit an suboptimal shot. This is so true in today's game, where the majority of tennis players are most comfortable with exchanging long baseline rallies with the same style of hitting. Is tennis institutionalized? It certainly is in the sense that most tennis players (speaking about the professionals too) would not be able to handle a sudden change in pace or style of the opponent's game. No point in the professional game comes for free, so when you see someone on screen shank the ball (this is particularly common in opponents who face Federer) it would just be that moment when their rhythm just got disrupted (assuming they are not choking). The slice, being a shot completely different from a conventional groundstroke, is just the best and easiest trick of Federer's in his huge bag of tricks, used to cause his opponent such uncomfort of facing a novelty. Although not very obvious, Murray is also very adept at utilizing such a disruptive, although he is much less disruptive than Federer. Murray disrupts by varying his pace. His usual slow groundstroke exchanges are no accident or coincidence, they are hit deliberately at that pace so that once a fast groundstroke is hit by him (he has the capability to hit very hard), it would be of maximum effect.

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