10 Point Beginner’s Guide To Tennis Tactics – #7 Height/Slice

Posted by Brodie under: 10 Point Beginner's Guide to Tactics, Strategy

27 Apr 2013

New to tennis tactics? Curious how you can analyze a match? Wondering why your favourite player tends to win or lose against a specific style of opponent? You’ve come to the right place. The following is part 7 of the 10 Point Beginners Guide to Tennis Tactics. The explanation of the segment can be found above, as well as all other 10 parts as they are completed and archived.

Roger Federer vs. Igor Andreev, Round 1, Australian Open, 2010. A match I remember well.

Early in the first set of the match, Federer’s backhand is terrible. Not only is it placed badly, it is hit well over the net which causes it to bounce high. The ball sits up for Andreev, and he is able to hammer it down, into the court as easy as he likes. Andreev takes the first set rather convincingly.

Naturally, this would not last forever. Federer managed to use his slice to pin Andreev into the corner and eventually exhaust and doom the poor Russian.

In my opinion, the height of the ball coming off the bounce may be one of the most underrated parts of the game in terms of how much it is noticed. Watch this:

By this point in the second set, Federer has realized his looping backhands from defensive positions simply won’t work. He goes to the slice, and the ball is kept low. Instead of it bouncing up into Andreev’s wheel house, the ball is around his waist, and he is forced to hit it cross court over the lowest part of the net. This quickly becomes an excellent example of Federer counter punching space (as mentioned in previous segments). Federer is simply waiting for Andreev to go up the line with the forehand. His slices are so low that the impatient shot from Andreev is terrible, and leaves him stranded in the middle of the court, suddenly at the mercy of Federer. Roger puts him out of his misery with an excellent forehand up the line.

The rest of this clip is simply highlights, but does at times illustrate how Federer uses his slice as an effective defensive tool, as well as how he is sometimes burned by backhands that don’t go anywhere and sit up wonderfully for Andreev.

Federer continues to use this tactic beautifully on grass, and is one of the main reasons he is the greatest grass player of all time. The low height of the ball does not bother him, and his tremendous racquet speed allows him to whip balls up and over the net into deep positions from either wing. A player such as Roberta Vinci is similarly an interesting player to watch. She uses a backhand slice consistently and effectively. How the match plays out can often be up to how her opponent deals with this height and where they place the ball in response to this shot. Height matters.

Of course, height can work in the opposite way as well. Robin Soderling seems like the least likely guy to find great success on clay. A power player, and not a man of incredible speed, footwork or defense. However…

Clay is obviously a slower surface, and slows a power player’s shots down. However, the ball is slower from opponents shots and still bounces to a nice height. The above point is an excellent example of why Soderling is so good on clay. The ball slows down and sits up; a perfect combo for a guy with lumbering footwork looking to clobber the ooze out of the ball. Similarly, even when he is caught out at one point, Federer fails to put him away (where he likely would have on a faster surface), Soderling plays a little defense, and then clobbers a beautiful, unplayable backhand down the line. Opponents weapons are often neutralized by the surface, and longer rallies simply mean more balls for Soderling to punish and control the rally from.

Height can also explain why bigger, power hitting players have more success on a slow, high bouncing clay than a fast, low bouncing grass. Despite grass being fast, the low bounces kill taller players how struggle to scoop out low bounces, and the speed of the court exposes their movement in longer rallies – all exact opposites of the Soderling points above. Juan Martin del Potro immediately comes to mind. It also might help to explain why Ivan Lendl managed to win three Roland Garros titles and not one Wimbledon title (despite making two finals). Food for thought.

Lastly, Rafael Nadal is an excellent example of how height can be used to punish opponents. His spinning, cross court forehand bounces up to incredible levels. Against a right handed player, this would be to the backhand. If the player is shorter (hello, David Ferrer), it is even more devastating. These players are forced to reach and simply chop it back over the net. Against Rafael Nadal, you can probably guess how this is going to end.

In summary, the height of the ball is not a serious factor for most players, but can be if one player is dramatically altering the height of the ball through slicing, or high bouncing forehands. Surfaces can also greatly alter the height of the ball to the benefit or determent of particularly tall or short players.

Watch for the height of the ball, and embrace lower angle cameras!

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