One of the most under-rated shots of all time: Steffi's backhand slice!
The experts, as well as a large contingent of fans, both predicted Steffi’s slice would not last long. It was always the one shot of hers that was the most criticized, and pretty often refereed to as her ‘weakness’. The fact of the matter is that Steffi Graf faced three generations of tennis greats with her legendary backhand slice and emerged victorious more often than not- without having to completely alter her game. No one sliced as well as Steffi in her prime. Her low skidding balls would give the baseline sluggers (players that play with a lot of pace off both sides) fits of trouble. Her slice was so consistent, so relentless, so effective, and so unusual in the modern game. Whether Steffi was using her slice to set up her forehand, take the air out of the ball, drop shot, or simply retrieve the ball, it was as much of a factor in her wins as her legendary forehand.
As most of us already know, slice is generated by hitting the ball with a high to low motion with the racquet. Steffi’s balls had tons of backspin on them. The backspin combined with her tremendous racket angles kept her balls really low to the ground. Her left hand would be cradling the throat of the racquet, then she would whip the head up and slice it back down into the shot, flattening out her follow-through across her body. The combination of low skidding balls and a much slower ball (slice slows the ball down,) forces power hitters to generate their own pace. Most hard hitters prefer to play with pace and generally aren’t as effective generating their own pace. Steffi implemented her slice, not always to simply get the ball across the net, but also as a means to interrupt her opponents rhythm and to neutralize the rallies. Steffi’s slice was a very fluid motion and was hit with a great deal of precision and pinpoint accuracy.
Steffi incorporated different types of spins and used them all to her advantage- side spin, extreme underpin, drop shots, angle shots, and even chipped backhands. Slower players that don’t bend their knees that well when hitting low bouncing balls have the most trouble. That’s why LindZ and Monica had so much trouble. Steffi was also great at using her slice to give her opponents balls that weren’t hit into their respective ‘strike zones’. This didn’t bother Seles as much because she had a large strike zone, but players that have to really setup for their shots can easily find themselves out of rhythm.
Steffi’s slice was effective on all surfaces too- on grass courts her balls were coming very fast and they usually stayed extremely low to the ground which made it difficult for players to come over with topspin and hit outright winners. Like most shots, good technique is critical and although Steffi generally isn’t really know for having good technique on her shots (she plays a very unorthodoxed style of tennis- you can’t teach someone to play like her because she did a lot of the things instructors tell you not to do,) for the most part, her technique on the slice was textbook. On the hard courts Steffi’s slice was the perfect way for Steffi to buy herself some needed time to set up and hit her forehand. On clay she would often times use slice for placement and would then drag opponents from one side of the court to the other. Also on clay Steffi had a chance to use her dropshot a lot more often. When the ball dies on clay forget about it.
Graf faced three generations of tennis greats. In the 80’s she surpassed Martina and Chris and was the most dominate player in the later half of that decade. In the early-90’s she held her own against the likes of Seles, Sabatini, and Arantxa. Even when Seles took over as number one in ‘91 Steffi was undefeated in both matches they played that year. And during Monica’s second year at number one Steffi won an impressive 71 out of 78 matches- so although she was not the dominate player, she most definitely held her own. After dominating the sport for most of the middle of the decade, she then reemerged victorious against the new kids on the block; Hingis, the up and coming Williams Sisters, and LindZ (Steffi was the first person to defeat LindZ in America when Lindsay took over as number one in the world). I won’t go as far as to say she won any of her many matches solely because of her backhand, but I will go as far to say she didn’t lose many matches because of it! We all know that a weak backhand slice is a very good defensive shot at it’s best and at it's worse it is usually extremely vulnerable to attack. Steffi’s could be a deadly offensive shot that forced a ton of errors and was anything but a weakness. Of course the slice won't really work when someone is hugging the net- in those instances a Plan B is needed, thankfully Graf's topspin was sufficient, but that's another story.
Others may have hit the ball harder off both sides, served faster, volleyed better, or even hit harder forehands than Graf , but not many hit a more effective slice than Steffi (Ken Rosewall (sp?) the sole exception).
STEFWHIT'S MILLATARY RANKS:
The Commander In Chief: Steffi Graf
General: Serena Williams
Admiral: Kim Clijsters
Lieutenant General: Elena Dementieva
Major General: Myskina
nominees for Brigadier General:
Venus, Golovin, Lindsay, Petrova, and Pierce