Slice and dice like Justine Henin
Originally published on: 20/10/10 14:48
‘Slice and dice like Justine Henin’ featured in the September 2010 issue of tennishead magazine. For more details on how to subscribe, click here.
Objectives: Combination knockout
It is difficult to generate pace off a slice drive, so don’t expect to hit many winners with it. Where you aim a slice is tactical – the beauty of a sliced approach is that the ball stays low, forcing opponents to hit up or resort to slice themselves. It is also easy to move forwards through the shot, enabling you to get to the net and further cut down your opponent’s angles and options.
Conditioning: Don’t forget defence.
Once you’ve honed in your slice with some cross-court rallies and thrown in a winning drop shot or five, try these out. First, have your coach or partner feed you short balls to slice and approach the net for a follow-up volley to work on your attacking game. Then, a trickier one – start inside the baseline and ask your partner to drive fast, low balls to the backhand corner to work on your defensive skills.
Henin is in the classic running position as she takes on this low, short ball. Her hips remain facing forward as she turns her shoulders and takes the racket back early, preventing her from slowing down and losing momentum.
Key point: Henin’s knees are already bent, helping her to approach the ball at the same height as she will strike it rather than suddenly dipping into the shot
She takes one last big step towards the ball, giving her a wide base from which to play. Having taken her left hand off the throat of the racket, she straightens her right arm to chop through the back of the ball.
The open racket face slides underneath and across the ball, while her left arm has extended backward as a perfect counterbalance to the right arm. Importantly her back leg has remained behind her, keeping her side-on during contact.
Key point: Compare Henin’s head position between frames two and three – it has hardly moved! This is the key to her balance during the shot.
With her racket face moving inside the line of the ball, Henin has put slice and sidespin on the shot to keep the ball extra-low and adding to the difficulty for her opponent after the bounce. She is still at the same height she was on her approach to the ball.
Henin uses her legs to drive herself out of the shot and change direction rather than leaning to the right with her shoulders and sending herself off-balance. This way she is in better shape for the upcoming return as she moves forwards.
Key point: Henin’s shoulders have stayed beautifully level throughout the approach
She eases her way up into a driving position to approach the net and look for a kill shot. Many players stand up straight too early, but Henin rises gradually like a sprinter. This shot has been executed perfectly!
Golden rule: As with the serve and volleys, use a continental or chopper grip for your sliced backhands to keep the face of the racket open during the shot