September 16, 2022
How to Hit an Effective Slice Serve
By Alice Tym
The Stance. Here Vic Vosen is lined up like an archer. His feet, hips, shoulders, and arms are pointing in the direction that he is going to deliver an arrow or a serve.
The Delivery. Vic Vosen has his head down, watching the ball in preparation to contact the ball at the same spot on the paddle every time.
A good slice serve begins with an understanding of the purpose for the serve in the first place. What is your objective? You want to force your opponent to have to adjust.
Rather than letting him just set up and hit a clean return, you want him to have to move his feet and get low for the return. You want your opponent to be off guard. You want him to have to hit the ball with an upward trajectory; your slice serve has dug into the surface so that he has to lift his return. And you want variation in your serve toolbox. Since good footwork is the key to good pickleball, you want to make your opponent take an extra step and bend a bit lower. He has to fine-tune rather than “routine” the return.
The mistake so many players make is that they see the slice as a chop. It is not a chop; it is a peel. When you watch a good player serve, you tend to see the downward movement of his arm. But, instead, watch for a fluid cupping of the ball.
To learn a good slice serve, begin with Step 1: The Stance. Because the slice is a fluid motion, you want to line up with your left shoulder and left hip pointed toward the spot where you want to serve. Point your left foot at the spot. Think linear. You are serving in a straight line. Use this stance for all of your serves—lob serve, drive serve, topspin serve, etc. so that you do not telegraph your slice.
Next, Step 2: The Delivery. You want to have a consistent ball delivery to your paddle, i.e., the toss. Consistency is augmented by keeping your head down and watching the ball hit the paddle. Maintain a consistent stance and ball delivery. If you do a drop serve, avoid dropping the ball all over the place. You want the ball to hit the same spot on the paddle every time. If you jerk your head up to see where the serve is going, you will shank the ball. The precision of the delivery depends on your watching the moment of impact.
Step 3: The Swing. This is where you peel the orange. You begin on the right side of the ball, then go under the ball as if you are carrying it, then go up across the left side of the ball to give it the kick so that it goes away from your opponent’s backhand. You need not swing hard. The slice is effective not because of its pace, but because of its spin. You can add pace by bending your knees and driving into the ball. Or you can simply carry the ball on the paddle longer and hit a short angle wide to the backhand side.
The court surface matters. The slicker the floor, the greater the slide. The trajectory is low and the ball skids. On a slow, hard court, the ball tends to sit up and the slice serve is not as effective. But it still serves as a good change-up. A low slice tends to cause your opponent to hit short or into the net. Be ready for the short return.
The wind matters. A slice is very handy in the wind because it slows the ball down and allows for the wind to work its magic. You still aim the ball, but the wind adds juju to the spin. Practice your serve under all different conditions. Find the tempo that suits each surface. There is no substitute for a well-placed deep slice. But then your opponent is back there waiting; now is the time for the short kicker.
Step 4: The Follow-Through. It is important because it fine-tunes the placement on the serve. The paddle finishes out in front in a good ready position. The appearance of the follow-through should be the same for a hard or a soft slice so that your opponents cannot read the spin or the depth of the serve too early.
If you serve a backhand serve, you can put a heavy slice on the ball that helps it carry wide to the forehand side, pulling your opponent off the court. And you can also hit a short slice that is difficult for the opponent to return and get back into good court position. The principles of hitting it are the same as hitting a forehand serve—peeling the orange—but it is a tighter peel due to your body structure. It is even more critical on this delivery to bend your knees and stay with the follow-through as long as possible.
So, avoid hacking the ball. You need soft hands. It is a caress, not a chop. You are a lover, not a butcher. You are peeling a kiwi fruit. Be sure to watch the ball throughout the shot. If you look up too soon, you will hit a short slice that sits up rather than digs in. Use more body and more legs rather than more arm and more shoulder. Be smooth. It is a smooth, rhythmic serve. It gives you time to think and to set up. You are the pitcher on the mound. You are in control. •
Alice Tym was ranked 13th in the world for tennis in the ‘60s. She’s been named USPTA Coach of the Year and is a USPTA Master Professional. As a 4.5 pickleball player, she won gold in Huntsman, NSGA Nationals, US Open, and USA Pickleball events around the country. Alice is an IPTPA member, SSIPA founding board member, Bainbridge Cup Originator and gold medalist in Spain, Italy, and Germany.