Sliding In Tennis: Everything You Need To Know 

Playing tennis entails moving around a court to chase and hit balls. This movement involves frequent changes in direction, which require good footwear, speed, and explosive strength.

A lot of direction changes are clean and happen immediately with no slipping on the court. Other times, you will see players sliding around the court to reach balls. Here’s everything you need to know about sliding in tennis.

Why Do Tennis Players Slide?

Players sometimes slide to give themselves extra reach on shots. When players slide, they decelerate instead of stopping abruptly. This allows them to continue moving towards the ball, which gives them time to hit a more calculated shot. Sliding can also take place after a shot as a method for players to steady themselves. 

Sliding ability depends on the court surface, but players generally have to move quickly to overcome the court’s friction and slide. They will also slide into a shot with their feet quite far apart. This ensures their center of gravity is low and reduces the risk of a fall. Clay courts are meant for sliding, and top players employ this motion as part of their strategies. 

Sliding is possible on grass courts, though this carries a greater risk of injury. In recent years, players have also begun to use sliding motions on hard courts. This has amazed spectators and scientists because hard surfaces have high friction. 

So, how can players pull off this impressive movement, and what are the associated dangers? We will explain below. 

How Do Professional Players Slide? 

People often confuse sliding with slipping and assume that this technique is just a mistake. While not all slipping in tennis is intended, this type of motion is an important aspect of the modern game. 

As we said above, a player must generate sufficient speed for their feet to slide across a court, irrespective of the surface. If not, the resistance of the ground will stop a player in their tracks. The precise technique varies by shot: 

Forehand Side 

When a player chases a ball on the forehand side, there are two correct sliding techniques. The player can step with their lead foot straight as they move towards the ball. Their lead leg will be bent and their trailing knee will be low down ― as if they are lunging. 

Tennis players can also slide into a forehand laterally. In this case, they will slide on the inside of their lead foot. Sliding on the outside edge risks rolling the ankle and potentially spraining/breaking it. Their leading leg should be straight and the trailing leg slightly bent. This motion somewhat resembles “the splits” pose but does not have to be that low.

When hitting a forehand on the slide, players will hit a flat/topspin shot if they have the time to attack. A slice forehand is usually a sign of defense (though not necessarily). Players sometimes touch the court surface with their free hand for stability when sliding. 

Backhand Side 

On the backhand side, you should step with your lead foot straight ahead. The trailing foot can either drag along the court on its toes or slide with the laces almost flat on the court. The latter is a lower stance. 

Sometimes players will hit a sliding backhand laterally. In this situation, their backs face the net. 

Like on the forehand side, competitors can hit flat or topspin backhands on the slide. This is often the more offensive option and is only available with enough time. A slice backhand is normally hit on the defensive, but not always. 

In Front 

Competitors typically have to slide forwards when chasing a drop shot. If the ball lands directly in line with the player, they will step into the sliding motion with their leading foot straight in front. If the ball is to their left or right, they will need to slide more laterally, much like with the forehand or backhand cases. 

When retrieving a drop shot, players will hit the ball with backspin to lift it over the net, unless they reach the ball with more time. In that case, they may strike the ball harder and flatter to kill the point. 

What Are The Benefits of Sliding? 

Sliding before hitting the ball gives competitors time to move into a better position to strike. If the ball is out of reach from their current position, sliding an extra few feet or meters will get them closer. During the slide, players can track the ball and figure out how to hit a more effective shot. 

Players can slide while hitting the ball. This happens when players have less time to hit the ball, and so continue sliding after their shot. 

Tennis players can also slide after hitting the ball. This is purely a balance maneuver and serves to stabilize a player after running fast to chase a ball. Sliding after a shot is least desirable because it takes players further out of the court so that they need to cover more ground to hit the next ball. This movement often occurs when players are defending to stay in the point. 

Sliding after a shot happens when players have the least time to hit the ball. In summary, sliding can be used to a player’s strategic advantage, but it can also be a mechanism for stabilizing after hitting defensive shots.

How Does Sliding Work on Each Surface? 

Clay Courts 

Clay courts in tennis are designed for sliding because they consist of crushed brick particles on top of limestone.

These loose particles almost act as a lubricant to enable players’ shoes to glide along the surface. Sliding is an unavoidable part of clay court tennis and players must adapt their playing styles to account for this 

Sliding on clay is such that players will come to a halt if they use the correct technique. Slipping is still possible and the grip on clay courts can be improved by watering them.

Competitors wear shoes that maximize traction and allow for easy removal of clay dust. You will see players constantly tapping their shoes between points at clay tournaments. 

Hard Courts 

Hard tennis surfaces are quite abrasive and do not lend themselves as well to sliding as their clay equivalents.

Nevertheless, players are moving faster and covering more ground than ever, and some top performers have started to slide on hard courts for maximum coverage. 

The technique is not different from sliding on clay, but the higher friction means players need to be moving faster to generate a sliding motion. Sliding motions are shorter on hard courts than on clay. 

Grass Courts 

Grass courts are naturally quite slippery, especially in wet and humid conditions. At Wimbledon, players are more in danger of falling in the early stages when the grass is fresh and softer. After several days of play, the grass hardens as it wears down. 

Unlike on clay, players’ feet will not automatically stop once they start sliding. If they step too firmly, the friction of the court may not be enough to prevent a bad fall.

This explains why footwork in grass-court tennis emphasizes delicate, careful steps with good balance. You should avoid quick direction changes unless you are sure of your footing. 

What Are the Risks? 

To slide, you have to get the contact angle and weight of your foot just right. Stepping too heavily could cause your foot to slip.

By not committing and stepping hard enough, you will fail to slide at all. Of course, misjudging your foot placement and stepping at the wrong angle can be very dangerous since your ankle might twist or fracture. 

Sliding can put a lot of extra strain on your ankle and knee joints, as well as your groin. Without being flexible and strengthening these body parts beforehand, repeated sliding could damage them. Muscle or ligament tears are possible. 

From a strategic standpoint, those who focus on sliding a lot are in danger of playing too defensively. A good defense is a valuable weapon, yet this alone will not win many high-level

matches. This is because it relies on the mistakes of opponents more than hitting winners. Players will rarely slide to attack. 

How Can You Learn to Slide? 

Before even thinking about sliding, you need good flexibility in your legs. Sliding can put your ankles and knees in awkward positions that you must be prepared for to escape injury. Work on stretching your legs in numerous poses to target the key muscle groups. Being flexible protects you in case of a bad slip. 

The obvious place to begin sliding is on a clay court. This is where you will have most early success. Have a coach or partner feed you balls and work specifically on sliding into a particular shot. Experiment with your timing and foot position. Keep practicing until you feel comfortable sliding into forehands, backhands, and drop shots. 

Sliding correctly can help with your flexibility. Your body will adapt more to this motion the more you do it. Once you feel confident with sliding on clay, you should then experiment with sliding on hard courts. The learning process is the same as on clay but will require more care and attention.

Fred Simonsson

I'm Fred, the guy behind TennisPredict. Apart from writing here, I play tennis on a semi-professional level and coach upcoming talents.

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