LONDON — Serena Williams, last week, was preparing to face Harmony Tan in her singles comeback after a year away from Wimbledon — she was ready for just about anything: the pressure of the occasion, the physical battle, the mental test. .
I wasn’t ready for the forehand cut.
“I think he could have played anyone, he probably would have had a different result,” Williams said. “But he wasn’t ready to … he knew going in there was a lot of cutting, but not so much on the forehand.”
“He has defeated a legend.”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 28, 2022
Tan, a French woman ranked 115th, sliced and diced her way to a remarkable win over the 23-time Grand Slam champion, negating her pace and constantly putting her in an awkward position.
It was the kind of tennis that hasn’t been seen consistently since the days of Pam Shriver, the former World No.3 whose forehand was an integral part of her success, especially on grass.
“I’ve seen more women play Pam Shriver’s forehand cut than I’ve seen in a long time,” Brad Gilbert, his ESPN colleague and former world No. 4, said on air this week.
Shriver said she was delighted to see the forehand cut back.
“I love it,” he told ESPN.com.
“I think today, with the power and getting the ball out of the big strike position, the cut is fantastic,” Shriver said. “And while the sliced backhand has maintained its consistency of being around over the years, I think people have finally realized that there’s no reason it can’t be replicated on the forehand side.
For Shriver, whose forehand took her to three Wimbledon semifinals, and five women’s doubles titles, choosing when to play it is key.
“Maybe for a while they didn’t think you could hit the cut with that type of ball coming at you and control it. I think as long as you’re committed to the cut and you get that low spin, you can do. And maybe sometimes you don’t hit the cut as much. super, super heavy topspin, but you expect a flatter ball or one that has a little less.
Three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe said he didn’t use the forehand cut much, but “it wasn’t a bad move.”
“I didn’t do it as much as Pam,” he said. “From time to time, [I’d hit] cut is coming. Chip and charge, I would block it, I wouldn’t say cut it, more like a block.”
Staying low and often with an added sideways twist, the forehand cut used to be a staple at Wimbledon. In recent years, it has almost completely disappeared, replaced by heavy topspin. Changes to the turf at Wimbledon in 2002, which made conditions slower, made the cut less effective overall. Advances in string technology and players’ ability to pick up and pass the ball, even when it remains low, have also had an effect.
This year’s Wimbledon has seen it re-emerge as a genuine weapon, not just in the form of the ‘crush shot’ when pushed wide, but as a choice shot.
Tan, Ons Jabeur, Tatjana Maria, Amanda Anisimova, Coco Gauff, Jelena Ostapenko and many others have used it regularly and even Nick Kyrgios, always a player willing to experiment, has tried it several times this year, with a faded drop shot that sealed the game. victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 2, 2022
Tan, who had never made it past the second round of a Grand Slam before this year’s event, said she had always used the forehand cut, although some people tried to convince her to change her style.
“When I was young, they told me that I couldn’t be a very good player in this game, so it was very difficult for me,” she said. “I had no help, and financially it was very difficult.”
It was Nathalie Tauziat, the 1998 Wimbledon runner-up, who realized she had talent. A serve and volley. Tauziat also used a flat forehand with a slice touch. She maybe she recognized a soulmate.
“There is one person who believes in me,” Tan said. “It was Nathalie Tauziat when I was 18, and we worked on that game. I think it works today.”
Shriver said that some of its resurgence could also be attributed to Ash Barty and Roger Federer, who proved that the traditional backhand was an attack hit.
“Because Ash Barty could go down the line and across the court, I think she got to No. 1, having that backhand slice as the backbone of her game, I think that helped elevate the slice overall,” he said. “I think Roger Federer with his short slice backhand also helped.”
Germany’s Maria is in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the first time, an achievement all the more remarkable as she has two young children. But it is her style of play that has helped her reach the quarter-finals. “She obviously loves grass,” said Maria Sakkari, her third-round victim. “She cuts everything.”
Jule Niemeyer, the German in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, will be next to face Maria on Tuesday. She knows what to expect. “She’s a tricky player, she’s using slice shots on the forehand, on the backhand. She’s using drop shots.”
For Shriver, the forehand cut is a natural extension of the pumpkin punch.
“This is another special shot of today, when you’re at the absolute top, people realize how valuable it has become,” he said.
“And then I think people probably worked on the quick grip change, whether it was to play as a little bit of short finesse…people just worked on that and realized that the more punches you have to alter the rhythm of someone better.”
Jabeur, who will play Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic on Tuesday for a place in the semifinals, said anything that takes an opponent out of their comfort zone is beneficial.
“I think one of the things that really helps me, I think most players would say, is you don’t know what to expect from me,” she said. “I can really hit hard, I can really change the rhythm, I can really cut. That’s tricky. If I play someone who plays like that, it would bother me too.”
Serena Williams would agree.