Tennis Strokes

We've asked all the coaches on our site for helpful tips for tennis players, beginners to advanced.
This section will continue to grow with the help of all the coaches (Thank you!)
Have something to contribute, and we'll add it.
General Tips
General tips that will help
you improve your game.
Tips and tricks to
improve your strokes.
Drills and practice ideas
for players and coaches.
Preparing for your
first tournament.
Videos of serves, returns
stance, footwork and more.
Mental Game
Tips for a better
mental game.
       Quick Lookup

Forehand (By Max Callahan, Philadelphia PA)
Having trouble accelerating through your forehand? Does your follow-through stop
before wrapping around your body or over your shoulder? Are you having trouble
loading your weight onto your dominant leg for your forehand?

Here's a great tip that might help you address some or all of these issues:
Strap, tie or tuck your non-dominant arm (left arm for righties, right arm for lefties)
behind your back. Without the other arm for balance, you will find that your body will
naturally shift its weight towards your dominant side because you won't feel comfortable
without loading onto your dominant leg.

You will also find that you will push off with your leg and follow-through with your
racquet with more force without the non-dominant arm in the stroke.

(PS: this trick also works great for overheads if you find yourself over-hitting them.)

How to Have a Killer Serve (By Jay P. Granat Ph.D. Author of Zone Tennis)
A big serve is a huge weapon in tennis. A powerful and accurate serve can allow you
to control play, keep your opponent on the defensive, and win a lot of short points.

In order to serve well, you need to have reliable mechanics, an effective pre-serve routine
and a range of different serves. In addition, top servers know how to disguise their serve,
so their opponent can not determine what kind of serve is coming their way.
Furthermore, you need to understand the psychology behind serving well. In my view, there
are two kinds of psychology related to serving: the internal psychology and the external psychology.

The External Psychology
Serving in tennis is a lot like pitching in baseball. In order to be effective as a pitcher, you need
to master a variety of pitches and a variety of pitching locations. A baseball pitcher needs to keep
a batter guessing as to the location of the pitch, the movement of the pitch, and the location of the ball.

These same concepts hold true in tennis when the server needs to keep his or her adversary off balance,
confused and, when possible, guessing wrong.
In short, if your adversary does not know where and how the ball will bounce,
it is very hard to react to it properly.

A great server can move the ball around the serving box with different speeds, different spins, and with
great disguise. Being able to serve down the middle, out wide, and into your opponent's body makes you a
tougher player. In addition, if you can disguise your serve, you can create a lot pressure for your adversary.
Coming in behind your serve and attacking the net periodically will also help to keep your opponent guessing
as to what you will do next and keep him or her off balance.

Adjusting Your Serve To Attack Your Opponent's Body Type.
In general, taller players have difficulty handling a serve into their body. Tall athletes like to extend
their arms on the ball, so a serve out wide or a serve down the middle may be easier for them to return
effectively, than is a serve which jams them.
Taller players also often find it hard to manage a serve which skids or slides and stays close to the ground.

Conversely, shorter players tend to handle balls that are served into their body better than taller players.
Obviously, because of their shorter reach, balls which require shorter players to extend are usually more
difficult for them to return. Similarly, balls which kick up high can be tough for diminutive players.

Realize that these are general rules and there are always exceptions to them. However, you will find
it useful to observe your opponents closely and see if these strategies seem to apply to their
strengths and weaknesses.
If you have access to video of your opponents' previous matches, these would be useful patterns to note.

Adjust Your Serve For Different Surfaces
Realize that the tennis ball behaves differently on different surfaces. Clay, for example, will slow down
the pace of a big serve. On the other hand, a hard, flat serve can be a powerful and effective weapon on grass or a hard court.

Adjusting Your Serve To The Score In The Match
Smart players consider the score when they step to the line to serve. If you are ahead forty-love, this
is the time to be aggressive on your first and second serves. If you are behind in the game or the match,
you may need to consider a more conservative serving strategy.

The Internal Psychology
The internal psychology refers to the player's ability to develop the right mental state for serving effectively.
Most tennis players who I coach want to "serve in the zone." In order to do this, they develop a state of
mind in which they are relaxed, focused, and confident. I teach tennis pros how to place themselves in a
hypnotic trance prior to serving and how to develop the right blend of relaxation, focus, and confidence.

Once players learn how to integrate tools like relaxation training, visualization, self-hypnosis, and positive
self-talk into their serving routine, they tend to serve quite effectively. These skills are not complicated,
but they take a little time and a little practice. Mastering the mental part of serving is a lot like learning
serving mechanics.
I generally teach relaxation techniques first and then teach people visualization and then self-hypnosis.

Different players require different kinds of mental training and psychological tools. One tennis player
needed a hypnotic trance which helped him to feel more confident. Another needed to breathe deeply five
times before every serve in order to relax.
A female player used hypnosis to eliminate distractions.
Many of these top players use our stay in the zone cd program prior to learn how to get into a mental state
which has the right balance of the three elements mentioned above. This program has a total of more than
twenty trances for serious athletes.

Once you master the internal and the external psychologies of serving, your game will probably move up
a few notches and you will start to win more matches.

Continental Grip and Swing Structure (By Kevin Woolcott, Auckland New Zealand)
It is very important for a beginner player to learn the fundamentals of the tennis strokes with good
structure or as I often say, "good form". Serving for instance is the start of the game and if correct
grips and basic swing patterns are grooved early, good form will be attained.
Repetition with good form will produce improved technique.

I found this quote from Allen Fox (Think to Win). "Is proper stroke technique simply a matter of
individual preference or are some techniques better for everyone in all cases"?
He answered by saying there are in fact easier as well as more difficult ways of hitting a ball,
yet it is always better to perform a physical task the easiest possible way. Add to that the
good structure and you will have a technique which will stand you in good stead for years to come.

As soon as possible, the continental grip must be learnt. This will at least give you a good
chance of hitting the four different service actions ie flat, slice, topspin and American twist.
The eastern forehand grip is preferred by beginner players, and coaches in general have a hard
time in getting pupils to change to continental because of the wrist and forearm action that
is required leading up to the contact point. There is no doubt though, persevere and you will
establish a better serve and the bonus will be more fun with the different spins.

Figure 1 - Check Continental Grip
Figure 2 - Showing how the grip will allow the structure of the wrist alignment with the racquet.
Figure 3 - Continental grip will allow the elbow and butt of the racquet to lead up to the ball from the racquet which was dropped down the back.
Figure 4 - Last but not least I won't let any of my pupils continue until they can prove good balance AFTER the contact point as shown in the last photo.

   Click image to enlarge

Slice Backhand (By Kevin Woolcott, Auckland New Zealand)
This shot is a must for your repertoire. The slice backhand can be such a versatile shot and for club
players is safer than top spin. Ninety-nine percent of two-hander backhands hit a slice with one hand
because trying to hit a two-handed slice is quite restrictive.

“Slice“ originates from sidespin and is often called underspin – the ball is often hit with sidespin
which gives the ball an inside-out trajectory. A heavy slice can be very effective as it will stay
low and skid through the court.

Like I said, slice is a versatile stroke:
· For high balls which you can’t reach to hit topspin
· To get out of trouble if your preparation is not early enough
· The continental grip will allow you to dig out low balls
· Can convert to a drop shot easily

· Use a slice backhand on fast courts where the ball tends to stay lower
· In strong winds where a short backswing will allow some safety margin
· To “down gear” in a rally which will give you some time to reposition

The slice backhand is also an important offensive weapon for all advanced players:
· Approach shots keeps the ball low, making it difficult for your opponent from dipping the ball at your feet (don’t forget to close the net for your volley)
· Return of serve block which is more slice than topspin will give some safety to the return

Notice the laid back blade of
the racquet which is open to the sky

Click image to enlarge
     Knuckles of the hand open to the sky

Click image to enlarge
Eyes focussed on the ball, weight leaning into ball

Click image to enlarge
     Arms separated for excellent balance

Click image to enlarge

Serving Over The "Edge" of the Mountain (By Ron Rudin, PTR, Carrboro and Chapel Hill NC)
I Recommend that you watch a video of a top pro serving in slow motion while
reading this service tip and keep a racquet in hand as you read and follow along.

For maximizing power, spin, and accuracy, serve like your racquet head is an airplane climbing
a steep mountain, then accelerating over the top and down the other side of the mountain.
To do this, a plane would need to go up with one wing pointing at the mountain (The front edge
of the racquet), and then come down the other side with the other wing (The opposite edge of
your racquet) pointing at the mountain.

This allows for easiest change in direction and acceleration. Imagine an acrobatic air show,
where the plane goes straight up and then quickly reverses direction and comes down.

When you serve (use the continental grip), swing in a fluid motion with one edge of the racquet
head first facing the rear, then up, then forward accelerating near the top of the swing with
the opposite edge of the racquet face swinging around to the front, then coming quickly down
and across the body.
This is essential for developing a serve that you can hit with variety, and achieve speed
without a lot of muscular effort.

When do you hit the ball? As you rotate the racquet head at the top of the swing (top of
mountain), you then select when to meet the ball. Early contact makes for more slice.
Contact when racquet face is directly forward causes a flatter hit (but, still with some spin).
Contact when the head is moving across the ball to the right (right hander) creates top spin and twist.
A late contact would cause a reverse spin (which is rarely used).

Remember the racquet doesn't have to be pointed straight up when striking the ball.
For more topspin or side spin, the racquet will be slightly horizontal on contact.

The key to that extra snap is keeping the arm loose enough so when the racquet edge reverses
direction at the top of the swing, as a culmination of a fluid movement up through the body,
the strike of the ball feels stress-free, as if you are a passenger riding in an acrobatic plane.
You need to trust the pilot when you know he uses proper and safe technique.

It is important, especially with extra acceleration, that you finish the swing by letting
your hitting shoulder come over and down the mountain with the racquet.
Otherwise, your shoulder and arm get hung up at the top and are subject to stress.

This should be practiced slowly at first, without trying to hit the ball fast.
Until the motion feels natural and effortless, don't go for too much speed.
Poor timing or too much fast rotation can cause injury.
Search for the feeling of accelerating the racquet up and down almost simultaneously at the top of the swing.

   Click image to enlarge

Backhand: Don't know why it's so weak or inconsistent? (By Mike Stair, Wilmington NC)
It probably does not have anything to do with your stroke, but your feet.
Check your feet first. If you are only hitting your backhand with a closed stance, then you probably are
late or too early on alot of shots. Try hitting it with a neutral stance. You will be better balanced and
it will force you to use more of a twisting motion in the swing rather than a back to forward swing.

When hitting a backhand on the run, one should almost always use an open stance to keep your
dynamic balance through the shot.
So if you're having backhand troubles, look to your feet first, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Improving Your Serve: Tossing the Ball (By Ron McDonald, Director of Tennis USA Academy, Arlington VA)
Wow, sometimes the ball toss is all over the place.
A simple solution for improving the service toss and the serve is to sit down on a five gallon bucket
[flip it upside down] and proceed to serve from the service line.
This small adjustment prohibits chasing a bad toss and forces an upward serving motion.

Progress back to the base line and try different sitting positions to execute a flat, slice, spin and
even the kick serve. Start out with the continental grip for ease of learning.

Change the grip when running down deep lobs! (By Brit Lay, Former Tennis Director, Westborough Club, Ma)
When chasing down deep lobs which you will barely get to before they bounce twice, and which are still
"in front" of you as you race toward the backcourt, you may have noticed that your return will often go
off the court toward the near side fence because your racket face is at the wrong angle.

Instead, use the "opposite" grip for the side you are hitting on. e.g. If you are hitting a forehand,
use a back hand grip; if you are hitting a backhand, use a forehand grip.
Then the racket angle will be more conducive to getting the ball back into the court.

Don't Give Up, Just Give it a Flick! (By Jim McGarry, USPTA, P-1, Ft Myers FL)
If you're frustrated playing against lobbers that somehow manage to get
it just over your head and win the point, read on...there's hope for you!

Instead of developing neck problems watching the ball sail over your head, try this.

1. Turn with your back to the net, use the hammer grip, and run towards the back fence, with eyes on the ball, like a wide receiver.
2. Let the ball bounce, take the ball on the apex, (highest point), and contact the ball, using the wrist to "flick" the ball back, NOT the arm and shoulder.
3. Don't turn to see where it's going until you've finished the stroke completely.
4. If it's a really defensive shot, throw it up as a defensive lob, and get back into
the point. If you can crank it at the apex, then flick it as a "reverse overhead",
and watch your opponent stare in disbelief.

Practice this shot, and add another shot to your toolbox.