Tennis Tips from the Pros

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

For New Players (By Elizabeth Nikolov, Marietta GA)
Don't beat yourself up for your mistakes, learn from them.

If you are a new tennis player and just starting to learn the game, there will
be a lot of new challenges.

Keep in mind everything you do successfully, small or big, is a great accomplishment.
Positive reinforcement from your inner self goes a long way and keeps you motivated.

Tennis is supposed to be fun so don't beat yourself up. Remember, it's just a game and
games are meant to be fun.

Instead of thinking you're just a bad player, examine what specific things need to happen
in order to correct the problem.

After you get through the hard work becoming consistent with your strokes, your muscles
will remember what to do and you won't have to think so hard about what your doing on the court!

General Tips (By Bruce Gullikson, USPTA Professional 1, Minneapolis MN)
Step out with outside foot first when volleying and then crossover. Also check to make
sure that you are closer to the net than when you started.

Check your grip: Regardless of what grip you use, you want to keep your grip relaxed and
not have a death grip on the racket. To get a feeling for how loose your grip should be,
hit a serve with no pinky finger on the racket.

When you have a sitting duck at the net, aim for the service line-this gives you a great
deal of margin for error and lets you swing freely.

Use your non- hitting hand for grip changes and for keeping the racket stable on backhand
volley, since most people let go of their non- hitting hand too early.

Keep a calm head both physically and mentally to help with
balance, and you will play better.

Keep your tossing arm up when serving -if you are netting a lot of serves, it is probably
because you are dropping your tossing arm too early.

Angle your overheads-if you have an overhead you can put away, aim for the side T because too
often players focus on pace and hit the ball hard and deep right back to the baseliner
who lobs it back.

The motto on the overhead is "one and then they are done."

Great Expectations (By Michael McDowell, USPTA, PTR, Mesa/Chandler/Tempe/Ahwatukee GA)
My most useful tennis tip comes in the form of a cautionary tale.

Many well- intentioned efforts to improve one's game are undermined from
the beginning by unrealistic expectations.

Players take a one hour lesson or a series of group classes, and hope to see dramatic
positive changes in their strokes. For a few gifted individuals, this may be the case.
However, for most mere mortals, the process is much different.

The most likely outcome as one implements change is an immediate decline in success.
As one replaces familiar ways with more fundamentally sound (but unfamiliar) techniques,
results invariably suffer.

When practiced over long periods of time, even "bad habits" work better than correct
methods that are new and foreign. So, either consciously or unconsciously, players too
often revert to their original way of playing -- even if this old reliable technique
precludes ever reaching a higher level and/or ultimately leads to injury.

Realistically, one should only anticipate substantial improvement through repetitive practice
and long-term commitment to a new approach; which is to say, meaningful improvement often
takes weeks, months or even years to come to fruition.

The solution to this vexing problem is intellectually simple, but emotionally demanding.

1. Accept the learning curve and expect to play worse initially.
2. Discuss the process with your teaching professional to set realistic goals and time frames.
3. Carve out time to practice between lessons, and confer with your pro to develop a plan
for incorporating the new techniques into your game; and, most importantly,
4. Enjoy the journey and have fun on the way to your destination!

Tension, Attention, and Movement (By Ken DeHart, USPTA, PTR, San Jose CA)
1) Get a "Feel" for your tension - pay attention to tension.
Practice rallying with a friend while gripping your racquet as tight as possible.
Assign a number for the tension level - 5. Gradually relax the tension in your hand to a level - 4,
next got to level - 3, now down to level - 2 and finally to the lightest tension possible - 1.

When the pros play they use level 2 - maybe 3 on certain shots. This keeps not only their hands
relaxed so they can "Feel" their racquet, it relaxes their whole body which allows them to move
quickly and prevent injuries.
It may take a moment or two, but you will have greater power and control at level 2 or 3 when you play.

2) Pay attention to "Attention".
Most errors in a match occur not from lack of skill but from a decreased "attention" level.
When you can maintain an "attention" level of 8-9 or 10 on a scale of 10, you will have the focus
to execute shots you make in practice. If your "attention" level should fall to 5-6 or 7, you become
social and errors begin to creep into your game.
The next time you have an error, check your "attention" level, not your stroke.

3) Tennis is a "moving experience".
The pros average about 10-12 steps between each ball they hit.
A 4.0 club player averages about 6-8 steps, a 3.5 player about 4-6 steps and a 3.0 about 2-4 steps.
When you move more between shots, your focus level goes up, you get in better position and can better
execute to your normal level of play. Dropping 2 steps in your rally will drop your game by one skill level.
Keep moving and you can experience success.

Breaking the Myth: Keeping Your Eye on the Ball (By Jason Bartlett, Singapore Tennis Academy.)
Perhaps the most often heard comment in a lesson is, "Keep your eye on the ball until it hits the strings".

The simple answer is, no human has ever seen a ball hit the strings because:

1) the ball is on the strings approximately four milliseconds.
2) the human eye can't record a four millisecond event.

A coach may have something else in mind when using this overused phrase.
If you pretend as though you are watching the ball onto the strings, your head will
remain still and will not hinder your swing pattern.

Biomechanical studies have proven that the swing pattern lacks consistency when a player's head
makes a sudden shift during the striking phase. Thus, even though your brain may have sent down
a signal for a perfect stroke, it may have also sent a message to shift your head, which will
inevitably break down a well- formed stroke pattern.

A Proper Lesson Plan (By Bud Light, USTA; PTR, Owner, Bud Light Tennis, Cornelius NC)
Using your lessons with a teaching pro as the primary means to practice is a serious mistake.
Lessons are for the purpose of learning correct stroking, court position, and court strategy.

Any student taking tennis lessons must practice in between lessons, preferably at least twice a week.
If you do not practice and play at a level conversant with your skill level once you master
the basics, it will markedly slow down your development.

The real beauty of practicing tennis is that everything you learn can be practiced by yourself;
you really don't have to have a hitting partner. And the more you can practice in between lessons,
the more rapidly you will improve.

Always ask your coach if there is a stroke you need help with. And be assured
that a qualified coach can tell whether you've been practicing or not.

Injury Prevention (By Jonathan Bailin, Ph.D., USPTA, Los Angeles CA)
Keep in mind that tennis is the only international sport played on cement.
Jumping, turning, running, and sudden stops on such an unforgiving surface
pose a serious threat to ALL levels of player and should not be taken lightly.

If you have been leading a mostly sedentary lifestyle, get help easing your way into
the game. After consulting your doctor, a walking, weight training, or swimming routine
would make ideal preparations for this rather "acrobatic" sport.

I see casual players try the game in insufficient shoes all the time. When
it comes to tennis, don't scrimp on shoes! They are your first line of defense
against chronic and acute injury. Warm-up, stretching, and proper technique
are next on the list toward healthy, fun play. See your local USPTA pro for these.

Tennis is also the SECOND most difficult activity for the human eye. If practice
does not seem to help your accuracy, you are a candidate for Sports Vision
Training. Interestingly, all athletes and students can benefit no matter how
skilled because eye performance is learned, not inherited.

Tennis Ball Skills (By Kevin Woolcott, Auckland New Zealand)
Improvement comes from small beginnings - by setting small goals. The most important goal is to keep
the ball in play - in this order - control and direction. Add the spin, add the speed.

Using low compression balls which come in various degrees of reduced pressure is a great way to learn
control and direction. You would be very surprised at how quickly improvement is gained. The ball literally
stays on the strings longer because of the softness in the ball and will give immediate improvement in control.

The reduced speed balls come predominantly in three speeds (reduced pressure). I mainly use the 25% or 50%
reduced speed balls – and often use them for adult workshops where I need my pupils to have an improved
understanding of the effect on the strings. Then I change back to full compression tennis balls.

For younger children the ever popular foam balls are available for even greater control success.
A great birthday present for playing inside at home – they won’t break any windows and children
can have some skills fun inside.
Grasshopper Tennis is a new product from Tennis NZ which is being introduced to schools around the country.
Children have a lot of fun and at the same time learn games from a game based programme.
The reduced speed balls are one of the keys to the success of the programme.

So! Keeping the ball in a rally situation requires agility in movement, tracking of the ball.
Rallying should be within your comfort zone, ie keep the ball under control in the designated
area whether it is on a tennis court or inside at home. Don’t go to a larger area until you
can control the ball in a small area.

Expand the comfort zone so you can receive more challenging balls and still maintain a rally.

General Tips (By Piyush Bhargava, North Jersey NJ)
Warm up, stretch, cool down and exercise/bend your knees during play. This helps to prevent injury.
Tossing the ball high when serving will help you generate more power and speed.

Keep your eye on the ball at all times - this will help you concentrate and co-ordinate your shots.
Don't play with dead tennis balls as it will result in poor form.

Take regular breaks, as this will help you cool off, and keep yourself hydrated.

Getting Back on a Deep Ball (By Bud Light, USTA; PTR, Owner, Bud Light Tennis, Cornelius NC)
The biggest problem that a great majority of tennis students and players have is getting
back quickly on a deep ball and giving themselves a chance to hit a good stroke. The tendency is to backing
up at the last minute on the hope or assumption that it will go long, thus putting themselves
in a very difficult position to hit an effective shot.
There's a lot of hitting space back there, so take advantage of it.
Sidestep backward like a quarterback going back to pass.

3 Ways to Improve Your Doubles Play (By Phil Naessens, Corfu Greece)
Participate in drill sessions at your club.
No matter what your skill level, drill sessions are a great tool to improve your doubles play.
Live and dead ball drills are the best way to get the repetition needed to improve all of your
strokes in a controlled environment.

A good quality drill session should include forehand and backhand ground strokes, volleys,
overheads, and doubles strategy. Remember that drill sessions aren't private lessons, so don't
expect to learn grip changes and things of that nature.

Drill sessions are to practice for matches and to hit lots of balls in different situations.
Most clubs offer clinics or drill sessions, so sign up and take part in a fun and fast paced
drill session today. You won't be disappointed!

Work on your serve.
The serve is absolutely crucial in doubles for a variety of reasons.
Getting in a high percentage of first serves will increase your chances of winning dramatically.
Learning to take a little pace off of your first serve will allow for a higher serving percentage
and doesn't allow the returner to 'tee-off' on a weak second serve. This will also give your
partner poaching opportunities simply because the returner has to work harder at returning your
first serve then your second serve.

Grab a bucket of balls, place a few targets in the service boxes at the 'T', in the middle of the
service box near the service line (into the body serve), one near the middle of the box near the
sideline and one at the elbow (where the service line and single's sideline connect). Use
a variety of speeds and spins and you should see a dramatic change in your service game
and in your doubles match results!

Communicate Communicate Communicate!!
Watch the pros play doubles and you will see and hear a lot of talking going on out there.
Between points, they're not making dinner plans (at least hopefully not!) but discussing strategy.
During the point, they're yelling, "mine" "yours" "leave it" (meaning let the ball go).
Good communication is crucial to successful doubles teams. Telling your partner you're serving
to the 'T' forces you as the server to try and hit the spot and it also allows your partner
to tell you what he plans to do, which helps greatly with positioning. You know what your partner
wants to do and what you need to do.

For example; my partner tells me he's poaching on a serve that goes to the returner’s backhand.
Because he's communicated this to me, I know and can anticipate covering a ball that's hit down
my partner's alley, thus giving us a better chance to stay in the point.
Great communication takes time, so be patient and learn to listen to your partner; you should
see much improvement in your doubles results!
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Court Positioning (By Kevin Woolcott, Auckland New Zealand)
Court positioning is an area where you can win points by just being in the right position – at the right time.
Effective positioning, reactions, movement, and poaching make up the art of doubles and all four
players on the court do have a different responsibility. That responsibility relates to the job
you need to do, not just for yourself, but to your team as a whole.

Having an understanding of where to move to will save you numerous points and will of course make for a more enjoyable game. To start a point it easy for instance to have a set move
planned before your team starts the point.

Lets have a look at the four photos:
Figure 1:
The server (S) and server partner (SP) have agreed to the ball being directed to the “T”.
In a planned move the SP is going to cross for a possible intercept.
In this case the receiver returned down the line. The receivers are on their baseline in this example.

Figure 2:
Because both S and SP had a plan, they are able to cover the return down the line and stay
in the rally with three options for the rally ball.

   Click image to enlarge

   Click image to enlarge
Figure 3:
Try and have a plan where to serve to. It's a great feeling to have a plan and the accomplish it.

Figure 4:
With a plan, the volleyer has the chance to intercept andwin the point with a volley. Good timing
at going across the net is important because the server is covering to the left as arrow indicates.

   Click image to enlarge

   Click image to enlarge

Back to Basics (By Kevin Woolcott, Auckland New Zealand)
We often get so caught up with modern styles in the so called modern game, we forget that tennisis meant
to be a simple game. Hit the ball where the other person isn’t is a bit too simplistic however that is the
message I give to my starter children and to any one who is keen to learn basic tactics.
Giving your opponent practice by the hitting the ball to them in a rally doesn’t make sense!

Stroke production is another area where we get all complicated. Take a forehand for instance.
This week I had huge success in doing something I haven’t done for years – maybe old fashioned but it worked.
On the follow through of your forehand try extending the follow through as far as you can in the direction
of the ball – so far that you can catch the racquet out in front with your free hand.
Keep your balance on the front foot – don’t fall over – use a neutral stance which makes you pivot from
your back foot and step down to the ball. You may need to take a couple of little side step shuffles to
get in a better position. Hold the hitting balance for a couple of seconds before recovering to the ready position.

I’ll bet you anything you will hit the ball with better length and at the same time have a more solid grounding with your feet.

Here are four photos to show what I mean.

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Use The Time (By John Debnam - LTA and Spanish Monitor National Los Gigantes Tenerife Spain)
When you are passing a ball either for a feed in the warm up, or just passing it from the baseline
to your opponents, make sure you pass the ball with the correct technique, and not just drop it
and hit it any fashion.

When at the net, pass the ball practicing a great volley, do not bounce and hit it.
It may be the only time in a game that you are not under pressure - so use the time.