The game of tennis is a rather unique game consisting of many various sections. The many parts of tennis are actually what makes the game what it is. For beginners, learning how to play tennis has to be taught in an uncomplicated way not neglecting the technique, strategy and footwork of the game. Apart from these there’s also the mental and physical fitness aspect of the game that everyone looking to play the tennis game should know. Every single aspect of the tennis game is important and must be seen as a vital thing to be understood and mastered so as to achieve very good results on the tennis court.
How to play Tennis
If you are new to tennis, you will agree with me that the game looks rather confusing and difficult. For a beginner in tennis, playing tennis is demanding and physically exerting. However, the game can be understood once you are physically and mentally ready. You will agree, if you are a novice at the sport, tennis terms and all the many strokes involved in playing the game can be confusing. And, yes, there are numerous terms and definitions involved in tennis. The rules are another thing, the shots included, to take into consideration if you want to successfully learn how to play the game. And, if you learn well, you might very well be on your way to becoming a pro.
If you are not new to the game – as in you have adequate knowledge or you are a longtime fan, or maybe you’re even a player – this article may look like vain repetition to you. This article is for complete novices at tennis game, those who are new to the game and want to learn the basic fundamentals of the game. The article is also for those who want to become familiar with the strokes involved in tennis and to understand the basic terms used in the game.
If you are looking to become physically fit, you want to learn and master a new skill, you want more quality time with your loved ones, or you just want something to hit and enjoy hitting, then you can invest your time in the tennis game. Despite its complicated and confusing rules and strokes, the game is easy to take up. It doesn’t need too many equipment and, without doubt, it is a lot of fun. It is both fun to watch and exciting to play.
The Basic Rules of Playing the Tennis Sport
Before we go in depth into how to play the tennis, you should acquaint yourself with the basic rules of how to play tennis. First of all, you must understand that there are two variations of the tennis sport. There is the match for the singles and then the match for the doubles. Singles match rules differ a bit from the doubles match rules, they are still somewhat similar though. So, what are the general rules of tennis you need to know?
- When the ball is played, the ball must land within the stipulated bounds or the play would stop. If the ball goes out of bounds, that is the loss of a point for the player.
- Teams and players in the teams are not allowed to touch the goal posts or nets neither are they to cross over to the opponent’s side of the court.
- Teams and players in teams must not and should not carry or catch the ball using the racquet.
- Hitting the ball twice can result in the loss of a point. So, no player must hit the ball twice, just once.
- Players playing the tennis game have to hold on till the ball has passed the net before the ball can be returned.
- A live ball that has not bounced twice must not be returned otherwise the offending player would lose a point.
- Penalty is counted when the ball hits or touches any of the players.
- A ball served has to bounce first before the player receiving it can return it.
- If the racquet falls of the hand of the player, a penalty is awarded.
- If there is any misunderstanding resulting in verbal assault, a penalty is called for.
- If the ball bounces on the boundary lines, the serve is said to be good.
So, these are the basic and general rules you should acquaint yourself with to be able to play the tennis game very well.
Now, let us go in depth into how to play the tennis sport. I have no doubt that you are going to have a fun read.
Mechanics and Techniques of tennis
What are the basic mechanics of tennis? It is that all strokes in tennis are simply a series of motions which are referred to as a kinetic chain. It all begins with and at the player’s feet, goes further through his legs and the on to his hips, chest, shoulders, arms, and wrist and then connects with the racket which then comes in contact with the ball. This kinetic chain causes a build-up, storage and transfer of energy which generates power for your shot.
Sound tennis techniques, biomechanically, come from your kinetic chain working together in harmony. Injuries and bad techniques are as a result of dysfunctional movements and lack of concert within the kinetic chain of your body. What I am saying in essence is that, when you are playing the tennis sport, your whole body – every single part of your body – is working together and working in harmony one with another. The best possible tennis technique is due to the correct amount of rotation, up and down movement, forward and backward movement, and side to side momentum. Understanding this is very important.
There are six basic and widely known strikes in tennis. The strokes include the serve, the forehand and backhand ground strokes each done separately, the forehand and backhand volley each also done separately, and, lastly, the overhead smash. These six basic strokes are the major movements in which a player performs in order to hit a tennis ball. What happens as a result of the stroke is termed a ‘shot’. The difference between the stroke and the shot is not so much, almost as if there is no difference but, don’t get it confused, they are different. For example, a forehand groundstroke is regarded as a stroke while an inside out topspin forehand winner is considered a shot. All you need to know is that no matter the spin used in a single shot like a lob or drop shot is done using one of the six fundamental strokes.
Let’s look at the strokes one after the other, shall we?
Before we talk about the forehand and backhand strokes in tennis, what is a groundstroke? A groundstroke is a stroke done either with the forehand or the backhand such that the ball is hit after it has bounced once on the tennis court. This is regarded as one of the vitally fundamental shots in tennis. It is usually played from the back of the court when a baseline rally is going on. Groundstrokes, however, can be played at any point and from anywhere on the court as long as the ball bounced.
This implies that an approach shot that is hit from the center of the court somewhere around the serve line or even if it is hit somewhere close to the net is still said to be a groundstroke. On the other hand, it becomes a volley, drive volley or smash if the ball is hit in the air before it has had to opportunity to bounce.
Groundstrokes are the most common types of strokes in tennis today unlike in the 80s and the 70s or even earlier than then. Any professional tennis player you meet can safely tell you that the forehand is the biggest and strongest weapon a player can possess during a rally. This is because the forehand is perfectly capable of generating the highest frequency of power.
The backhand, in comparison to the forehand, is less powerful although it is known to generate a more consistent shot. Although there are several vital differences between both types of groundstrokes, the mechanics are fundamentally the same. When the right amount of rotation, side-to-side, up and down, and forward and back movements are done during a stroke, great power is generated and the player is able to maintain control.
The backhand and forehand groundstrokes can be hit with many types of the different spins, just like in any stroke in tennis. The spins include the topspin, backspin also referred to as slice, flat and sidespin. The spin in use is largely based on the situation. However, majority of the groundstrokes are done with a topspin.
Forehand Groundstroke: What does it mean and how is it done?
A forehand groundstroke in tennis is just one of the two major types of groundstrokes performed in the course of the sport. The forehand groundstroke is used to classify a shot that is taken with the racket held in the player’s dominant hand, this he does from the baseline. If you are a right-handed player, the forehand swing starts from the right hand side of your body, it progresses forward across your body as you make contact with the ball and the whole movement ends on the left hand side of your body. Your contact with the ball causes the palm of your hand to turn away from your body.
How do you hit a forehand stroke?
As it is common with majority of strokes in the tennis game, the forehand is hit on the move with the many varieties of spins. Let me show you some tips on how you can hit a successful forehand stroke.
- Be prepared. Be ready to take light split step by opening your legs as soon as your opponent makes contact with the tennis ball.
- As the ball is coming closer to you, stay in that stance you have taken (as in the one in the first bullet) and then rotate your shoulders, arms, and hips. Your arms, shoulders and hips are rotated as part of the take back.
- After this, begin to unwind your body with your dominant arm. Drop the dominant arm down to help you generate a topspin as it moves down the rest of your body and then forward towards the ball.
- Keep the rotation going, then swing your racket up, over and through the ball as the ball comes in contact with your racket. At this point, your ventral parts of your body and head are facing the net.
- Continue your arms’ extension forward and then over across your body towards you less dominant side.
- As you conclude, complete your stroke by shifting your weight to you left leg if you are right handed and then hover your racket around your left shoulder. When you are practicing your forehand, don’t neglect to maintain a handshake-arm position with your right arm swing. By implication, your arm is not too cramped or too far away from your body. This way, you will be able to generate enough power while keeping yourself in control. Don’t forget also that your wrist, hand and racket are the last things you rotate through the contact point. The forehand is like a low serve in many ways since there are many similarities in how your body moves.
Do you understand the forehand groundstroke now? Good. Let’s move on to the backhand groundstroke.
Backhand Groundstroke: What does it mean and how is it done?
The backhand groundstroke is second type of the two types of groundstrokes. It is done either one-handed or two-handed. Just like the forehand, the basic way the swing is done is that it starts on one side of your body, it progresses forward and across, and then completes its journey on the other side of your body. The backhand is hit with the back of your dominant hand, unlike in the forehand groundstroke, facing the direction of the stroke.
How do you hit a backhand groundstroke?
Like I said earlier, there two ways you can make a backhand groundstroke i.e. one-handed or two-handed. The one-handed backhand groundstroke is hit with your dominant hand alone. The dominant hand holds the racket grip as you come in contact with the tennis ball. If you are a beginner, the one-handed backhand stroke generally sacrifices more power and stability for a greater reach when compared to the two-handed backhand groundstroke. The two-handed backhand groundstroke, on the other hand is carried out with your dominant hand holding the bottom of your racket handle while your less dominant hand is placed above as you come in contact with the ball. The second arm and the hand working together gives the two-handed backhand groundstroke a greater control and power.
How to hit a one-handed backhand groundstroke:
- First of all, take a light split step so you can get your balance and be prepared
- Then, go into a position while at the same time you begin to rotate your upper body for the take back. Moving your feet to a closed or side-on position is usually considered easier because it helps with the rotation and strength.
- When you are in position, your take back would be done and your right shoulder is pointing at the ball if you are right-handed.
- Your arm, like your forehand, will drop down the moment you start rotating and swinging towards the ball.
- In continuation of the unwinding i.e. as you continue to rotate back and around, your arm will whip forward and up trying to make contact with the ball.
- Finish your backhand groundstroke by following through and completing the motion. Then, extend your arm to the right as you land with your weight on your dominant side. While you do this, you can maintain a slight bend in your arms. This has been known to prevent getting injured. Whatever you do, however, do it with simplicity and with a balanced and relaxed swing. If you can understand the basics of how to play the tennis, you will notice rapid improvements in your playing
How to hit a two-handed backhand groundstroke:
- Like the one-handed, split step as your opponent strikes the ball so that you can be ready to receive the ball.
- Then, get into position while you simultaneously take the racket back.
- Once you are in position, you take back would be complete. Your racket would be on your non-dominant side and your shoulder would be angled towards the ball.
- Detangle your body by rotating your hips and shoulders preparing them to make contact with the ball. At this stage, your body would be facing the net with approximately equal racket control which both arms will get.
- Follow through so your left arm takes over and drives through the ball.
- To end your stroke, swing your racket all the way to your non-dominant side. At the end of the two-handed backhand groundstroke, your body weight would be on your dominant side.
If you are new at this, thinking of the two-handed backhand to be a left handed forehand although with an added arm for stability can be of great help. You grip the racket with both your hands and, while you do this, the degree of control each arm will have over the swing changes during take backs, contact points, and follow through from the right arm will equate control and the left arm. This is done only if you are right handed. When you are training, keep this in mind and don’t forget. Implement it in your trainings too. Also, strive for simplicity, balance, and relaxed swing when you play.
Serving in Tennis
Serving in tennis is simply that stroke that is used to start a point in every match. This is the only stroke in which a player has total control over in tennis. As a result, it is one of the most important shots in the game. If a serve is good, the player that is serving will be able to have some control on how the game will turn out and how many points he would have at the end of the game. The reason for this is that the server that gets the first strike makes his strike based on the power, spin and shot placement.
And this could cause a limitation on what the returning player will be able to do. At the first point of any game or the tiebreak of the serving player, the player must stand behind the baseline close to the right side of the center mark when he faces the net. The second point shows him standing at the left side of the center mark. The right side of the center mark is also called ‘deuce or first court’ while the left side is also referred to as ‘ad or second court’. For each point of the game, the serving position of the player is the opposite of the point prior to it.
Both deuce and ad courts’ start positions views the server with two chances for hitting the ball over the net and then into the opposite service box which is diagonally opposite. If the serve is missed once, they have another opportunity since they have to grace of making two serves. However, if the player also misses the second serve, it is counted as a fault and the point is lost.
On the other hand, if the serve touches the net but still went on to land in the correct service box, it is seen as a let and the server gets another try. It is only in this instance that a server can make three serves. But, if the serve did touch the net but did not land in the service box, the serve is out and the server has lost the point or, if it happened in the next serve, he goes on with the second serve.
How is serving in Tennis done?
When you want to serve, be sure you are standing right behind the baseline. Once you have noted you position and it is the right one, place your feet in a side on stance. At this point, if you draw an arrow between the tips of your feet, it would point towards your opponent.
Although this feels strange sometimes at first, but it will help you with the power with which you will serve. Lastly, hold your racket with a firm grip in your dominant hand by using a continental grip i.e. the way you would hold a hammer. Then, hold the tennis ball in your less dominant hand. At this point, you are ready to serve.
I have gathered some eight simple ways by which a beginner in the sport of tennis can develop a consistent serve that has the capability of generating great power and spin. So, if you are right handed, follow these steps:
- Hold your racket and ball directly in front of you. This is how you begin your service.
- Start moving forward by leaning towards your rival player, then toss the ball in the air with your less dominant arm which is holding the ball while dropping your racket arm straight back. The ball toss happens as soon as the backswing is done i.e. simultaneously.
- At this stage, your body is in a ready position which is that it is fully coiled and ready to offload.
- The ball moves into striking position above your head. As it does this, you start uncoiling by driving up through your legs, rotate your body, the pull your less dominant arm down.
- After this, keep the extending and uncoiling in motion as the arm holding your racket whips up and around in response to the movement the rest of your body is making.
- Here, your body and head position are facing or at least almost facing the net. Then, pull down and make contact with the tennis ball. Do this with enough confidence or the ball can go out of bounds.
- As you continue following through, your body would be falling forward and to the left while your racket arm whips through the ball and then swings a bit to the right.
- To end the serve motion, you land on your left foot right on the court while your dominant arm which is holding the racket finishes its swing on the left hand side of your body.
Bear in mind, however, that this style is if you are right handed. If your strong point is your left hand, all you have to do is do it the other way around. That is, you racket will be in your dominant hand which would be your left hand while the ball will be in the less dominant hand – the right hand.
Serving is one of the most complex strokes in tennis, technically, and for this reason may players tend to struggle with it. To make a killer strike, follow these principles:
- Remain relaxed, cool, calm, and collected;
- Don’t follow complicated techniques so you don’t confuse yourself, stay simple;
- Don’t keep your focus or worry on how to move your arm. Moving your arm will happen simultaneously especially if your technique for serving is good.
Volleying in Tennis
I’ve made mention of volley earlier in the article and I’m sure you are wondering what I mean. A volley stroke in tennis is what happens when the ball is hit out of the air before it has bounced on the court. Volleying actually entails both the forehand volley stroke and the backhand volley stroke. In essence, a volley can be played from any position but it is usually hit only when the player is very close to the net. If the player makes contact with the shot only after the ball has bounced, the shot is said to be a half volley or a groundstroke.
Technically, volleying is an offensive style of play. This even more so if you want to shorten the point and win aggressively by reducing the time with which your opponent can react, move or recover from his or her position in which she made the serve you just intercepted. To be a great volley player, you must have speed, strong reflexes, touch and good framework. These are all requirements to make a good volley in tennis. The reason for this is because you have even lesser time when you are close to the net that when you are far away therefore shortening the backswing and follow through is a critical situation.
There are two ways in which a player can volley a ball in tennis: the backhanded way or the forehanded way. Let’s look at them one by one including how both can be played.
Forehand Volley: What does it mean and how is it played?
The forehand volley is one of the two ways whereby balls are volleyed in tennis game. Generally, it is played very close to the net, much closer than other strokes. A forehand volley, much like the forehand groundstroke, is made while the racket is being held in your dominant hand and your palm facing away from your body. Forehand volleys are usually hit with the dominant hand to the right hand side of your body, i.e. if you are right handed, and to the left hand side if you are left handed.
How to make a forehand volley stroke
- As you approach the net, keep your racket stretched out in front of you and then ready yourself by taking a light split step while moving forward.
- Be ready to turn your upper body slightly to the right when the ball approaches.
- After, continue your forward movement by bringing the racket forward and maintaining a strong wrist and handshake arm position. This position is where you need to be when you make contact with the ball.
- Continue with the movement of your feet and body weight in a forward way through the ball. You finish you follow through by swinging the racket back in front of your body.
Whether you are practicing or playing, don’t overthink it – keep your swing simple and minimal. Work on your footwork and swing too; their smoothness is a very important addition. Following through the ball also needs practice because you need to use your body weight and forward movement during and after you have made contact with the ball and this needs serious practice.
Backhand Volley: what does it mean and how is it played?
The other type of the volley is the backhand volley. Like the forehand volley, it is also made with the player close to the net. Just like when you are making a backhanded stroke, the single-handed backhand, the backhand volley is done with your dominant arm with the back of your hand facing away from your body while you make contact with the ball with a firm grip on the racket.
How to make a backhand volley stroke
- Move close to the net as quickly as possible with you racket gripped firmly and stretched out in front of you.
- When the ball starts to come towards you, do a short take back while rotating your upper body to the left. Keep it simple and relaxed.
- Keep moving forward using your feet to move the ball as you make contact with the ball and with a short swing.
- Change your body weight position, keep moving it to the front and through the ball rotating your upper body slightly and bringing the racket forward and then end to the right with the racket back in front of you.
Much like the forehand volley, you need to develop a very good and solid backhand volley. Also, your footwork, momentum and body weight is as important as your swing. It should be a smooth but explosive movement if you want to make a killer stroke.
Tennis Overhead Smash
In tennis, there is something we call an overhead smash. You have probably heard of it but, if you haven’t, I will show you what it means and how you can hit it. So, what exactly does an overhead smash in tennis mean? An overhead smash in tennis is that stroke achieved when the player contacts the ball with the racket far above his head in a serve-like motion. The shot is usually and commonly referred to as just ‘smash’ or an ‘overhead’. Both terms are used interchangeably.
The forehead smash or the forehead overhead is usually referred to by the terms ‘smash’ and ‘overhead’ since it is the most common form of shot. The backhand smash is used only when the player making the shot finds it difficult to maneuver into a position in which he or she can hit a much more powerful forehand smash.
This smash is usually hit when the player is very close to the net too or if he is around the middle of the service court or around the service. It is done right before the ball bounces. Although the player is free to choose whether he wants to smash the ball before it bounces or as soon as it bounces. This happens usually because the other player, the opponent, threw up a really high defensive lob. It is much easier to let the ball bounce once so that the timing of your smash can match correctly.
How to make an overhead smash hit
You are probably thinking the smash would be an easy and portable serve. You should understand, however, that unlike the serve, a smash is hit during the point and it is done while you are on the move. It means that there are very vital differences between a serve and a smash.
The difference is that, during a smash, you are running and moving constantly as the rally goes on. At this point, it is extremely important that you use a simplified technique and smooth footwork. So, what are the step by step ways of making an overhead smash hit?
- Hold your racket in a firm continental grip.
- The ball will rise through the air as your opponent serves it. When you see it do so, focus your positioning to keep the ball in front of you at all times. This you can achieve when you use a good and quick footwork. As you move back, make sure you rotate your body and bring the racket straight back to a ready position with your less dominant hand positioned to angle up at the ball.
- When the ball drops, as it drops, it drops into a striking position. At this point, uncoil your body and rotate it while you swing the racket up and towards the ball for a hit.
- When you are in this state, your body must have rotated such that it faces your opponent. Then, snap your arm around and hit the ball with the racket.
- After you’ve hit the ball with the racket, continue with a follow through that must be short and aimed at bring the racket down and then across your body.
In many ways than none, the overhead smash technique and mechanics is similar to the serve. The difference, however, is that both you and the ball are moving around the court in a simultaneous movement. As a result of this, your momentum, timing, and simplicity are very much important. Other things you need to put in motion in order to make the killer overhead smash is that:
- You should practice the shuffle steps, crossover steps, and backpedaling so that moving backwards would be easier done with speed and enough balance.
- Don’t forget, you must keep everything simple – do this by shortening your swing.
- Lastly, remain calm, cool, collected, and relaxed. When the ball drops down for you to contact, you will be ready.
I have no doubt that if you can follow through all I’ve said, its likely you now know how to play tennis and you will be a pro in no time.