The Serve: Your Ultimate Tennis Weapon
The serve is the ultimate tennis weapon. It can usually dictate the leverage or even the outcome of your tennis match.
- Throw the ball in front of your body, letting the tennis ball drop into the court
- Make sure your body is going after the ball in a slant upward motion. (Analogy: pretend that you are falling in a pool of water)
- Make high contact and make sure to snap the wrist at the top and follow through your left or right leg.
Forehand: Return of Serve & Open Stance
Forehand return of serve
Return of serve is essential when wanting to win the game. For the forehand return of serve, there are some important points to note.
- Ready Position: You can start with the grip you prefer but be prepared for changes when deciding what shot to play later.
- Preparation: Get active and ready for the return when the opponent tosses the ball to serve. When your opponent is about to strike the ball, perform a split step so that you can move in the direction the ball is coming.
- Contact: When hitting a defensive return, the forward swing will be similar to that of a volley. Make the point of contact slightly further in front of your body. Keep the swing impact and the grip firm. When hitting an offensive return, try and have a forward swing similar to your topspin forehand.
- Follow Through: This step depends on the pace of the server, the follow through with the defensive return is likely to be similar to that for a blocked volley that is short and compact.
The Open Stance Forehand
The open stance forehand has become one the game’s biggest changes in the past 4 years. Most tennis pros now hit most of their forehands with the legs in an open stance (legs parallel to baseline). There are several reasons for this.
The first reason is that the open stance allows for more power. Let’s look at the power aspect of the swing. The hips and the shoulders rotate back with the racquet, the legs must bend and flex. This flexing of the body creates a dynamic loading of the muscles of the legs and body. This loading is like a rubber band that is stretched and when let go creates a quick, powerful action. When these loaded muscles begin to contract in sequence they create a kinetic chain that when unleashed offers a potent power source. Unlike the closed or neutral stance (feet turn sideways with the body), there is very little loading or stretching of the muscles. This neutral stance should have some leg flex but the main power comes from shifting the weight from the back leg to the front leg during the swing. Although this is good, it has become archaic.
Today’s tennis game demands more strength and power. The second benefit comes from a quicker recover from the open stance. Even before the swing is completed the body weight is shifting from the right leg to the left leg (for right handers). But now this shifting is lateral or sideways and has the body moving back towards the center of the court even before the finish of the swing. Once the swing is completed, the body is already moving back into position because the legs are still parallel to the baseline.
Today’s players must react and recover more quickly because of the power involved in the game. To hit the open stance forehand you must place your outside leg almost directly in the path of the oncoming ball. The weight of the body is placed on this leg while the legs bend and the torso turns sideways. During the swing, the legs begin the motion by straightening as the hips rotate forward followed by the shoulder rotation. The arm and the racquet are the last components to be brought into the sequence of the swing. This sequencing is what we call the kinetic chain and it very important that the timing of each of the body segments are happening one right after the other.
Backhand shot is very commonly regarded as a more difficult shot than forehand and many people have a lot of trouble with it. A major reason for this? Backhand shot is on the left side and we don’t have such a good feeling for that side. Not only with our arm and hand but also judging distances and coordinating our arm. That’s why we need to take some time and get used to doing things on our left side with the right arm.
A helpful tip: Take time on the short court with 5 minutes of mini tennis every time you play. Play many backhands and be aware whether you hit the ball in the middle of the tennis racquet or not. Be aware whether you set your self up for the shot in the correct distance from the ball or not. Just awareness of that will improve your judgment and coordination on your left side of the body.
The volley is considered the easiest to learn of all the strokes in tennis because of its simplicity. The player takes a relaxed stance facing the net with feet about shoulder width apart and knees slightly flexed. The volley is executed by having the player simply set his/her racquet in order to block the ball. There is little or no backswing – it is important to always keep the elbow out in front, with the racquet head facing your opponent, and incorporate forward movement when setting up to “block” the ball.
The Half Volley
The half volley is a much more difficult shot, requiring more perfect timing, eyesight, and racquet work than any other. The half volley is basically a pick-up shot. The ball meets the ground and racquet face at nearly the same moment, the ball bouncing off the ground, onto the strings. This shot is a stiff-wrist, short swing, like a volley with no follow through. The racquet face travels along the ground with a slight tilt over the ball and towards the net, thus holding the ball low; the shot, like all others in tennis, should travel across the racquet face, along the short strings. The racquet face should always be slightly outside the ball. The half volley is essentially a defensive stroke, since it should only be made as a last resort, when caught out of position by your opponent’s shot.
The overhead is an important shot in tennis even though it is not used as often as other shots such as ground strokes. The overhead is also one of the easier shots in tennis to execute; however, there are still many players who struggle with the shot. Below are some general tips and rules of thumb to help hit your overhead.
- Keep your eyes on the ball. As soon as you start thinking about missing, you might have the tendency to take your eyes off the ball before contact. When your eyes leave the ball, your head shifts and when the head shifts, the face of the racquet does so as well.
- As soon as you see the shot is an overhead, get your left hand up and point at the ball until you hit it. Doing this helps you keep your eyes on the ball. Watch the pros, they point at the ball as soon as they see it is a lob! Note: This step is assuming you are right handed. For left hander , point with your right hand
- Make sure you get under the ball early. Move with the ball as soon as you see it is a lob.
- Bring your racquet back early! The earlier you bring your racquet back before the swing, the more time you have to prepare to hit the shot. If you wait too long, you will be in a rush to swing and it can throw off everything.
- Do not try to slam balls that are too low. Some balls that are low look like they can be overheads, but they should be high volleys. It can be extremely difficult to hit an overhead on a low floater. You will have to determine for yourself which is which.
- Avoid swinging at the ball as hard as you can. You do not need to knock the overhead into the stands like the pros. Slow the swing down and go for placement. Usually on an overhead you can easily put it away hitting only 50-60% as hard as you can, but with nice placement. (I usually go for about 80% or so).
- If the ball gets behind you, just try and hit the ball back in play. Trying to hit an overhead that gets behind your body will make the ball soar too long. Try to hit the ball a foot or so out in front of your body, just like the serve.
The Drop Shot
The Drop Shot in tennis is slicing, putting backspin on the ball just over the net. A good drop shot travels such that the opponent is unable to run fast enough to retrieve it. For many years Andre Agassi was considered to have had the greatest drop shot of all time, off both his forehand and his backhand.
A good drop shot requires great touch. The ball should bounce low and near the net, sometimes using underspin (or backspin). Often if the backspin is great enough, the bounce of the ball will be shorter, and in some extreme cases will even cause the ball to bounce back towards the net. Sidespin may also be put on the ball so it kicks sideways upon contact with the ground. A bad drop shot, however, can be chased down easily by the opponent who will then have the advantage. The secret is having “soft hands.” Making one’s grip slack at the moment of impact will allow the racquet to absorb more force and make the ball less powerful and less likely to bounce high.
The notion of skimming the net might be misleading. Keeping the ball as low as possible over the net is very useful, but the trajectory of the ball is quite “arched” and may better be thought of as a small lob. Drop shots are good as an element of surprise, when the opponent is expecting a normal shot and is not ready to run forward to retrieve them.
The characteristics of some court surfaces make drop shots particularly effective; grass and clay are good examples. On grass, the ball tends to bounce lower than other courts, which makes it harder to retrieve a drop shot. On clay, the slow surface tends to encourage players to stay far back and engage in rallies from behind the baseline, which in turn increases the distance the player must cover to reach a drop shot near the net. Drop shots on hard courts can be useful, although to a lesser degree. Drop shots are also useful when the wind is blowing in the opposite direction of the shot; this allows spin without hitting the shot too long.
The drop shot became unpopular in the 1990s, but has experienced a recent popularity due to its success rate. The drop shot is most commonly used by clay court specialists, such as Rafael Nadal and Juan Carlos Ferrero. Even players who previously never opted to use the drop shot, such as Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt and Maria Sharapova, now occasionally execute the shot.
A lob is a high arching shot with additional hang time that is initiated by a forehand, backhand, or at times a volley. With the lob technique, the player has the ability to change the course of a point and keep an opponent off balance during game play.
Key tips to remember :
- Move your feet – you still have to get in position to hit the shot
- Keep your eye on the ball – the serve is coming at you with different spin and speed and from a different height than a ground stroke. So don’t take making good contact for granted.