In the fundamentals of tennis, the basics of the game must be learned. Often times, these tennis basics can be vigorous, frustrating and agonizing for a beginner. Similar to a pyramid, tennis beginners must start from the first level foundation to build a solid root, in this case the basic strokes, understanding of the rules and how to play tennis.
On TV, tennis looks likes it is really easy to play because the pros have spent a majority of their lives practicing and working really hard. It goes without saying that they have the natural talent for the game as well. At the club level, there are some beginners who just seem to have a more innate ability to play the game.
They have an immediate grasp of the fundamentals of tennis. Other beginners have to work harder at getting to a certain level. In either case, the correct basics should be taught and reinforced repeatedly until it becomes almost second nature. We’re not talking solely about stroke mechanics, though these are undoubtedly a big part of the game. Tennis is more than just strokes.
You also have to consider your equipment and physical conditioning. There is also a mental side. It is your brain, after all, that lets you conceive strategies and execute tactics. It is also what makes you focus, concentrate and have feelings.
To thoroughly understand all the fundamentals of tennis, it is helpful to break down the game into the physical and mental aspects. We will consider first the physical part.
The physical fundamentals of tennis can further be subdivided into these components:
- Strokes – this pertains to techniques in striking the ball
- Footwork – this covers proper movement on court
- Physical fitness and conditioning – this includes strength, flexibility, speed, agility and stamina. It also covers eyesight, reaction time and coordination.
- Equipment – your racket, strings and shoes
Fundamentals of Tennis: Strokes
The most commonly discussed fundamentals of tennis are the techniques of properly executing the main strokes as listed below.
Fundamentals of Tennis: The Forehand groundstroke
1. The acceptable grips are the continental, eastern, semi-western and western. For beginners, the eastern grip is usually taught. This grip is just like shaking hands with the racket.
2. Wait for the ball by standing on the baseline facing the net with knees bent comfortably and weight on the balls of the feet. Hold the racket in front with arms relaxed.
3. Take the racket back while pivoting the hips and turning the shoulders. Body weight loads up on the back foot (right foot for right handers). How you take your racket back depends on what you’re comfortable with as long as it is a smooth and continuous motion.
4. Swing for the ball with a relaxed arm and a loose wrist. Then on contact, hit the ball out in front at the same time as you firmly snap your wrist through the ball. The shoulders and trunk uncoil while body weight is transferred from back foot to front foot as you step into the shot.
5. Follow through completely by finishing with the racket over the opposite shoulder. Then recover back to the waiting position.
Fundamentals of Tennis: Backhand groundstroke
1. Acceptable grips are the continental, eastern and double handed grips. Double handed grips are usually a combination of a continental or eastern grip with the dominant hand and an eastern forehand or semi-western forehand grip with the non-dominant hand.
2. Wait for the ball as you would on a forehand groundstroke.
3. Take the racket back in a smooth and continuous manner that you are comfortable doing. Pivot the hips, turn the shoulders and load your weight on the back foot.
4. Swing for the ball with a relaxed arm/s and loose wrist/s. Hit the ball in front and firmly drive through it, uncoiling the shoulders and trunk. Transfer your body weight from back foot to front foot as you step into the shot.
5. Follow through completely. One handers should keep the elbow straight and two handers should finish over the opposite shoulder. Recover for the next shot.
Fundamentals of Tennis: Serve
1. Hold the racket with a continental grip. The non-dominant hand holds the ball using the fingertips. Line up sideways to the net with feet body width apart. Your leading foot is pointing diagonally to the baseline and the back foot is parallel to the baseline.
2. Toss the ball up and fully extend the tossing arm. Take the racket back behind your head. Look up to the ball. Bend your knees, coil your trunk and turn and tilt the shoulders.
3. Launch up to the ball with your legs by pushing off the ground with your feet. Take the racket to the back scratch position by cocking the wrist back fully. The elbow goes up and extends, followed by the wrist which pronates the forearm to contact the ball. At this point, the arm and wrist are both fully extended. The shoulders and trunk uncoil.
4. Follow through by continuing pronating the forearm and extending the arm out toward the target before coming around and finishing on the opposite side of the body. Land with the leading foot as weight transfer is completed.
Fundamentals of Tennis: Volleys
1. Hold the racket with a continental grip in front of your face. Focus on the ball and keep on the balls of your feet.
2. Turn your shoulders as you step forward to meet the ball with the racket out in front and above the wrist.
3. Adjust to the height of the ball by bending your knees, not your waist.
Fundamentals of Tennis: Spins
Topspin – this is applied by hitting the ball from low to high
Slice – backspin or underspin shots are the reverse of topspin and are created by hitting the ball from high to low
Lob – this is a shot that is hoisted high up in the air over a player at net. It is also sometimes used to disrupt the rhythm of a baseline rally. It is hit by opening up the racket face before contact and following through upward.
Drop shot – this is an underspin shot that lands short over the net and is meant to make an opponent who is at the baseline try to scramble forward. It is hit like a slice but much more softly.
Fundamentals of Tennis: Footwork
Proper balance should be maintained at all times in executing all kinds of strokes. Throughout a point, you should keep on the balls of your feet with your knees bent. Take small adjustment steps as you set up for your shots. Never plant your feet firmly on the ground.
Fundamentals of Tennis: Physical fitness and conditioning
Strength – whole body strengthening is ideal because tennis is a sport that can cause imbalances in the musculoskeletal system. Particular attention is paid to certain areas that could be vulnerable to injury, namely, the shoulder (especially the rotator cuff), the elbow and the wrist.
Flexibility – this goes hand in hand with strength and is important to prevent injuries.
Speed – this refers to the rate at which a person can move along one direction. Developing speed is important for tracking down shots hit far away from you.
Agility – this is closely related to speed and pertains to the ability to get moving from a stationary position, change directions and change speeds.
Stamina – how long can you play without getting too tired? You never know if a match will last 30 minutes or 3 hours so it is always better to be prepared.
Eyesight and reaction time – you are always told to focus on the ball but you have to know that you can actually see the ball. When you do see it, you have to react appropriately and quickly as well.
Coordination – having a smooth stroke and timing the ball well can only be developed through constant practice and drills.
Fundamentals of Tennis: Equipment
When people talk of the fundamentals of tennis, they hardly mention anything about equipment. It seems like it would be much better to acknowledge how significant a role it plays in developing your overall game.
Racket – your racket should be whatever you feel comfortable hitting with. It is always advisable to demo a stick first before buying it.
Oversize rackets, heavier rackets and stiffer rackets provide more power
Smaller head sizes and more flexible frames provide more control
Strings – use any kind of string that you feel comfortable with
Natural gut is more elastic and retains tension better. It provides the most power and control but is expensive, high maintenance and not so durable.
Synthetic gut is less expensive and requires less maintenance.
Polyester is stiffer and more durable than synthetic gut but provides less feel. These are commonly used by heavy topspin players.
Kevlar and titanium these are very stiff but durable strings.
Textured strings provide more bite on the ball for extra dwell time, control and spin.
Shoes – use any tennis shoe you feel comfortable with. Cross trainers can also be used but running shoes are not recommended because these do not provide the stability and balance for lateral movements.
The mental and psychological fundamentals of tennis cover the following areas:
Fundamentals of Tennis: Strategy and tactics
this represents a player’s approach to playing a match, taking into account his strengths and weaknesses in all aspects of the game and comparing it with those of his opponent. It also covers proper decision making on court from situation to situation, both in between points and within specific points.
Maximize the spaces where you can possibly hit your shots while minimizing your opponent’s. This is done by proper court positioning and shot placement. Basically, the more you control the centre of the court, the better off you are. Also, the deeper your shots, the better. Another thing to remember is that the more you push your opponent back and the more you move forward, the better your chance of winning the point.
Use your strengths and exploit your opponent’s weakness as much as possible. Corollary to this, minimize exposing your own weakness while avoid feeding or playing into your opponent’s strengths.
Be decisive about what to do before the point starts and commit to your shots once the ball is in play. Before the point, you should know where to serve and what kind of serve to hit or where to stand for the return and what kind of return to hit.
Proper court positioning is dependent on where your opponent is and what shot he or she will be hitting. As much as possible, you should be standing at a place that bisects the possible angles of your opponent’s shot.
Fundamentals of Tennis: Concentration and focus
this is also usually called mental toughness.
Focus only on the things that matter. Usually, that would be the ball.
Don’t be distracted by things that you cannot control like the crowd and the atmospheric conditions.
Be calm, but be determined.
Learn how to deal with pressure situations and this includes handling bouts of nervousness.
Deal with the fear of playing a better opponent or the fear of losing to someone who you think is inferior to you. Just enjoy the game because no one wins by playing in fear.
Respect all opponents as well as the umpire, linesmen and ball kids.
The fundamentals of tennis should be inculcated at the beginning of a player’s development. There is no substitute for having the correct foundation when your objective is to build as much success as possible.
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