The Main Tennis Stances for Hitting Groundstrokes

In modern tennis, the pros use an increasing amount of rotational forces on both the forehand and backhand shots, resulting in different tennis stances based on the current situation of the point.

Tennis Stances and Stylistic Differences Between Each Player

Tennis is an individual sport and each individual has his own way of hitting each particular shot. No two bodies are the same and therefore no two players can have the exact same strokes as each other. Even if some players seem to hit the ball very similarly, there are subtle differences in their strokes. There are multitudes of ways that a tennis ball can be hit. There are different grips and stances that can be used, especially for the ground strokes. The modern game has been marked by an increase in the speed and pace of the ball during rallies.

The emphasis on power has also forced players to use longer swings. But longer swings take more time to execute. Players have to somehow be able to hit the ball using proper techniques while at the same time being able to deal with the fast pace of the game. Adaptability, flexibility and improvisation have therefore become more and more useful. One of the ways to respond and adapt to the different situations a player finds himself in on the court is to learn how and when to use the different stances.

There are three basic tennis stances: closed, open and semi-open.

The closed stance has the feet and body turned sideways to the net. It is sometimes also referred to as the classic stance. This is because during the wooden racket days when people played more matches on grass and more commonly used the eastern and continental grips, the closed stance was the way to hit almost all ground strokes.

Problems with Closed Stance Hitting in Modern Tennis

The main advantage of this stance is that in ensures complete and proper shoulder and body turn. However, there are some situations where it is not always possible because of lack of time. Also, on some strokes, the positioning of the feet on the closed stance limits the uncoiling of the body into the shot since the front leg gets in the way of completing the follow through.

In the older days, the follow through usually ended forward from the body in the direction of the ball so this wasn’t much of a problem as it is now for the more modern style.

Two handed backhand stance
Tennis Stance: A closed stance today is reserved mainly for the backhand shot where there is less upper body rotation. It is almost never seen on the forehand

Also, In today’s game, shoulder turn is only one element of the full body turn needed to hit a world class forehand. Today, players are learning to develop a full body coil in addition to the sideways turn of the shoulder. More on this technique & mechanics are available in the Modern Forehand Unlocked Ebook

Tennis Stances: Today’s Open Stance in Modern Tennis

Today, the follow through usually ends on the opposite side from where the stroke originated. For a right handed forehand, that would be the left shoulder or left side of the body. To adapt, people who use the closed stance pivot their front feet to face the net as they uncoil.

Alternatively, they may already point the foot forward as they set up for the shot just as they would on an open or semi-open stance. This is done by Maria Sharapova. The stroke is finished with the back leg often coming up off the ground as the weight is transferred completely to the front foot.

Open stance in tennis
Tennis Stance: A fully open stance as shown by Venus Williams

Benefits of using the Open Stance

The open stance features the feet aligned parallel to the net. The toes may point forward or to the side, as long as they are in this alignment. The trunk and shoulders are still turned sideways on the backswing when using this tennis stance.

The most major advantage of this stance is that it facilitates a full follow through and a complete uncoiling of the torso. Also, less time can be taken to set up for the shot. The main disadvantage of this stance is that it sometimes doesn’t allow for proper weight transfer and maintenance of balance.

Sharapova is a good example of a player whose technique can be broken down in this way. When she is rushed, she tends to hit from an open stance without getting her feet to balance her stroke properly, especially her forehand.

Fortunately for her, she is quite a powerful hitter so she is usually the one forcing the other player into rushing. The open stance is most commonly used for topspin ground strokes, especially the western or semi-western forehand. Double handed backhands can also be effectively hit from this stance.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s Tennis Stances

Windshield wiper forehand stance
The Tennis Stance used most frequently by Nadal is either a open stance or semi open stance, allowing for his body to rotate into the shot for more power

Top players like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer can hit their forehands very effectively with any stance including this one. By properly loading the back foot, coiling the torso and turning the shoulders, the can really unleash their forehands. On the forward swing, their weight gets shifted to the front foot, which really is only slightly ahead of their back foot. However, the sheer torque they produce can sometimes carry them off the ground as they throw their body weight into the shot.

At contact, their torsos are completely facing forward to the net. Both players have long follow throughs and finish with the feet parallel and facing forward for a quick recovery back to the ready position.

Semi Open Stance in Tennis

The semi-open tennis stance is a stance in between closed and open. The feet are diagonal relative to the net. Like the open stance, the toes may point forward, to the side or obliquely. This stance offers some of the advantages of both the closed and open stance. You can turn your shoulders and coil your trunk completely while at the same time ensure that you have a clear path to uncoil and perform a long complete follow through.

This is also a commonly used stance in today’s game. Topspin western and semi western forehands and two-fisted backhands can be hit from this stance. Andre Agassi frequently used this stance on both his forehand and backhand ground strokes.

Fundamental forehand stance
Tennis Stance: A semi-open stance today is one of the main stances used by top professional players on the forehand. This stance allows for full upper body rotation

Tennis Stances: Learning the Neutral Stance

There is actually a fourth tennis stance known as the sideways or neutral stance. This stance features the feet also being diagonal to the net like the semi-open stance. However, the legs are reversed.

For example, for a right handed player hitting a forehand, he would have his left foot ahead of his right foot on a semi-open stance while it would be his right foot ahead of his left foot on a sideways stance. This limits the amount of shoulder and trunk turn unless you are very flexible. The advantage of this stance is that the player can run through the shot.

Using the Tennis Stance (Neutral) on Short Balls

Andre Agassi sometimes used this on his forehand drive approach. When he got a short ball, he ran forward to it and arrived at this stance to hit the ball deep into his opponent’s court. Because he had a lot of flexibility, he could coil his trunk just as he normally would. Without having to pause too much to hit the ball, he could continue running forward as he hit the shot and end up sooner at the net where he can finish the point with volley.

Neutral tennis stance
Andre Agassi uses the neutral stance on approach shots for effective forward momentum whilst moving forward

The neutral stance, however, cannot be used for backhand shots, especially single-handed ones. This stance is also seen on volleys and half volleys, especially those that require the player to run for the ball. Because things happen much more quickly when you are up at net, you cannot think about how to position your feet properly for each particular shot. You just volley the ball any which way it arrives, as long as you are balanced and have the upper body and the racket in proper position.

Keys of Using the Correct Tennis Stance

The main keys to maintaining proper stroke production regardless of the tennis stance used is to have proper footwork and balance. To improve this, footwork drills, speed drills and agility drills are all imperative. Moving properly to the ball should become so ingrained that it becomes second nature.

It must not be something you actively think about when playing. Instead, it should be automatic and unconscious or instinctive. The technique of the stroke – the racket work – should also be kept as consistent as possible.

Off Court Training to Improve Your Tennis

Strength training with weights and medicine ball throwing exercises will help ensure proper power-producing stroke mechanics regardless of what stance you use. Aside from strength, flexibility needs to be developed. The most important area would be the trunk or core. Trunk twisting stretches, hip and groin stretches and shoulder stretches should be performed.

With these in mind, it becomes clear why the pros can play using the different tennis stances. Because these players train and work out properly, they can completely focus on the ball and think only about their strategies and tactics instead of having to spend any energy pondering about how to move their feet in order to arrive at the ball in a particular stance.

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