Want to play like the world’s greatest tennis champions? If you want to play like Serena Williams or Roger Federer, you’ve got to practice like them. If you’ve played the game for any length of time, like I have, you know how important practice can be.
So, I did a little research and found what I believe to be the best, most simplified tennis tips and practice ideas around to help improve almost anyone’s game. Showing up with a detailed practice plan and sticking to a single pattern of play during a match are the two most important tennis tips in my opinion. However, as you’ll see from the rest of our list, things like improving your footwork, strength and stamina training as well as identifying your opponents weakness are just a few more simple yet fundamental tips that anyone can implement.
If you’re ready to practice and more importantly play like a Grand Slam contender, these tennis tips will get you on the right track.
What’s the first step in how to play tennis better?
Well, it’s rather basic. You’ve got to show up to practice with a plan. Don’t just show up to the courts with your gear and wing it. You’ve got to have a plan in place before you cross the baseline.
Think of it this way: if you have poor footwork, how will it help you to hit a million groundstrokes?
In order to build a practice plan, consider:
From there, craft a training plan to address your weaknesses, with a plan for each individual practice. If you have a coach, work with them to come up with a more detailed plan! The more specific you are when identifying gaps in your game, the more specific you can be to address those gaps.
Whether you’re playing traditional tennis, platform tennis, or even pop tennis – doing the right drills to improve certain deficiencies in your game is always a good idea. Go into a practice knowing exactly what you want to accomplish.
Another mistake many novice players make is trying to get creative every time they step on the court.
Take some time to watch winning matches by tennis greats. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that these players aren’t rotating through a dozen play patterns in a match. What is a play pattern? Well, by that I mean how they approach each point to set themselves up so they game is played to their strengths.
For example: Don’t get cute by trying to win points with backhands when your go to shot is a cross court forehand. Set up for your cross court forehand…every…single…time.
Again, watch the game’s best players and look for their play patterns. Are they using many different patterns to win a point or match? No. Instead, they only use one or two.
Think of it this way. You have a few shots that you know you can always nail, right? These is different than shots you like to hit. These are shots you know you can execute beautifully every time. Build your play pattern around your bread and butter strokes. This is a tennis tip that has been utilized by tennis coaches for a long long time. Whether you’re a high school beginner or a seasoned professional, the goal is the same. Play to your strengths.
Instead of trying to confuse your opponent with shots you’re not as good at (hint: it’s not going to work) instead focus on playing to your strongest shots. You’ll end up with a far more consistent match.
It doesn’t matter if you can hit a ball harder than the Incredible Hulk – if you can’t get to the ball fast enough and get your feet properly set – you’ll never be able to take a swing. Before you can hit that favorite shot of yours we talked about in tennis tip #2, you’ve got to be able get in position.
In fact, the number one cause of missed shots in tennis is when a player is out of position. This is where footwork can really save you. Having exceptional footwork can get you position to hit your best stroke and take your game to the next level.
Here are three drills to include in your regular practice routine to help improve your footwork:
This drill is a great game for kids and adults (oh, and it’s great for agility and reaction time, too).
To play, you’ll need at least two players. Use the service boxes only and score the game like a tiebreaker. Instead of a racquet and ball, you’ll use a Z-ball (a reaction ball) tossed and caught underhand.
The game is simple: play tennis with your partner by tossing the Z-ball underhand into your partner’s service box. The ball has to bounce once before it can be caught, and must be caught before it bounces a second time. Play until a player wins the tiebreak game to 7.
The spider run is basically the tennis version of the shuttle run. And it’s a useful one since it’s the physical fitness test that most closely mimics the movements performed in an actual tennis game.
To do this, you’ll need masking tape to mark off a 12- by 18-inch rectangle behind the baseline (the baseline forms one of the sides).
Position five tennis balls on the court: one at each meeting point of the baseline and the singles sideline, one on each side where the singles sideline meets the service line, and one on the center T.
Start at the center mark of the baseline facing the net. To start, turn right and sprint to the corner formed by the baseline and singles sideline. Decelerate, touch the corner with your foot, and sprint back to the center.
From there, you’ll repeat the movement with each of the corners marked by a tennis ball, working counterclockwise. Take a 30-second rest and then repeat going in the opposite direction. Do 3 sets of this drill and not only will you improve your footwork but you’ll also improve your conditioning as well.
Finally, there’s the hex test, a high-performance fitness test designed to measure foot quickness and control when changing direction.
To do this, use masking tape to create a hexagon on the court. Each side should be 24 inches long. Begin standing in the middle of the hexagon, facing the same direction throughout the test. Have a partner with a stopwatch handy.
When your partner gives you the command to start, begin by hopping over the hexagon tape outside the hexagon and then immediately back into the hexagon. Continuing to face the same direction, jump over the next side and back into the middle. Repeat on all six sides, making three full revolutions around the hexagon. You can go clockwise or counterclockwise or both.
When you make three complete revolutions, your partner will stop the stopwatch.
Anything under 12 seconds is an excellent score. 13 seconds is average. Anything above 13.5 seconds needs improvement.
And after these tests, a word to the wise–don’t forget to take good care of your tennis shoes! You don’t want them worn out and smelly before a match.
To build a better tennis game, though, you don’t just need to be faster – you also need to be stronger.
But tennis strength is unique, in that it doesn’t rely solely on muscle power. Instead, you must have strength through your full range of motion.
One of the best ways to boost your overall strength is to work strength training into your practice regimen. However, you don’t want stiffness, as muscle groups need to be worked and kept elastic at the same time in order to be efficient during a game.
To that end, you need to be smart about your strength training.
One thing to keep in mind, whether you are using a barbell or dumbbells, is to focus on snapping motions rather than pushing motions. Here is the difference between strength training using snapping motions versus pushing motions:
Pushing exercises build strength by requiring your muscles to be under constant tension as you lift and lower weights. Think of the bench press for a moment. Your muscles are strained during the negative phase (lowering the weights) and stressed during the positive phase (lifting the weights back up). Snapping motions using dumbbells or kettlebells more closely resemble tennis, where your muscles are relaxed right up until your lift the kettle bell or in the case of tennis, swing your racquet .
This is a critical difference in tennis, as it allows you to make powerful movements quickly and repetitively without several seconds to decide how to move.
That said, this is a somewhat tricky balance with strength training. Because of this, strength training is usually best for when you’re in the off-season or when there are no nearby tournaments.
For a comprehensive weight training program, take a look at this article.
When you’re facing an opponent with similar experience and training, sometimes the only way to win the match is by outlasting them.
This is where stamina comes in. If you can’t keep your energy going for the whole match, the other player will win.
To that end, your tennis training routine should incorporate exercise that boosts your aerobic resistance, like running or swimming.
In fact, running is one of the best exercises you can do to supplement your tennis game, as there’s quite a bit of running in a match. David Ferrer, known for his speed and agility, covers about 6.2 miles per match, while Novak Djokovic covers between 2.5 and 3.1 miles per match.
Ideally, you should design a running program that incorporates aerobic (distance running) and anaerobic (sprinting) exercise, as this most closely imitates the waiting and short bursts of activity that characterize a tennis match.
For a look at running training tips for tennis players, check out this article for ideas.
Let’s be honest: no one likes feeling like a fool on the court. So it’s easy to find reasons why you shouldn’t practice with better players.
But the truth is, playing with more capable players can actually have a huge benefit on your overall tennis game.
If you’re playing an exceptional player or even a player who’s a little bit better than you, you have to turn up your focus, footwork, and rapid decision-making skills in order to hold your own.
And as any coach will tell you, it pays to practice the same way you want to play. If you consistently practice with players who are better than you, you’ll be surprised to find that your focus and skill naturally rests at a higher level–an improvement that will certainly pay off.
So the next time you play a tournament against a really tough player, go up to them afterward and ask to hit with them sometime.
Of course, while you should always strive to keep your focus at a higher level, you shouldn’t forget to play the opponent in front of you.
In other words, if you’re losing a match by a few points to that guy at the club you normally annihilate, it’s probably because you’re not playing at the momentum of the match.
It’s a typical pattern for amateurs. You play someone you know you can beat, so you go in relaxed. That means you’re sloppy, which allows them to get a few points scored on you. Then you get panicked about making up those points and get even more disorganized…again not playing to your strengths and sticking to a simple pattern of play like we talked about in tennis tip #2.
Instead, take the time between points to read the match. Get organized and figure out your opponent’s pattern and momentum. Or, if you’re ahead, figure out what you can do to actively keep that momentum going.
And if you want to practice changing up your momentum to suit the match at hand, try playing with several different players who play matches at different tempos. This will help you practice changing up your own matches.
Want a quick and fun way to vary your match momentum? Try a fun game of pop tennis!
There are no two ways around it: if you have a weak serve, you’re going to struggle through the whole match. After all, many would argue that the serve is the most important shot in tennis.
Because of this, many novice tennis players thinks that the key to a good serve is whaling on the ball as hard as you can without much thought of accuracy. This is flat out wrong!
In fact, one of the best things you can do to boost your serve is to pull back on your serve speed. Instead of hitting at 100% velocity, aim for 80% – pulling back in power, even just a little bit, will give you enough space to actually plan your shot and hit with accuracy.
If you’re improving serve speed but losing accuracy, that’s your indicator to pull back on speed and focus on where you want the ball to go.
Finally, if you really want to improve your tennis game, it’s important to remember that tennis is, well, a two-player game.
In other words, the game isn’t just about you. You’re playing against another person, and that person has strengths and weaknesses, just like you.
Novice players focus solely on their own game, but expert players learn how to identify their opponent’s weak points and hit there.
The best place to do this? The five-minute warm-up before your match. You’re focused on getting ready to play, yes, but this is also a golden opportunity to test your opponent. Hit forehands and backhands to see what they’re worse at returning and use that to theorize their weaknesses.
For example: what are their stroke preferences during warm-ups? Are they only hitting backhands?
That’s probably because they’d like to hit backhands all day long, which means you can weaken their game by forcing them to hit forehands.
You should also take note of their volleying techniques. In particular, take note of where they stand. Do they tend to move forward aggressively? Throw in some lobs and see what happens – this will give you a sense of their tactical approach to a match.
Finally, pay attention to how your opponent serves during warm-ups.
Remember earlier when we said to dial back your serve power in favor of accuracy? If you notice that your opponent tends to slam into the ball at full force every time, then you can plan ahead.
Alternately, if you notice your opponent likes to change up their serves, you can probably expect the same technique during the match, so you want to prepare for any of their serves they throw at you.
Once you’ve got these techniques down to a science, you’ll be more than ready to breathe new life into your tennis matches.
And if you need more tennis tips, don’t worry – we’ve got tips for any racquet sport you can think of. Click here to check out our strategy posts, or check out our tennis buyers guides and product reviews.