One of the joys of watching top tennis pros compete is that you get to observe the unique style of game play that has come to define their "tennis personality" over time. We love the darting quickness and surreal flexibility of Djokovic, the smooth strokes and mind-boggling precision of Federer, and the raw power and stunning athleticism of Serena.
What you have to keep in mind is that although these phenomenal players make it look effortless, they weren't born with a tennis racquet in their hand. They had to work hard and master several basic fundamental skills of the game of tennis before they could begin to develop their own style of play within that framework. Without mastering the basics first, you'll have an unstable foundation to build upon, which will stunt your growth and development as a player. With this vital principle in mind, below are five tennis skills every beginner needs to master before they can advance to greater levels.
1. Forehand and Backhand Strokes
Of all the different types of strokes and shots you'll learn in the game of tennis, you'll hit more forehand and backhand strokes than anything else. Without taking the time to develop each of these critical strokes, your game really can't even get off the ground. Practice working on every nuance of the entire movement, from the backswing to the point of contact to the follow-through. Make forehand and backhand strokes a regular part of your practice sessions, whether you're hitting around with a partner or using a practice wall. You should work toward developing correct form and proper swing mechanics for each stroke from virtually any position on the court.
2. The Serve
The serve is absolutely critical because it's the only point that you can fully initiate and control. There are several small movements that work together to form a tennis serve, so you'll need to focus on perfecting each of these movements until you're able to do them instinctively. Work on mastering the ball toss, developing a consistent point of contact, and properly timing each movement. Once you've put them all together, you can then work on sharpening the finer points of your technique.
Tennis is a game that basically requires constant movement from the time the ball is served until the point is won. Learning the basics of footwork such as the split-step and side shuffle will help you get around efficiently on the court without wasting time or energy. Regularly incorporate footwork drills into your basic training regimen so you can stay sharp and agile while on the court.
Some of the best players in the world are masters of anticipation; it almost seems as if they have a sixth sense to know where the ball is going to be before it arrives, and they're already in position to respond by the time it crosses over the net. This is developed through diligent practice and training the reflexes to respond quickly to visual information. Play with a partner as much as possible, so you can work on reading and interpreting their body language, which is a major key to developing anticipation skills.
Volleying is a technique in which a player uses "short-punch" shots (e.g., little to no backswing) in order to put pressure on the other opponent. Volleying is usually done close to the net, and is considered to be an attack approach that keeps the other player on the defense. Work specifically on volley drills in your practice sessions so that you can sharpen this critical element of your game.
Keep in mind that when you see the pros play, they're executing movements that they have practiced thousands of times over the years. Although their strokes and footwork look completely natural to the casual observer, their adeptness on the tennis court is the result of an accumulation of thousands of strokes, serves , returns, volleys, lobs, etc., that they've executed countless times in practice.
The point? If you're going to advance in the game of tennis, you have to commit to the process of diligent practice. Nothing comes easy to the person who won't practice hard. Do some research on the practice habits of some of the top pros in the tennis world today, and you'll see that their on-court success is largely the result of the hard work and commitment they invested into their game when no crowds were watching. Make up your mind to adopt that same approach while you're mastering the basics, and you'll have a solid foundation of fundamental skills that will help you reach new levels as a tennis player.