by Clark Corey
PBI Director of Tennis Kapalua
USPTA Tennis Professional
There are two types of people who want to
learn how to play tennis. First, there are those that practice
their strokes endlessly with a professional, on the ball machine
or against the wall but actually never play a game of tennis.
Second, there are those that get an initial understanding
of the game and strokes and then immediately try and play
The whole purpose in learning how to play
tennis is to play the game of tennis not just to hit balls.
Tennis is an incredible game in that a situation may change
each time the ball is hit. Playing tennis is all about being
flexible and dealing with emergencies. Practice allows us
to build the foundations of each stroke but games put those
foundations under pressure so we find out what needs to be
improved. If we play in an artificial world (like with a ball
machine or against the wall) we may never find out if our
strokes will hold up.
In order to play a game there are two strokes
that need to be learned right away. These two strokes are
the Serve and the Return of Serve. If you don't possess either
of these strokes, playing a game of tennis will be quite challenging.
Let's take a closer look at the first of these two strokes,
its simplest form the serve is actually a throwing motion.
Your dominant arm would wind up and throw the racquet forward
(similar to throwing a baseball) into the ball that you have
tossed up. There are two very important keys to the serve.
The first is the use of the wrist. You should
have a flexible wrist in your throwing hand in order to allow
the racquet motion to hit up and snap down. If the wrist is
flexible then you can adjust the angle of the racquet face
at contact with the ball and make corrections for serves that
go out. The palm of your hand will be facing up as you swing
up to hit the ball and then the palm will finish facing down
after you have contacted the ball and snapped your wrist.
Do this hit up and snap down wrist action by itself first.
Isolate the wrist action by raising your arm and just tossing
the ball up and flicking at it with the racquet. After you
have done that several times to get the feel of the wrist
then go into the full motion of the arm swing and full serve.
The second key on the serve is balance.
When you serve this is the one time a player controls the
ball and can decide on where it goes without having to react
to the other player's shot. Because of this we want to make
sure our body is on balance before, during and after the service
motion. To do this make sure your feet are shoulder width
apart and that you are standing perpendicular to the line.
Your lead foot would be at a 45 degree angle to the line while
the back foot could be the same or parallel to the baseline.
Throughout the serve your feet should not
move. You can bend your knees a little for stability but keep
your feet on the ground while serving. If you have accelerated
through the serve there is a very good chance the heel of
you back foot or both feet might lift off the ground. That
is fine as long as you are on balance.
The second key stroke in learning to play
a game is the Return of Serve. If someone is hitting a hard
ball at you and it is probably directed away from you then
you won't have much time to react. The most efficient way
to make contact and get the ball over is to simply prepare
the racquet so that the strings are facing the net and make
contact with the ball. One of the biggest mistakes players
make is to take a large swing while trying to return serve.
The Return of Serve is a controlled directional
shot. If you simply place the strings towards the net and
make contact you can use your opponent's power and re-direct
it towards an open spot on the court.
Use your Opposite Hand to help set up the
racquet face. You would use your opposite hand to help set
the angle of the racquet face on the Return of Serve as well
so that the ball goes over the net rather than in the net.
Think of your racquet as a mini-trampoline.
Move the racquet into position and then let the ball rebound
off the strings towards the target you were aiming for. The
ball only weights 2 ounces so we don’t have to take
a big swing to hit it 39 feet!