In the game of tennis, a stroke refers to the act of swinging the racket to hit the ball. Different types of strokes are used in various situations during a match. Here are a few examples:
Forehand Stroke: This is the most common stroke in tennis, where the player swings the racket across the body with the hand moving palm-first. It can be performed with one or both hands holding the racket.
Backhand Stroke: The backhand is performed by swinging the racket away from the body. The back of the hand leads the swing. Like the forehand, it can be executed with either one hand or two hands on the racket.
Serve: The serve initiates play and involves throwing the ball into the air and striking it into the diagonally opposite service box without touching the net.
Volley: A volley is a stroke made by hitting the ball before it bounces on the ground, usually performed near the net.
Smash: A smash is a powerful overhead stroke that is often used to finish off a point. It’s generally used when an opponent’s shot doesn’t clear the net with enough height or distance, allowing the player to aggressively hit the ball downwards into the opponent’s court.
Lob: A lob is a stroke where the ball is hit high into the air, intended to pass over the top of the opponent if they are close to the net, forcing them to move back into their court.
Each stroke has its own technique and strategic use, and a player’s proficiency in these strokes greatly affects their overall game in tennis.
Below we explore each of the aforementioned shots, including how they’re performed and why, plus some tips on how to improve your stroke-game.
See also: 4 Types of Ball Spin Pro Tennis Players Use
6 Most Common Tennis Strokes
Let’s delve a little deeper into each tennis stroke:
#1 Forehand Stroke
The forehand is typically the most powerful and accurate stroke for a player. The player swings the racket across their body with their palm facing towards the shot.
It’s generally considered an offensive shot and is often used to control rallies and hit winners. The forehand can be returned using either a forehand or backhand, depending on the direction and depth of the shot. It’s most often used when the ball is coming to the player’s dominant side.
#2 Backhand Stroke
The backhand is performed by swinging the racket away from the body. Depending on the player’s grip, it can be a one-handed or two-handed stroke.
One-handed backhands offer greater reach, while two-handed backhands offer more power and control. It’s generally used as a defensive shot, but can also be used offensively if executed properly. It can be returned with either a forehand or backhand. The backhand is used when the ball is coming to the player’s non-dominant side.
The serve is the shot that begins each point. The player throws the ball into the air and hits it into the opponent’s service box.
A well-executed serve can be an incredibly powerful weapon in a player’s arsenal, as it can earn outright points or set up a weak return for the server to attack. The serve is typically returned with a backhand or forehand groundstroke, depending on the direction of the serve. A player serves when starting a new point.
The volley is a shot performed before the ball bounces. It’s typically executed near the net during doubles play or when a player is trying to finish off a point at the net in singles play. Volleys require excellent hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes.
The advantage of a volley is that it gives the opponent less time to react. It can be returned with any stroke, but the opponent often has to respond quickly. A player generally uses a volley after approaching the net, either from a powerful groundstroke or a serve-and-volley strategy.
The smash is an aggressive, overhead shot that’s often used to finish points when the opponent hits a weak lob. It’s similar to the serve in terms of motion, but is usually performed from inside the court.
The advantage of a smash is that it’s often a point-ending shot due to its power and downward trajectory. Returning a smash can be very difficult due to its speed and angle, but if possible, it is usually returned with a lob or a passing shot. A player uses a smash when they receive a high ball or weak lob close to the net.
The lob is a high, arching shot designed to pass over an opponent who is close to the net. It’s often used defensively to buy time to recover position, but can also be used offensively to win points outright if the opponent is unable to reach the ball.
The advantage of a lob is that it forces the opponent to move quickly to the back of the court. A lob can be returned with a smash if it’s short, or with a groundstroke if it’s deep. A player generally uses a lob when their opponent is at the net, or as a defensive shot when out of position.
5 Tips for Young Players Looking to Improve Their Tennis Strokes
Here are five tips that could help young players improve their tennis strokes:
Focus on Footwork
Proper footwork is the foundation of good stroke production. Young players should work on their agility, balance, and quickness to get into the right position to hit the ball. This includes learning how to pivot and shuffle their feet, and always being ready to move in any direction.
Drills that emphasize footwork can help in developing these skills.
Master the Basics
Before trying to add power to your strokes, make sure you have a solid grasp of the basics. This includes proper grip, stance, and swing path. Spending time with a coach or watching instructional videos can be beneficial.
Remember, consistency and control are more important in the beginning stages than power.
Watch the Ball
A fundamental guideline often given but paradoxically neglected is the simple principle of maintaining steadfast visual contact with the ball. From the instant it departs from the adversary’s racket, tracing its trajectory until it meets your own, is an exercise of critical importance.
It’s this attentive observation that underpins the improvement of your stroke timing, precision, and the uniformity in your play.
Use Your Whole Body
The conception of tennis strokes is not confined merely to the pendulum-like movement of the arms; it is an orchestration of the entire physique. Starting from the earth beneath your feet, escalating to your legs, hips, torso, and culminating in your arms, every part of your body is enlisted in a harmonized endeavor to strike the ball.
This comprehensive engagement not only enhances the power behind your shots but also serves as a protective mechanism. By distributing the exertion of the stroke across various body parts, it mitigates the risk of injury, ensuring a safer play.
Regular practice is key to improving any skill, and tennis strokes are no exception. Try to hit as many balls as possible and aim for consistency. Start slow and gradually increase the pace. Use a ball machine or find a hitting partner who can feed you balls consistently. Remember, quality over quantity: mindful, focused practice is better than mindless repetition.
In tennis, the art of the stroke encompasses the player’s swing of the racket to hit the ball. There are a variety of strokes, each with its own strategic uses and techniques, that players employ during different situations in a match. These include the forehand, backhand, serve, volley, smash, and lob.
The forehand and backhand strokes are the most common, used for powerful and accurate shots, or defensive plays depending on the player’s positioning. The serve, starting each point, can be a potent weapon if executed well. The volley, smash, and lob strokes have their strategic places in the game, particularly when close to the net or needing to force the opponent to move quickly.
The mastery of these strokes significantly impacts a player’s performance. Therefore, young players seeking to enhance their skills should focus on footwork, understand the basics, maintain constant visual contact with the ball, use their whole body in a stroke, and practice regularly.
In conclusion, the variety of strokes in tennis, each with its unique characteristics and strategic uses, form the core of the game. A player’s skill in executing these strokes, coupled with strategic understanding and regular practice, can significantly elevate their game.