In tennis, a variety of shots are used during a game by tennis players. No one game is the same and whether you want to play competitively or just recreationally with friends, fully understanding the different types of tennis shots can be both useful and educational. Once you understand the different shots and the best times to use them in the game, you will start to master this wonderful game. This article will cover the most commonly used shots you will encounter on a tennis court.
In tennis, much of the action happens on the ground. The game has changed from years gone by when there were specialist players who would serve and volley on almost every point. While groundstrokes are considered basic shots in the sport, the fundamentals separate the good from the great players.
Forehand and Backhand topspin
A forehand and backhand topspin are the most basic shots for tennis players. This is the first shot most tennis players will be taught, given the ball is soft, this is a way to ensure the ball goes over the net with enough safety and the topspin causes it to dip, making sure that it lands inside the baseline. I remember spending hours on a tennis court with my coach telling me to ‘hit up the back of the ball.’
Hitting ‘up the back’ of the tennis ball allows you to continue the rally with basic strokes before going on the offensive. Otherwise, making contact with the ball at chest high can lead to a flat shot that may go straight to the net or let the opposing player take advantage. My tennis coach reminds me to aim for this shot at knee level with the tennis racket tilted up to make the ball land on the other side of the court.
Likewise, he imparted to me that too much topspin increases the chances of the ball going out of bounds. Rafa Nadal has one of the best examples of a topspin forehand, he generates so much pace on the ball and
For those unfamiliar with tennis, the backhand is the shot attempted across the body. More often than not, it is attempted using two hands, with the dominant hand on top. Novak Djokovic plays this as well as anyone we’ve ever seen. His consistency and accuracy are scary. Some players opt for a single-handed backhand (also known as the one-handed backhand. Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem have some of the most famous single-handed backhands in the game.
Forehand and Backhand slice
There have been some famous players that have used a forehand slice. It is much more common to find people who hit a topspin as it is more of an attacking shot to put your opponent under pressure. While the slice allows a player to gain better control of the point, it isn’t easy to pull off. Most players will use the slice to give them more time to gain composure in a rally, on grass a slice keeps the ball low and makes it hard for opponents to generate top spin. That said Steffi Graf, one of the most famous tennis players of all time, used a sliced backhand with perfection and as an attacking shot, rarely using the top spin.
Whether you execute a forehand or a backhand, the slice shot puts much spin on the ball, either backward or sideways, to reduce the frenetic pace. It would be difficult for the opponent to send the ball back with power because of its low trajectory. They might not have enough time to retrieve or even send the ball high, forcing a potential end to the rally.
Typically, attempting the slice backhand is easier than doing it forehand. Either way, the opponent will have much trouble reading the shot, especially if it is successful. As its name suggests, players must hit the ball in a downward motion as if slicing it.
Flat Forehand and Backhand
The contact point for a flat forehand and backhand is often at shoulder level, causing the ball to travel in a sharp and horizontal direction. The likely scenario is that the ball will quickly land in a spot that makes it difficult to return. The flat forehand comes in two forms. There’s the inside-out forehand, wherein the ball travels diagonally away from the opposing player. On the other hand, the inside-in forehand is a down-the-line hit that hitters squeeze through a tight space.
Its sharp trajectory can catch the opponent off-guard. To land this shot, the racket must be parallel to the tennis court surface. Otherwise, the ball may travel on a slant depending on the racket’s tilt. To properly execute the flat shot, it’s best to hit the ball early to establish a straight path. A slight torso turn can generate enough power to send the ball through.
A flat shot is hard to execute, especially at pace. The margin for error is limited because the ball does not dip. For a good example of this have a look at Nick Kyrgios, at times he hits the ball incredibly flat and incredibly taking his opponents completely off guard.
Forehand and backhand volleys
Aggressive players that attack the net enjoy volleys. The days of the classic serve and volley tennis player have gone, the likes of Bjorn Borg or Tim Henman who played most of their games at the net were replaced by hard-hitting baseliners. The game seems to have reverted back to more of a middle ground now of both. Being able to volley, either in defense or attack, is an important part of a players armory.
Typically, volleys happen when a player wants to change the game’s pace. If a baseline battle ensues for a while, they will try to meet the ball halfway by rushing toward the net and executing a forehand or a backhand volley. Seeing his intention will force the opponent to react and possibly perform a counter volley. Likewise, a player who went with a drop shot expects to end the rally with a volley after his opponent flips the ball up. The player also exerts full power in his shot with either a backhand or forehand volley.
Players also execute a half volley immediately after a ball bounce to give their opponent little time to establish their position. I remember my coach calling this shot “on the rise” because of its timing. However, it’s challenging to pull off and is often a by-product of their quick reaction time but being out of position.
Instead of the typical volley, they weren’t quick enough to chase the ball, allowing it to bounce on the ground A significant amount of topspin must be generated upon contact to avoid the ball going long or straight through the net. Players need soft hands to not only get it over the net, but not leave an easy shot for their opponent by flopping the ball up.
I love to watch professional players attempting to hit the ball between their legs. To me, it’s a display of creativity and ball awareness. However, hitting a tweener volley is a last resort because they have little time to react. While it is a great shot for showmanship, its main purpose is to send the ball back and buy time to establish a better position. Tweeners can be hit facing an opponent or played facing away from an opponent as the ball is chased down. It is a low percentge shot but looks great when it comes off. And the king of tweeners is none other than Nick Kyrgios.
The serve is a player’s first point of attack and to be a successful tennis player you need an effective serve. Understanding the ball’s spin after contact helps dictate the server’s approach as the rally progresses. If everything goes well, the receiver might not be able to send the ball back, leading to an ace. Players have two tries to land a successful serve at the start of every point. Otherwise, the receiver will earn a breakpoint.
A flat serve generates the most power and velocity to catch your opponent off guard. As the name suggests, the trajectory is flat because there’s little topspin on the ball. It is also a high-risk, high-reward approach because it is more challenging to land on target, especially within the service box. That’s why players often execute this stroke on their first serve to gain their confidence and in hopes of getting the point quickly. In that regard, players who master the flat serve are difficult to beat.
Players who opt for a kick serve hit the top of a tennis ball with wrist action to create much topspin. This motion leads to high balls above waist level that are difficult to return via a forehand or backhand. The opponent will be pressed to attempt a stroke that will give the server leverage or send the ball out. The ball’s bounce can force them to hit it off-timing or wait for it to drop at the optimal height before hitting. It’s also the preferred service of players who want to ensure that the ball lands inside the service box. Tennis players often use this approach on their second serve, especially after a fault, to buy time in establishing their position.
Pulling off the perfect slice serve depends on the player’s forehand. They glance upon the corresponding side of the ball, making it go sideways before sailing out. When executed from the deuce court, the ball’s motion forces the receiver to go near the outer edge to retrieve the ball, leading to a wide-open court that the server can attack. The slice serve is also the best approach to bring the ball near the receiver’s body, forcing them to limited options because full-extension strokes will not work. The side spin also makes the ball travel at unpredictable angles, sometimes leading to aces.
There is much contention regarding the validity of the underarm serve. Some players deem it illegal because it’s disrespectful to the game. But in the game of tennis, every advantage counts, and this type of service can provide an edge when executed well. The general rule in serves is that players must hit the ball before it touches the ground, be it overhead or underarm. This approach can throw off the opponent’s timing, just like in the 1989 French Open match between Michael Chang and Ivan Lendl. Chang opted for the underarm serve to neutralize Lendl’s advantages and win the match which completely threw Lendl.
In recent times, players like Nick Kyrgios and Daniil Medvedev execute this service, especially when their opponent is far behind the baseline. The underarm serve travels short distances, forcing the receiver to run inward for a return. The server can attack with a volley to get a quick point when played correctly. What are your thoughts on the underarm serve?
In rally shots
Some situations in tennis call for extraordinary shots that may swing the match’s momentum. It’s hard not to have your jaw drop every time you see these strokes during a rally.
Approach shots typically occur when one player hits the ball short, allowing his opponent to move inside the court to attack the ball via either a forehand or a backhand. This shot has a high percentage of ending the point or forcing an opponent into a difficult situation. However, it can also backfire depending on the quality of the approach.
As its name states, the passing shot happens when a player sends the ball beyond an opponent camped near the net. Passing shots are often down-the-line hits, making it difficult for the opponent to reach the ball. Since the aggressive player is already established in the middle of the court, a thin cut down the sideline is the best option to get the point. However, the small landing window for the ball makes it a tricky shot to pull off.
The lob is a defensive shot against players with a penchant for attacking the net to limit their opponent’s options. Since the back part of the court is open, they execute a high-arching forehand or backhand that will land near the baseline. This shot will force the opponent to chase the ball and send it back with a typical groundstroke. In effect, it’s the other player’s turn to attack through a volley to end the point immediately. The lob helps a player regain proper position when forced to hit a ball near a sideline.
As mentioned earlier, the tweener shot occurs when the ball is hit between a player’s legs. While it provides limitless style and showmanship points, it’s best to avoid this shot because it is not a percentage shot. If it works by winning a point, that player will be the talk of the town.
Like tweeners, drop shots are a relatively new shot in the game. They are tough to pull off because of the precision needed to execute perfectly. It’s perfect for changing the game’s pace, especially when an arduous baseline battle has ensued. This stroke requires just enough power for the ball to barely clear the net. This shot will force the opponent to dash inward to prevent the ball from bouncing twice. The element of surprise will catch the other player off guard.
This shot is typically a volley that immediately ends a point. If one player runs toward the sideline to send the ball back, the opponent can simply bury the ball in the open zone to end the rally and get the point.
It’s an overhead shot a player attempts when the opponent sends the ball up in the air, normally a defensive shot. They attempt it like a service taking the ball out of the air early on the volley, which has a high chance of quickly ending a rally. The opportunity to get a smash in a tennis game does not come very often, a player has to outmaneuver their opponent. That’s why a player must take advantage when the opportunity arises, especially if it can help turn the tide. Pete Sampras had a unique smash technique, almost climbing like he was performing a slam dunk in a game of basketball.
Chip and Charge
The chip and charge is an aggressive tactic after a serve or mid rally. First, the player executes a chip shot before stepping inside their side of the court. Then, they will continue to move closer to the net to set themselves up for a volley. The attacker gets a quick point when done well. However, it can backfire if the other player can bounce back and land a passing shot or a lob.
We have covered some of the most commonly used shots in a game of tennis. Whether you are a right-handed player or wristy left handed players, this is all relevant to you. Our advice is to not try and master them all at once, take time to learn them and importantly where to use them. It is crucial to use the different shots at the right time. learn when to move around a ball to hit a forehand shot, or when to hit slice serves to outwit your opponent. This game is much about tactics as it is about execution.