Tennis doesn’t get the same recognition as a lot of other sports out there. Part of that is because it is not as popular as the major sports as a spectator sport, but it also comes down to people just not playing much at all. Since they don’t play, it’s hard to grasp the difficulty of the game, as well as the subtle nuances that make it difficult to play at a high level.
Those who do give tennis a try will understand why many people label it as one of the hardest sports to learn out there. It doesn’t take much to hit the ball around and have a little bit of success, but actually becoming consistent takes years and years of practice.
Let’s take a closer look at why tennis is the hardest sport to learn out there. There is a reason why the top players in the world need thousands of hours of practice in their life to become consistent enough to compete.
1. Precision Timing
To have success in tennis, precision timing is needed in all aspects of the game. A player must adjust to each opponent they face, and they also must be able to handle different shots coming at different speeds, angles and more. No two shots in a rally are the same.
A tennis racquet head size might be anywhere from 95 to 110 square inches, depending on the player’s preference, but it’s not that big to give much margin of error. Players who want to play at a decently high level need to hit the sweet spot of the racquet to have success and control.
On serves, precision is extremely important so that the ball actually goes in. A lot of beginners struggle with serving, because they want to hit it harder than they should. Even the toss can be a struggle for players, even though it is the one shot a player has complete control over in a match. Out of all the other shots in tennis, this is the only one that a person can work on without having to face a real-life opponent.
Having precision on different types of shots in tennis is arguably the most difficult aspect of the game in general. A player might feel like they have a decent grasp on things at a certain level, but then they move up to a faster game. Once an opponent is hitting faster shots with more spin, it’s like learning all over again how to be precise with different shots. It’s a constant battle as a person moves up the ranks, and that’s why no one ever truly figures out precision.
2. Speed & Lateral Quickness Is Needed
No one is going to have success in tennis unless they can run around on the court and keep up with players who can cover everything. A player can have the most consistent shots in the world, but it takes more than that to compete at a high level. Good players will have counterattacks to the shots, and that is where speed and quickness come into play.
It’s a lot easier to have precision shots when completely stationary at all times. Once moving around is put into the equation, it becomes a much more difficult game to master. Not every single shot is going to allow for the proper preparation, so people need to hit shots that might not feel that comfortable. Sometimes, tennis is about survival, especially on defense. It’s impossible to have success without having the ability to hit shots on the run, or after running around for 10 or 15 seconds.
Some might say that speed and lateral quickness is needed in other sports, but not to the same extent as tennis. The movement is different enough that it becomes extremely difficult for people to transition from one sport to another.
Basketball is probably the closest as far as speed and movement are concerned, but once a person does move around, they need to do different things. In basketball, there is no added piece of equipment that needs to be swung precisely when moving around. The footwork is similar, but arm movement is quite different.
3. Numerous Types of Swings
A simple two-handed backhand can be compared to a baseball or cricket swing in a lot of ways. The grip is pretty similar, and the preparation looks pretty much the same as well. In those sports, a player has one grip ready to go to swing. In tennis, a two-handed backhand is just one stroke of many that a person needs to rely on.
Tennis players need to swing the racquet from both sides. They also need to handle volleys at the net, overheads and more during play. These shots are all hit with slightly different grips, so mid point, a player needs to figure out what type of shot to hit, switch to the right side and right grip, and then hope it goes in.
During a match, this is all muscle memory. When first learning how to do all of this? It can easily become information overload. It’s a challenge to make the right decision every single time. Experience is the only way to get better at making smart decisions on the fly.
Related to the types of swings is having the right racquet to fit a certain playstyle. There are a lot of different racquets out there, and people need to consider not only brands, but racquet options from specific brands. Every racquet is going to play slightly differently, and it can seriously affect my player hits certain types of shots.
A racquet might work well on his serve, but not feel entirely comfortable off the ground. The goal is to find a racquet that is the best overall, making it a little easier to hit shots from all angles. Just finding the right racquet for a casual player can take a few demos with different options before ultimately deciding.
4. Mental Toughness
Individual sports are very different from team sports when looking at the mental side of things. When things are going poorly, players can feel like they are on an island all by themselves. Sure, tennis players have coaches that they can turn to at times, but in the middle of a match, they don’t really serve much help at all.
Early on, tennis is a humbling sport. A lot of players become discouraged early on because, even a physically gifted athlete will be unable to hit balls consistently where they want them to go. It’s a struggle to learn the right type of stroke, and the more a person fails, the tougher it is on them mentally.
Players must constantly battle the mental side of things, properly handling fatigue, missed shots, weather conditions and anything else that might make them think twice. Tennis is mostly played outdoors, so windy/sunny conditions could potentially make things significantly more challenging. It must be dealt with to avoid a frustrating match.
A difference in the match can be somebody having more confidence than the other. Players can’t dwell on a missed shot, because it’s going to affect future shots down the road. It pays off to have a very short memory and tennis, and to trust all the practice when it comes to actual match play.
Players should always strive to play with a positive attitude. The last thing a person wants to deal with is constant negativity throughout the entire match. Both players are going to have their fair share of unforced errors, so understanding that and dealing with it is part of the game. Don’t dwell on a missed shot in the past, but focus on what might be in the future.
5. Lack of In-Game Adjustments & Coaching
At all levels of tennis, there are very limited times to make adjustments to an opponent. Coaching is prohibited on the ATP Tour, and although it is permitted at times on the WTA Tour, most players don’t have that much time to adjust one or two times a match.
Some players don’t seem to care about coaching in the middle of the game, but think about how much time other sports get for strategy talks, encouragement and more. A coach plays a pretty big role, and if nothing else, they break up an athletic activity so people feel confident.
It’s tough to learn on the fly about an opponent without another person watching from the sidelines and giving tips. Don’t take coaching for granted in other sports, because they actually provide some great value.
One way for a player to have an edge over someone else is to look at their game critically throughout the match. It’s up to a player to make their own adjustments, since there is no coach to decide for them. If something is not working, try another tactic to see what might make a little more sense. It’s a game of trial and error at times, and most people figure out a way to break through eventually.
6. Endurance Matters
A short, straightforward tennis match can take roughly an hour to win two sets. However, there is no time limit in tennis, and a best-of-three or a best-of-five match can take hours. That means endurance is extremely important, as players need to head great shots when their legs start to feel tired.
Part of tennis is utilizing that changeover break and regrouping during the match. Drinking water throughout is obviously very important, and some players will have a snack as well. Eating a banana or some other light snack can help a person avoid feeling lightheaded or a struggle with cramps.
Tennis is a summer sport for the most part, and a person’s endurance can be great, but the weather can certainly throw a wrench into things. Players need to train in real weather conditions, because it’s a lot easier to play three hours in 70° overcast weather compared to 95° and sunny.
7. All-Around Games Are Essential
Every tennis player has their strengths and weaknesses, but at a certain level, any major weakness will be exploited over and over again. In other sports, a player doesn’t have to be great at every aspect of the game to have success.
Just one weak shot can really affect a player’s overall game. Players will target that weak shot, and that will prevent a player from ever reaching their full potential. Take a look at the best players in the world, and they all have well-rounded games. Someone who only has a certain shot to rely on will become too one-dimensional, and therefore not move up in the rankings either at the professional level, or even locally.
Learning the game of tennis takes time, and no one ever feels like they have a total grasp of things. Sure, a player may hit a great shot or two, but then they are quickly humbled with an unforced error.
The important thing to always remember is to have fun and two try to constantly improve. If a player is not improving, they can become stagnant and lose interest in the sport in general. There are always new tactics to learn, strokes to work on to build up consistency and more. It might not be that difficult to learn how to rally in tennis and pick up on the basics, but mastering it is another challenge altogether.