8 Essential Tennis Skills Every Player Should Practice

Tennis has always been considered one of those sports that is relatively easy to learn, but takes a long time to master. Most of the pros have been playing for years and years only to get to a certain level, and it is nearly impossible to be a late bloomer in the sport.

Despite the complexity of the game, these eight skills stand out as the core of a great player. Practicing the skills as much as possible is going to yield some positive results for just about any player out there.


1. Forehand

This is the most natural shot, and the one that is easiest to start controlling relatively early on. Players almost always have a better forehand compared to their backhand, but really refining it into a weapon is essential.

The forehand needs to be not only an offensive weapon, but one that can be relied on for defense as well. The most common shot will be pretty flat, or with a little bit of topspin, but being able to hit defensive shots by slicing or blocking the ball back is essential as well.

There are a lot of different drills out there for people to practice their forehand, but it might be the one skill that people do not need anything too specific to work on. That is because, in any type of match, a person is going to get more forehands than any other shot. It is all about developing muscle memory and going from there.


2. Backhand

While a forehand feels natural, a backhand is anything but that for most players. Most players find it a lot more difficult to start developing a backhand early on, and even deciding on what type a backhand is complicated.

The first thing any player should realize is that they have an option to hit a one-handed backhand, or a two-handed backhand. It is generally recommended that players who are not particularly strong should use the extra hand to get additional power. That is why a lot of pros these days use a two-handed backhand, because they learn a certain way early on, and never change.

Consistency is the first key to success with a backhand. If a player can keep the point going with a backhand that is adequate, they might be able to open up opportunities for their forehand. As time goes on, players can begin to hit out on the back and a little bit more, going for more and using it as a weapon.

The standard backhand shot is going to act a lot like a forehand, but players usually tend to gravitate towards more slices on the backhand as well. Most places are going to be one-handed, and they act as a nice defensive shot when a player is not in the right position. It can also be used as a way to hit a drop shot when a player least expects it.


3. Volley

Decades ago, the volley was much more important than it is today. Players still need quality volleys, especially if they play doubles, but players spend a lot more time near the baseline in the modern game. Having the ability to pull off some for surprise attacks can certainly pay off, and putting away points at the net can make the difference between a win and a loss.

A player’s timing is thrown off when they are hitting volleys. A lot of it is reaction, but angling them off to put the point away is essential as well. It depends on developing a certain amount of touch around the net, and being able to hit a volley off of both sides.

The great thing about the volley is that it is pretty easy to practice, and most players hit a few before a match in the first place. Just simply go up to the net and have a player feed the ball, and work on consistently getting everything back with sharp angles. It is not so much about hitting volleys for a lot of power as it is to angle them off.


4. Lob

To counterattack a player rushing the net, a lob is a great shot if executed correctly. A properly timed lob is going to switch how the point is going, and allow players to feel a lot more confident overall turning defense into offense.

A lob is challenging to master because it needs to be in that proper window where it is deep enough so they can’t hit an overhead, but still inside the baseline. It makes things even more difficult when it is extremely windy. If possible, always try to lob the player over their backhand side so that if it is not the best lob, they have to hit a more difficult overhead.


5. Overhead

Hitting an overhead in tennis seems like a shot that any average player or above should hit in the vast majority of times. However, there are a lot of people who do not practice the skill enough, and they blow some relatively easy points along the way.

An overhead is usually a defensive shot from the opponent, and it is sitting up in the air ready for a player to hit hard for a winner. Since a player might only get a few overheads during a match, sometimes it is easier said than done to be sharp.

The drills for hitting overhead is also something that a lot of people just do not practice that much. It is something that a lot of players have confidence in at some point, but then when it comes to matches, they freeze up and do not hit through the ball as they should.

Make sure to practice a few overheads, especially before a match to get the arm going. When at the net, ask for a few to get a good look and snap some down. These points should be relatively easy to finish off if a person builds a good amount of confidence.


6. Serve

It might be a little down this list, but that is just because most beginners in tennis are going to hit groundstrokes and volleys first. Once that is mastered and balls can be hit back-and-forth quite a bit, the serve is essential for any player to take that next step.

A player with a great serve is always going to find ways to compete in a match. Being able to hold serve is essential, and it is not always about having a fantastic combination of speed and spin. Sometimes, location is what makes the difference, and being able to consistently get the ball in will at least start the point.

The serve is one of the easiest things for people to practice on their own if they want. All it takes is a basket of balls, an empty court, and some focus along the way to get the technique down. Make sure to practice first and second serves to increase the percentages of success as well.

A first serve can be a huge weapon for players out there who are looking to gain an edge right from the beginning of the point. The faster the ball goes, the harder it is for players to be positioned in the right area. Just as important is location, as hitting the lines will make it nearly impossible for players to get a good return back.

The saying is that a second serve is going to ultimately determine how good of a player someone is in tennis. Being able to hit a second serve that is consistent and effective will help players stay consistent when the first service is going on.


7. Drop Shot

These last two skills are a bit more advanced, so do not worry about them too much in the beginning when learning tennis. A drop shot is a strategic ball a player can hit to keep their opponent honest. If they are staying back at the baseline and trying to get everything back, a drop shot pulls a player up and might even leave them stuck for an easy winner. Even if they are scrambling to get the ball back, it can open up the court for a putaway shot to follow things up.

The problem with a drop shot is that it is challenging to execute. It is even more difficult if a player is exceptionally athletic, because they will likely be able to chase a lot of balls down. Players who fall in love with hitting too many drop shots are setting themselves up for a tough situation overall. It could end up backfiring on certain players if they are not careful.


8. Half-Volley

The final skill that is essential for any tennis player is learning the art of the half-volley. This is when a player is hitting a ball on the rise. It is quickly bouncing off the ground while moving into the net. It is considered an advanced shot because it takes a long time to master. Those were able to do it will be able to rest and that with a lot more confidence, and it can put a ton of pressure on any opponent.

Besides some individual drills, there is not really much that helps a player improve this other than having great hands. It also helps to have confidence that when moving up towards the net, a ball can be struck very cleanly on either side.

Most players are not looking to hit and outright when going for a half-volley, but instead looking to put themselves in a good position for a follow-up shot. It is all about keeping consistent pressure on any player trying to open up a volley response later.


Here is the full list of the 8 most essential tennis skills

  • Forehand
  • Backhand
  • Volley
  • Lob
  • Overhead
  • Serve
  • Dropshot
  • Half-Volley

Fred Simonsson

I'm Fred, the guy behind TennisPredict. Apart from writing here, I play tennis on a semi-professional level and coaches upcoming talents.

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