Whether you’re a young player looking to turn professional, a club-level player trying to win more matches, or a casual player who wants to beat friends more often, you will benefit from improving your game.
No matter your ability, we have put together a list of the 17 most effective ways for you to reach the next level in tennis. These will help you improve your shot-making, fitness, and mentality to become a more well-rounded player.
1. Practice Your Footwork
Tennis is a sport with unique movement patterns. Compared to a badminton or squash court, you have a lot more ground to cover. With balls traveling at over 100 mph, your feet must move rapidly to cover the width and depth of the court.
A lot of your time in matches will be spent back-pedaling, moving side-to-side, and rushing to the net. Occasionally, points will force you to do it all. You need to get used to moving fast around a tennis court in these specialized ways.
Establish some movement drills with a coach and execute them without hitting any balls. Once you are comfortable with the movement alone, repeat the drills while your coach feeds you balls. Dedicate time in every training session to making your footwork more efficient.
I listed the most effective footwork drills in this post.
2. Increase Your Aerobic Capacity
On the professional tennis circuits, matches can last longer than two hours. In some tournaments, matches can go into 4th and 5th sets and take over 5 hours to finish. To stand a chance of surviving that long, you must have good aerobic fitness.
Methods to increase your aerobic capacity include running, cycling, and swimming training. Once you are fit enough, you can improve your tennis-specific fitness through longer training sessions and by practicing long rallies. You will get in the best shape for tennis by playing lots of tennis.
3. Develop Pinpoint Accuracy
This will not happen overnight. But obviously, tennis is a sport of fine margins, and your success will depend on your capability to make tight shots and hit specific points on the court. The further you rise up the ranks, the fewer shots you can afford to miss.
From early on in your tennis career, you should develop a good feel for the court dimensions. Perform drills in which you hit forehands, backhands, and drop shots at cones in precise locations on the court. Vary the depth and spin of your shots.
4. Instill Discipline
Getting good at anything requires discipline. Tennis is no exception. It takes dedication to consistently show up to practice sessions and keep competing after losing a tight match. To become a solid competitor, it is necessary to eliminate bad habits and sloppy play.
This may mean hitting easy volleys into the net, putting forehands or backhands down-the-line wide, or missing second serves. While practicing any of your standard shots, enforce a rule that every time you make two or three bad misses, you must punish yourself. You can do some sprints or push-ups on the court for every few misses.
The prospect of extra hard exercise will increase your focus and force you to hit more careful shots. This discipline will carry over into matches.
5. Improve Your Touch
This quality is hard for coaches to teach. Players simply have a feel for the ball with their rackets that improves the more time they spend on court. Feel is very important for volleying, drop shots, and finesse in tennis.
One way you can develop your touch is through volley-to-volley rallies in which you keep the point going without allowing the ball to bounce. Another fun warm-up game is mini-tennis. In just one service box, rally as normal. You have to be very delicate and accurate to hit the ball into a smaller area.
6. Play More Tiebreaks
During a practice session, you may not have enough time to play a full match ― perhaps not even a whole set. It is hard to simulate the drama of match play, which can leave you unprepared for competitions.
Tiebreaks are a great way to supplement the feeling of a match without playing for hours. Both players (or doubles pairs) must alternate between serving and receiving. There are mini-breaks and single points can change the momentum of the tiebreak. Most tiebreaks will take under 10 minutes to finish.
Even casual tiebreaks can be full of nerves and tension, so they are a great way to test your focus and mental strength. Matches can be decided on tiebreaks, so knowing how to approach them intelligently is a big bonus for your game.
7. Experiment With Equipment
Depending on your price range, not all tennis equipment will be affordable to you. Yet, you might be surprised at the number of racket and shoe varieties available at reasonable prices. A more comfortable pair of shoes or a racket that better suits your playing style can have a big impact on your win percentage.
If the high street is too expensive, you can always search for deals from online retailers. In addition, there are great second-hand items sold every day on sites like eBay. Wherever you find it, invest in the equipment that will maximize your potential.
Here’s a list of the best tennis racquets for each level:
8. Make Training Sessions Fun
A guaranteed way for you to hate tennis and stop practicing is if you find your training boring. Spending time on the practice courts should not feel like work, although repeating the same exercises every week can cause tennis enthusiasts to lose interest.
Vary your training to combat feelings of boredom. There are games you can play with partners that are both fun and beneficial to your skills. For example, play “tennis volleyball” in pairs on the court with a soccer ball. Only allow the ball to bounce once on each side, and use everything except your hands to win points. This works on hand-eye coordination.
Another exciting game is “King of The Court”. One player in a group starts as the king and everyone else is a challenger. If a challenger wins the point, they become the king, while the king becomes a challenger. The next player in line now plays against the new king, and you rotate through the group for each point. Every time a player wins a point as the king, their score increases. The first player to 10 points wins the game.
You could also play “Tag Team”, in which teams on both sides of the court try to keep a rally going while changing players for each shot. The side that wins the point adds 1 to their score. Once again, the first team to 10 points wins. Activities like these ensure that you and your teammates never find tennis training dull.
I listed some of my favorite drills in this post.
9. Stretch & Recover
If you feel that you get injured often or constantly feel sore before practice, perhaps you are not spending enough time on recovery.
After every match or training session, it is vital to carry out a warm down and stretching routine. More advanced players can aid their recovery with ice baths and massages.
10. Figure Out a Playing Style
Are you a big server, a serve and volley player, a baseliner, a counterpuncher, a defensive player, an all-rounder, or another style? Which surface suits you best? These are questions you need to answer to progress in tennis.
Every player has strengths and some weaknesses. You must play to your advantage and minimize your weak points.
Perhaps you are quite a tall and powerful player with an accurate serve. In that case, your playing style should revolve around strong serving with occasional breaks. If you are a smaller player with great stamina, you will need to run and defend a lot. Your style will frequently involve wearing opponents down during points and matches.
Only when you know your style can you be sure of what to work on. As a player, you will understand how to approach matches to give yourself the best chance of winning.
11. Watch & Emulate Players With Your Style
Now that you know your style, try to watch the best competitors on the planet with that style. These are the people you (ideally) should play exactly like in the future.
Try to understand how they use their weapons in matches, plus their strategies against other playing styles. Watch how they react in tough moments or when umpire decisions do not go in their favor.
Perhaps your style is a blend of different players. You might like the mental fortitude of one player, the shotmaking of another, and the physicality of somebody else. Build up a picture of the perfect player you wish to become and spend time observing players already at that level.
12. Attend Live Matches Where Possible
Regardless of your intentions to turn professional (or not), the energy and intensity of a live match are difficult to describe. This is especially true of Grand Slam matches ― if you are lucky to attend one, you will never forget the experience.
Even if you cannot watch the top players, watching high school or college matches will show you things that you never see on TV. You can see how the match pressure and crowd noise affect them.
This is also a chance to see the speed and accuracy of high-level shots. Overall, live matches are an opportunity to see first-hand the level of play you are trying to reach.
I listed the best tennis tournaments in the world here.
13. Work On Anaerobic Endurance
Anaerobic fitness makes the difference in long and punishing rallies. This is stamina that you should build on top of your aerobic base because aerobic fitness alone will not prepare you for high-intensity action. You can achieve this through sprint exercises during training.
Other high-paced strength workouts such as jumping, squatting, and medicine ball throws will increase your lactate threshold. Good resistance training can also help you move and hit more explosively.
14. Try To Serve Accurately Instead Of Quickly
The serve is one of the hardest shots in tennis to get right. This is proven since even professionals need second serve opportunities. Yet, they still hit double-faults in most matches. There is no point in serving fast if you have poor mechanics and rarely hit the ball in the service box.
Focus on tossing the ball properly and getting your serving arm into a good position. Your priority should be accuracy, so it is a good idea to master kick and slice serves (these are useful second serves). This way, if your first serve isn’t working, you have a good backup.
One drill to practice the kick serve is to serve from your knees at the baseline. This will force you to put lots of topspin on the ball so it passes over the net. Also, try to hit multiple second serves (while standing) to the deuce and ad courts. Continue until you can hit 5 or 10 good second serves in a row.
A tennis purist might refuse to play any sport other than tennis. By not trying other sports, they are missing opportunities to improve their tennis skills while having fun at other activities.
Other sports like soccer and basketball are great for improving your coordination. You can even try your hand at boxing to help your shot accuracy. These are all hard workouts in their own right. By taking part in them, you will make your training more interesting and benefit your health as a whole.
16. Study The Psychology Of Tennis
As physical as tennis can be, the stress and nerves of playing a match can be the most exhausting aspect. This sport by nature has many ups and downs. You will break serve and be broken back.
Eventually, you will probably lose despite holding match points. You might also lose your focus due to a crowd cheering for your opponent, and proceed to lose the match.
To have success in matches, you need to prepare for inevitable disappointment. The disappointment of losing a break or set will not last long if you have the correct mentality. Build a strong mind so that you can quickly move on from these setbacks and focus on getting back into the match.
Develop a routine to calm your mind before a match. Accept that things will not always go your way, but remember that until the umpire says “game, set, and match”, you can still win. You must stay focused and positive to stand a chance, though.
17. Discover Your Ultimate Goal
What is your reason for playing this sport? Until you know that, you may not be working towards the right goal. If you envisage future Grand Slam glory, you will need to work a lot harder than someone who wants to be the best player at a local club.
You are unlikely to become a top tennis player if you start practicing in your 30s, so try to have realistic expectations. Once you are sure of where you want to go with your tennis, you can break your journey down into manageable steps and start working on them immediately.