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Tennis fundamentals: how to play the key tennis strokes

To play tennis effectively, there are three different tennis strokes you must use and develop: 

  • Forehand
  • Backhand
  • Serve 

Within each one of these strokes, there are different types of ways to execute these strokes depending on the match situation and tactical advantages it can give the player.

The Forehand 

With the forehand, there are three different shot selections that can be used. 

  • Flat
  • Topsin
  • Slice

The most common grip to use when hitting a flat or topspin forehand would  be the eastern forehand grip. With the flat and topspin forehands, the set-up is similar, as the  player takes the racket back behind to the side of their body, forming a “c” with their arm.  

Flat and topspin forehand

For the flat forehand, the wrist will drop slightly, bringing the racket horizontally level with the  net. As the arm comes forward the racket will make contact in front of the body, as the arm  stretches through the contact of the ball and then up over the shoulder. 

It is a little different with  the topspin forehand, as the wrist instead does most of the work. The wrist will drop, tilting the  head of the racket down, and as the racket makes contact with the ball, the wrist will flick up,  almost as if waving. This creates the topspin on the ball as the racket brushes over top of it.  While the wrist moves from down to up at the point of contact, the arm is moving through the  point of contact and above the shoulder. 

A flat forehand is best used when receiving a slower and  higher ball inside the court, as it is a more aggressive and riskier shot to hit, but when hit well,  puts the opponent at a disadvantage. 

A topspin forehand is used the majority of the time on the baseline, as  it has a high percentage of staying in the court, whilst the spin keeps the opponent  behind the baseline and unable to attack.  

Slice forehand

The forehand and backhand slice use the same grip, which is the continental grip, and use the same hand. The difference is that they make contact on opposite sides of the body. 

To hit the slice forehand, the arm starts low, with the racket just above the knee, and as the set-up begins, the arm comes straight  back and up, right below shoulder height. As the ball approaches, the arm comes back down in  the same pattern, and the racket contacts the ball slightly in front of the body. 

The continental grip creates backspin on the ball, allowing it to stay low once the ball bounces. On the follow through, it is important to keep the arm going forward to create as much backspin as possible, and then when it is outstretched fully, the arm will finish across the body between the hip and the shoulder.  

The Backhand  

With the backhand, the continental grip is used for the bottom hand, while the eastern grip is  used for the top hand for a two-handed backhand. 

For a one-handed backhand, a full eastern or a  western grip is used most commonly. Both the one and two-handed backhand have the same set up with the “c” backswing as the forehand. The difference with the two-handed backhand is that  the non-dominant hand does most of the work, as it is that wrist that will initiate the flick on the  top spin shots. The non-dominant hand will finish over the dominant hand on both the flat and  topspin shots as the racket follows through over the shoulder. 

With the one-handed backhand,  the arm finishes outstretched away from the dominant hand side of the body. A flat and topspin  backhand are used in the same way as the forehand, with topspin being the common rally shot.  

The backhand slice is similar to the forehand slice, except it occurs across your body, as the back of your hand faces the net  at contact. The non-dominant hand is also used during the set-up process, as the hand holds  higher up on the racket, above the grip, and is left on the racket until just before contact with the  ball. The follow through on the backhand will finish where the arm is fully outstretched in front  of the body. The best time to use a forehand or backhand slice is when receiving a low short ball  where it might be difficult to get under the ball to hit topspin. The slice is also useful when  hitting a drop shot or approaching to come into the net.  

The Serve  

For the serve, there are three types of serves that can be hit, which include:

  • Slice
  • Kick
  • Flat

All involve the same ball toss, and similar continental grips, but the motion leading up to  the contact and the contact point are much different. All three serves start the same way, with the  ball being tossed in the air with the non-dominant hand, while the other arm goes around and  back behind your head, almost as if you are trying to put your hand on the back of your neck.  

Slice serve

For the slice serve, to create this side spin on the tennis ball, the racket must make contact  on the side of the tennis ball. For example, if the player is right-handed, the racket will go over  the head slightly more to the right, and then continue to go further right as it makes contact to the  outside of the tennis ball. As it makes contact, the arm goes around the right side of the ball and  comes back down across the left side of the body. This creates the slice that makes the ball jump  to the left when it bounces if right-handed, and jumps to the right after the bounce if left-handed.  This is good serve to move the opponent outside of the court and is best used on the deuce side as a right-handed player, and the advantage side as a left-handed player.  

Kick serve

For the kick serve, it is similar to the slice, but instead of making contact to the side of the ball,  the contact is made at the top of the ball. The arm comes up straight over the head after the  racket is taken back and brushes the front and top of the ball. To do this, the racket stays  horizontal while the strings face the court, and as the contact is made and the racket goes above  the ball, the wrist flicks slightly up, pointing the top of the racket upwards. Then after the contact  of the ball, the racket will finish across the body. The kick serve is best used as a second serve,  as it has a wide margin for error, with the ball crossing over the net a few feet above, while the  spin on the ball allows it to land inside the service box.  

Flat serve

For the flat serve, the racket completely comes over the head, and as it does that, the arm rotates  as the palm turns outward like giving someone a high five. The racket then contacts the ball  directly in the center, hitting only the one spot on the racket, and as contact is made, the wrist  flicks down just after contact and the arm finishes across the body. The flat serve is best used as  a first serve, as it is the fastest serve that can be hit, but it is riskier than a slice or kick serve, as  the ball has a lower margin over the net.

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