The Beginner’s Guide to Playing Tennis (Or Faking It Well)

Beginner Tennis Tips
Photo: Pond5

You’re psyched to spend the next two weeks watching the pros battle it out as the U.S. Open reaches full swing. With many of the top players on the sidelines this year — including Serena Williams — it’s sure to be an exciting tourney for upstarts and underdogs alike. But now that you’re inspired to hit the ball yourself — you might have no idea where to start. Whether you’re intrigued by the outfits, the camaraderie of team play, or the stress release of slamming that ball with all your might, tennis is also a great workout. You’ll burn up to 490 calories per hour playing a one-on-one match.

“Tennis is a unique sport that tests every part of your body,” says Maureen Diaz, National Coach at the United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) Player Development Training Center. “It will tone your shoulders, biceps, triceps, calves, hamstrings, quadriceps — using muscles you never knew you had.”

RELATED: From Surfing to Tennis: The Best Adult Summer Camps

Ready to get swinging? This tutorial from Diaz and Scott Hausthor, manager of the USTA Player Development Training Center in Flushing, New York will help you learn the most common grips and strokes you’ll need on the court. You’ll be rallying in no time!

Get a Grip: 3 Tennis Grips to Know

The first thing you’ll need to know is how to hold the racket. Sounds simple, but the proper “grip” will help you achieve maximum control and power on the court. The most common grips used by beginners include the Continental, Eastern and Semi-Western. The butt of your racket is shaped like an octagon, and players typically use the eight sides, known as bevels, to navigate the different grips. Practice your grips before hitting the court so you know what to do before a ball is flying at your face.

1. Continental

While you can use this grip for every shot, it’s best suited for serves, volleys and overhead swings. Think of it as though you were holding a hammer.
Benefits: This grip will give you a slightly open racket face, allowing for control for quick, defensive shots.
How to: As you’re looking at the butt of the racket, consider the top Bevel 1, and work your way clockwise for each subsequent bevel (a). Make a v-shape with your thumb and forefinger on top of the handle (b). The knuckle of your index finger and the heel of your hand should rest on Bevel 2 (c).

RELATED: Got Wrist Pain? 6 Exercise Modifications That Can Help

2. Eastern

This grip is most commonly used for forehand strokes and is fairly similar to the Continental. It allows for fast, flat shots and the grip feels similar to as if you were shaking someone’s hand.
Benefits: This grip can help you flatten out the ball to make it more difficult for your opponents to return.
How to: Rest your index knuckle and heel of your hand on the third bevel (a).

3. Semi-Western

The semi-Western grip is an alternate option for forehands, and allows you to hit higher balls and gives you a bit more control than the Eastern grip. Your arm will be in the same position as a fist pump.
Benefits: Because of the topspin that the semi-Western grip generates from the closed racket face, this grip is best for more aggressive shots.
How to: Put your racket face flat on the ground and pick it up (a). Where you pick it up will naturally be with your index knuckle and heel of your hand on Bevel 4 (b).

RELATED: The 15 Most Underrated Exercises, According to Trainers

The Right Strokes: 4 Tennis Strokes to Master

Every tennis player, from first-timers to Rafael Nadal, relies on the same four basic strokes: forehand, backhand, volley and serve. Once you’ve got these down, you’ll be ready to take on your opponent.

How to Play Tennis: Tennis Forehand Tips

1. Forehand

What It Is: You’ll rule the court with this is shot made by swinging the racquet across your body with your dominant hand, after the ball has bounced.

How to: Start with the racket in your right, or dominant hand, using a grip between Eastern and Semi-Western, and stand with feet parallel to the net (a). As the ball approaches, keep your elbow slightly bent and swing the racket back behind your body in a circular motion (b). Step forward onto your left foot, angling it slightly towards the net, and pivoting on the toe of your back, right foot, heel raised (c). Make contact with the ball just in front of your body with your racket parallel to the net (d). After contact, continue the swing across your body on an upward diagonal, finishing with your racket over your left shoulder (e).

RELATED: 7 No-Crunch Exercises for Six-Pack Abs

How to Play Tennis: Tennis Backhand Tips

2. Backhand

What It Is: If the ball is rocketing towards your non-dominant side, never fear. With this forceful two-handed shot, you’ll swing the racket from the opposite side of your body — with the back of your dominant hand facing forward. It’s also a groundstroke, meaning that it is used after the ball has bounced.

How to: Start with a two-handed grip, with your right, or dominant hand on the bottom in a Continental grip and your top, or left hand in an Eastern grip (a). Stand in your ready position facing the net, toes forward, shoulder-width apart (b). As the ball approaches, shift your stance, planting your left foot parallel to the net, as you bring the racket behind the left side of your body, keeping elbows slightly bent (c). Step forward with your right foot to meet the ball out in front of your body, keeping both hands on the racket (d). Follow through with your swing, ending with the racket behind and above your right shoulder (e).

RELATED: The 9 Best Sport Sunscreens for Every Skin Type

How to Play Tennis: Tennis Volley Tips

3. Volley

What It Is: The ultimate power move, this shot requires just a slight swing. It’s executed before the ball bounces on the ground — and typically from close to the net.

How to: Hold the racket in a Continental grip with your right hand, placing your left hand above it (a). Your ready position will be with your racket in front of you and your feet facing the net, shoulder-width apart (b). Shifting your toes to the right, turn to your forehand side and swing the racket back slightly, until it is just in line with your body (c). Step forward with your left foot as you make contact with the ball (d). Cut off your swing just after making contact with the ball (e).

How to Play Tennis: Tennis Serve Tips

4. Serve

What It Is: This is the shot that starts each point. Your goal: To land the ball in the box diagonally opposite from you on the other side of the net. Grunting, optional.

How to: Your ready position will be holding the racket in your right, or dominant hand, using a continental grip, ball in your left hand (a). Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, parallel to the net (b). Swing the racket behind your body and above your head (c). Toss the ball just above head height, releasing at eye level (d). Tip your shoulders and pelvis back slightly, and make contact with the ball as you swing your racket over your head and in front of your body (e). As you hit the ball, your upper body will be fully extended as you plant your left foot, pivoting forward on your right foot (f). Follow through bringing your racket across your body, finishing with it near the court under your left arm. Recover back into your ready position (g).

Watch every single rally by following the livestream on or select matches on ESPN or ESPN2.

Originally posted September 2015. Updated September 2017.

Read More
3 U.S. Open Moments We Can’t Forget
19 Reasons to Work Out (Beyond the Perfect Body)
21 Signs You’ve Found Your Fitness Swole Mate

Related Posts

Scroll to Top