Tennis Basics: How to Play Tennis

Female tennis player sitting on outdoor court

Tennis is a fun sport for all ages. Whether you are a beginner, or you have been playing for years, tennis can challenge you in unique ways. It tests your physical endurance, balance, coordination, speed, and mental toughness. Here in Hoover, AL, you can enjoy outdoor tennis for about nine months of the year. In today’s blog, the Hoover Met team explains the basics of how to play tennis. We invite you to come play at our premium tennis center!

Equipment

First, before you can begin playing, you need the right equipment. This includes tennis gear and apparel, such as:
-Racket
-Tennis Balls
-Court shoes
-Athletic clothes
-Water bottle
-A friend or multiple friends

Choosing a Tennis Racket

Tennis rackets come in many different styles and models. Common racket brands are Wilson, Prince, Head, Babolat, Yonex, Technifibre, and Dunlop. Choosing a tennis racket is similar to buying a new pair of shoes. It is about finding the right combination of attraction and feel. However, some rackets are specifically tailored for beginners.

The part where you strike the ball with the strings is called the sweet spot. Rackets with larger head sizes (called an oversize) typically have less weight and a larger sweet spot, which is perfect for beginners. These lightweight rackets help prevent elbow injuries, and the larger sweet spot will give you more room to hit the ball. This, in turn, will produce more accurate shots and help boost your confidence.

Understanding the Rules of Tennis

Traditionally, two people play tennis in a singles match, or two pairs play in a doubles match. A serve (defined below) begins all singles and doubles points.

Singles
Let’s say you have player A and player B who are competing on the tennis court. To win a point, player A can hit the ball (over the net) in the court dimensions where player B cannot return it. If the ball bounces twice on player B’s side, player A receives the point. If player B is in a position to hit the ball and misses, this is called an unforced error, and player A receives the point. If player A gets a serve in and player B does not touch it with the racket, this is called an ace, and player A receives the point.

Sometimes it can take many shots for one player to miss. The alley (defined below) is out of bounds in a singles match. If it were considered in, this would be a tremendous amount of ground to cover!

Positioning 
First, players must know where to stand when learning tennis fundamentals. Each game starts on the deuce side. This means that the server must stand to the right of the hash mark at the center of the baseline (defined below) and serve from there. The player who is not serving is called the returner, and he or she stands at the baseline diagonally from the server. When a point is won, the players move to the ad side (left of the center hash mark). After each point, the players continue this pattern until the game is over. A good way to remember it is this: You should never serve the ball in the same box two points in a row. It must alternate.

Doubles
While singles features a lot of baseline rallies, doubles offers more opportunities to win points at the net. Typically, one player stands at the net while their partner serves it. On the returner’s side, one player stands at the service line while the other stands at the baseline. Doubles rules are similar to singles, except that they alley is in bounds.

Learning the Court Lines

There is a specific name for each line on a tennis court. Each line defines boundaries that make up the different parts of the game.

Baseline: The baseline is the horizontal line that is furthest away from the net. To start a singles or doubles point, a player will serve from behind the baseline, cross-court (diagonal) into the service box. Shots that land behind the opponent’s baseline are out.

Service line: The service line runs parallel to the baseline and is the line in the middle of the court. This line marks the end of the service box, which determines whether a serve is in or out. Each tennis court has two service boxes, one for the deuce side and one for the ad side.

Alley: Each tennis court has two alleys, one on the left side of the court, and one on the right. The alley is the area between the outside lines that is only used for doubles. If the ball lands in the alley during a singles match, it is out of bounds. The alleys are utilized to widen the court in doubles.

Important Note: During a tennis point, if a ball touches any part of the line, it is considered in. If a ball lands outside the line, it is out. When in doubt, it is better to call it in for the sake of fairness.

Ad-Scoring
The scoring system in tennis is very unique. The server announces the score before each point. To win a game, a singles player or doubles pair must win four points. It goes like this: 0 is called love, one point is 15, two points is 30, and three points is 40. So, 1-0 is “15-Love,” 1-1 is “15-All,” etc.

You must win by two, so if the score gets to 40-All (3-3), you have to win two points in a row to win the game. This is called deuce, and if you win the deuce point, you will say advantage or ad-in. If you lose the deuce point, you will say ad-out. A player must win 6 games to win a set and two out of three sets to win a match. You cannot win a set 6-5 — it must be 7-5. If the game score reaches 6-6, you will play a tiebreaker where the first person to win 7 points wins the set. You must win by two points in the tiebreaker as well.

Learning the Main Types of Shots

Forehand
The forehand is the first and easiest shot in tennis to learn. However, players need the right technique and lots of repetition to excel. The three things you should remember are:

-The take back
-The contact point
-The follow-through

Practice taking the racket back, making contact with the ball, and following through. Repeat the pattern over and over. When you finish your swing, your elbow should face up and your wrist will go over your opposite shoulder. Start low with your arm and end high.

Backhand
The mechanics for the backhand are similar to the forehand, except you will use two hands on your non-dominant side. Lefties will step with their left foot forward, while righties will plant their right foot forward. You should angle your body facing sideways towards the net. Remember these three things: taking the racket back, the contact point, and the follow-through.

Serve
The serve is often difficult for beginners to learn. There are many components to the serve, but when it all comes together it is a beautiful, fluid motion. It takes a lot of patience and practice, but you can develop a killer serve with the right mechanics.

Serving a tennis ball is fairly similar to throwing a baseball or football. To start, toss the ball up with one hand, and when it is at its peak, fully extend your other arm (with the racket) to make contact. Beginners can start at the service line and concentrate on getting it in the box before moving back to the baseline. As you develop consistency, you can start to add a knee bend and hip rotation to generate more power.

Volleys
There are two types of volleys: forehand volleys and backhand volleys. The volley is a punching motion where you do not let the ball bounce first. Players usually hit volleys when they are at the service line or closer to the net to end the point quicker. To hit a volley, use one hand on the racket, turn your body to the side, and slightly bend your knees. Instead of taking a full swing, push the racket forward to make contact.

Spins and Grips
There are two main types of spin that tennis players put on the ball. It is best for beginners to learn underspin or slice first. To hit underspin, grip the racket as if you were hammering a nail into the wall. This is called a continental grip. Then, you can practice topspin. The topspin forehand grip looks like you are dribbling a basketball with the tennis racket. For topspin shots, brush underneath the ball to generate height and depth in the court.

Footwork
The next element is learning how to move your feet. Footwork is often overlooked, but it is a crucial aspect when learning how to play tennis. Most individuals can hit the ball when it is right in their strike zone, but once they have to move for it, accuracy becomes an issue.

When you are returning serve, be in ready position (an athletic stance) with your knees slightly bent and your racket clutched with both hands in front of your body. After each shot, practice taking small steps to get in position to hit your next shot. Always be on your toes, ready to sprint forward, shuffle side-to-side, or side-step backward. Tennis will move you in all directions, and drills in private lessons and clinics will help you improve your footwork.

How to Develop Your Game

Tennis becomes more fun when you find a community by joining a tennis center. Once you have learned the fundamentals of tennis, there are many ways to take your game to the next level, including clinics, private lessons, and tournaments. You can sign up for any or all of these activities at your local tennis center.

Clinics
Organized clinics are led by a coach who guides you through a series of tennis drills and activities. Clinic drills are meant to be challenging but fun. At the Hoover Met Complex, we offer many clinics for adults and junior players. Once you have learned the basics of tennis, participating in clinics can help you develop your skills while meeting new people.

Private Lessons
During private lessons, players of all levels receive specialized one-one-coaching to develop their skills. Unlike clinics, private lessons do not typically follow a prearranged routine because they will look different for each player. The lesson usually goes for one hour, and the player can use this time to ask questions, receive valuable feedback, and work on a variety of techniques and strategies.

Tournaments
While players can develop their game with clinics and private lessons, real growth happens during tournament play. Whether it is singles, doubles, or both, tournaments are fun and competitive, and they are a great way to meet new tennis players. When you sign up for a tournament, you will likely play someone who is better than you, and this is how you truly improve.

Come Play at the Hoover Met Complex

With 16 hard courts, the Hoover Met Complex is the premium tennis center in Hoover, AL. Check out our website for clinic and membership information, and contact us for any questions. If you are not a member, you can purchase a daily guest pass and play anytime! Call (205) 739-7364 to reserve your court space today.

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