Tennis is one of the most difficult sports to master.
From the hand-eye coordination to the speed and stamina required, it’s no wonder so many players struggle.
But with the right training, mindset, and tips on your side, you can become a better tennis player much faster.
Here’s how to get better at tennis in just 10 simple steps – plus advice from top coaches.
1. Master the fundamental strokes
Before moving on to more complex areas of training, you’ll want to make sure you’ve laid all the groundwork.
This means developing the correct form and technique for the fundamental shots: forehand, backhand, and your serve.
Consistency should be your primary goal at this stage. Practice regularly and concentrate on hitting the ball cleanly and accurately.
By building a strong foundation, you'll have a solid base to build upon as you progress in your tennis journey.
There are 4 foundational pillars I refer to when it comes to coaching an athlete.
a) The Technical Pillar
I look for any flaws ranging from grip to preparation to swing path to contact point to finish in the mechanics of the athlete.
b) The Tactical Pillar
I look for pattern making, building a point, what the athlete does with their Serve + 1 and the Return + 1 with the understanding that most points are WON in the first 2 shots. I don’t say that the points are over in the first 2 shots – they are WON in the first 2 shots with the proper placement.
c) The Physical Pillar
I look at the athlete’s footwork as they prepare to hit the ball and their recovery as they come back from hitting the ball. I look for their initiation step, their preparation step and the load (receive step) prior to transferring the weight forward into contact.
d) The Mental Pillar
I look for ball recognition, shot selection and decision-making. I also look for their internal dialogue and how the athlete's mind works during and in between points.
I also look to find out if they have PURE Dexterity or CROSS Dexterity which can affect the mechanics and the footwork of the athlete.
Director of High Performance Development at Manhattan Country Club
2. Nail your tennis serve toss.
For a predictable and consistent serve, you need to first master the tennis serve toss.
Get a big bucket of tennis balls and practice throwing without using your racket.
To improve your technique, the USTA suggests holding onto 2 balls, but only actually throwing the one held by your fingertips.
3. Work on your speed, endurance, and strength.
Tennis is a physically demanding sport that requires speed, agility, endurance, and strength.
Incorporating a fitness routine on top of your other tennis training will help improve your overall performance on the court.
Here are the 4 areas you should focus on:
- Cardiovascular – Running or cycling will help you increase your endurance, allowing you to withstand longer matches and keep up with your opponents.
- Strength training – By building up strength in your core and lower body, you’ll be able to generate more power in your shots.
- Agility – Add drills that focus on quick changes of direction and lateral movement so you can easily move across the court.
- Flexibility – Yoga or a regular stretching routine will help keep your body loose and improve your range of motion, preventing serious injuries.
4. Time your food and water intake.
Aim to eat at least an hour before practice, and again right after. This ensures you’ll have enough energy to fuel your body without feeling stuffed.
Protein-rich foods are the best choice. Carbs are also important, but make sure you don’t go overboard.
As for water, you’ll want to drink 12-16 ounces about an hour before your practice to avoid dehydration. Take in at least 4-8 ounces during breaks or changeovers.
5. Focus carefully on your footwork.
Good footwork enables you to reach shots effectively, maintain balance, and position yourself better on the court. Ladder drills and cone exercises are great for this.
You’ll also want to work on your split step. This allows you to reset your footwork during a game and move quickly in any direction.
Timing is everything. You’ll want to reach the peak of your jump at the same time your opponent makes contact with the ball and know which direction you’ll be moving in before you land.
The more efficient you become with your footwork, the better your overall game will be.
“A tennis player needs to focus on their footwork and ball anticipation. When you have that, you're more prepared for your next shot.”
Head Coach of Tel Aviv Tennis Academy
6. Keep your eye on the ball, but don’t move your head!
This is a common mistake made by players – after all, it feels more natural. But this can throw off your shot and even cause you to miss.
Don’t move or lift your head as you swing. Keep still until you’ve played the shot.
“My main tip is to give my players awareness of what they are doing on the court. Before looking at the opponent standing in front of them, it's important to be aware of what they themselves are doing. If a player is hitting too many short balls, be aware of it, or if the player doesn’t spin the ball too much, be aware of it.
I believe Baseline has greatly contributed to this process. My players are operating more balanced, and with every shot they hit, they think about how to improve their weaknesses.”
Head Coach of Mayo Tennis Club
7. Film your training sessions
It can be hard to pick up mistakes when you’re on the court. Quite often, players have an idea in their head about their performance, which looks a lot different in real life.
By filming your practices, you’ll be able to see exactly how you play, and where you can make improvements.
You can do this using your mobile phone, or a dedicated training system that also gives you analytics and feedback on your performance.
Speaking of analytics…
8. Analyze your practice matches
You’re probably playing a lot of practice matches against opponents of varying skill levels and play styles. But are you breaking down your performance afterwards?
There are a few tools out there you can use to get in-depth insights on how you stack up in a match against another player.
Baseline, for example, allows you to see the average speed of your strokes, where your balls end up (and how many shots were in/out), and all sorts of other stats.
You can directly compare your performance against your opponent, and see where you can improve next time.
9. Don’t neglect your mental game
Tennis is as much a mental game as it is physical. Developing a strong mindset and mental resilience is key for success on the court.
Players like Novak Djokovic have often spoken about the benefits of visualization for performance:
“One of the ways is to kind of meditate but not meditate with the intention of going away from those problems, but visualize.
Visualization is a big part of everybody's life, not just athletes. I strongly believe in visualization. I believe that there is a law of attraction: You get the things that you produce in your thoughts. Life just works that way.”
Develop a competitive mentality and believe in your abilities. By staying focused and maintaining a positive mindset, even during challenging moments,
Apart from meditation and visualization, it can also help to have a pre-game routine to help you manage stress. Calming your mind before you play will ensure that you can better handle pressure situations and make smarter decisions during matches.
"Be as intense as possible in every training session, regardless of the type of exercise being performed. Be meticulous and pay attention to the technique of strokes, footwork, and balance as much as possible. And finally, the most important tip – come and enjoy the game every day with enthusiasm and passion.”
Former Top 100 ATP Player and Davis Cup Coach
10. Incorporate more fun into your training sessions.
If you feel like your practice sessions are stagnating, why not shake things up?
Gamification, or the process of adding gamelike elements to a task, is proven to help increase both motivation and performance for tennis players.
There are a few ways you can do this:
- Find a training partner and make it a competition
- Go with a coach that uses gamified drills with their players
- Use an app like Baseline, which includes gamified drills, light and sound feedback, and a scoreboard that shows your performance compared to other players around the world
Here’s how coaches are using Baseline Vision to motivate their players:
So what’s the best way to improve my tennis skills?
Ultimately, the only way to really get better at tennis is dedication, practice and time. That said, the tips in this guide should help speed things along and set you up for success!
You can also find out how players around the world are using Baseline to get better at tennis here.