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Five Qualities of a Complete Tennis Player

Standing solo on the court is a foreign feeling for most athletes, and it can bring out either the best or the worst in some players. But one thing is for sure when you’re soaking up the limelight by yourself: You can’t have any obvious weaknesses. Skilled opponents will hone in on your flaws and pick you apart. This guide explains the five most important qualities of a complete tennis player.

1. Preserve the Serve

In addition to serving at a high percentage rate, complete tennis players can hit a variety of different serves, such as flat, topspin, and slice serves. Some players even mix in a topspin-slice serve, or a twist serve that (on a righty’s serve) curves to the receiver’s right and then jumps to the left once it bounces. Using a combination of serves makes it hard for the receiver to accurately anticipate and read the bounce. Also, spin serves give the server much more margin for error when clearing the net.

2. High Return Rate

Much for the same reasons that serving is important, staying aggressive on serve returns is also a vital skill set. No player wants the match to hinge on whether or not he can hold service each and every game. So whether you prefer to chip and charge or shorten your backswing, you have to remain offensive on the return and threaten a service break.

In general, there are two different strategies the server can employ after his serve:

  1. He stays at the baseline: This scenario opens up more possibilities for the returner. For the most part, the returner just wants to play to his strengths. So if you’re returning serve and you like to chip and charge, then go ahead and do so. If you prefer to stay at the baseline, then return his serve, recover to the center of the court, and grind out the point.
  2. He charges the net: Serve-and-volleyers put more pressure on the returner because the server will likely take a poor return out of the air and finish the point. Returning the ball becomes exponentially more difficult on big serves, so the returner should try to keep the ball away from the middle of the court and force him to move his feet as he hits. Placing the ball around the server’s feet can also cause a lot of problems, especially if he’s a taller player who doesn’t like to bend down as he hits. Don’t be afraid to mix in a few lob shots, as well.

If you're returning the serve, be more aggressive on second serves and try for a winner every now and then. More than anything, you shouldn’t allow your opponent to find his comfort zone. If he likes to hang back and hit from the baseline, for example, you should try to draw your opponent to the net.

3. Equal Wings

Complete tennis players don’t have any glaring weaknesses, which means they're fully confident hitting both forehands and backhands. Whether they’re loading up for a winner or scrambling for a tough get, complete players can finish a point with either wing. Most opponents are adept at locating and exploiting weaknesses, so players can’t assume they’ll survive solely off of one or two weapons, such as a huge forehand and a massive serve.

4. Net Game

Similar to how complete players can hit from either wing, they can also hit from anywhere on the court. While power baselines comprise most of the game’s current playing field, the best all-around players can attack the net. Mixing up a baseline game with solid net play keeps an opponent on his heels and can prevent him from establishing any rhythm. In addition, charging the net gives the opposing player less time to react, which can force him into tough gets and tire him out.

But players don’t want to charge the net at random. They have to choose the right time to make their move, which is normally after an approach shot or serve. Check out iSport’s guide on When to Approach the Net in Singles Tennis for more information.

5. Footwork

Faces of Tennis ...
Roger Federer
Date of Birth: August 8, 1981
Place of Birth: Basel, Switzerland
Height: 6'1 (1.85 meters)
Getting to know Roger: Roger Federer holds the record for most Grand Slam titles (16), and many tennis aficionados consider him to be the most complete player to ever hold a racquet. He constantly changes his game based on his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, and he can hit every shot in the game — offensive or defensive. He was ranked number one in the world for 237 consecutive weeks.

Tennis is all about footwork, and elite players exemplify this fact. Powerful and accurate swings stem from the ground up, not just from the swing itself. If a player is constantly moving his feet, he’ll be able to cover more court, recover after a shot, and prepare his stroke.

And it’s not all about speed. While quickness certainly helps, correct footwork gets a player in position to swing effectively. An aggressive player needs to constantly shuffle his feet in anticipation of his opponent’s shot, and then take short strides as he explodes out of his split step. If you’re looking for some basic footwork exercises, iSport’s guide on Tennis Footwork Drills has you covered.

All Over the Court

All-rounders thrive in any offensive or defensive situation mainly because they have the ability to hit a wide array of shots. They take many different techniques — serve and volley, aggressive baselining, defensive slicing — and then pick and choose when to use certain tactics. Their versatile style of play, combined with their lack of glaring weaknesses, frustrates opponents and challenges opposing players to play their best tennis.

Every tennis player wants to hit like the pros, but you need to know the most important skill sets first. This guide explains the main qualities of a complete player.
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