How to Play Tennis in the Wind
Most tennis players will attest their hatred for the wind. While poets might reflect on the splendor of a strong breeze, tennis players normally curse its presence. Wind makes tennis shots unpredictable, as the ball soars from side to side, far deeper than expected, or straight into the net. The wind can affect seemingly every aspect of your game, including your ability to toss the ball, hit groundstrokes, and run quickly. The windscreens on the fences can sometimes be as productive as playing ping pong in a tornado, so you’ll need some extra preparation to handle the breezy conditions. This tennis guide explains the most effective methods for playing tennis in the wind.
The strongest gust of wind ever recorded was registered at 231 miles per hour (372 km/hr). In 1934, the observers were along the summit of Mount Washington when they were blasted by the fastest surface wind of all time.
The Cold Wind Blows
Not all wind is created equally, but you need to know how to battle the blustery weather, no matter its direction or speed. For the most part, there are three types of wind that you’ll encounter on the tennis court:
- North/south: The wind blows from either directly behind you, or straight into your face.
- Crosswinds: The wind travels from either left to right or right to left, depending on what side of the court you’re on.
- Swirling winds: A constant wind that repeatedly changes directions.
North/south blowing winds are the easiest type to battle, but evaluate the two different situations separately.
Blowing at Your Back
Starting with your serve, the wind affects your game in the following ways:
- Your serve is most affected by the wind. Practice your ball toss, letting the ball bounce on the ground every time. Notice how much the ball breaks in the wind, and adjust accordingly.
- A big server’s dream, a steady wind coming from behind makes your serve even faster. Don’t shy away from hitting the ball slightly flatter than normal, racking up a few aces in the process. You’ll need to keep the ball low to the tape, though, or the wind will carry the ball out of the service box.
- Adjust your second serve speed accordingly. Topspin serves are generally safe because they dive downward, but be careful about hitting the ball long. Mix in some slice serves, as well, if you have an easier time controlling them.
- Like your serve, groundstrokes have a tendency to sail long when hitting downwind. Keep the ball lower to the tape than normal. The wind should keep the ball deep in the court, while adding some extra zip to your groundstrokes, as well.
- Lobbing the ball downwind can be a nightmare. The additional time the ball spends in the air can cause it to soar way out, so limit your lob attempts. When attacking the net yourself, use your normal approach. Some balls might carry a little longer than usual, so adjust your swing appropriately.
Hot Tip: Landing Long Again?
The following tip applies to other wind types as well but is most crucial when hitting downwind. If your groundstrokes are consistently landing long, try shortening your backswing. Bring your racquet back slightly less than normal, and strike through the ball completely. By no means should you shorten your follow-through. Even with a short backswing, your shot should have plenty of power as the ball carries downwind.
Straight into Your Face
As the server, use the following tips to neutralize the wind’s effect on your game:
- Take a few practice tosses, and track how much the ball breaks in the wind. Adjust your toss accordingly.
- Your serve loses power as it battles the strong wind current, but don’t compensate by overhitting. The wind will win that war, so use the wind to your advantage. Try slicing your serves out wide, and make your opponent move.
- Your serve is less likely to sail deep and out of the service box, so hit your second serves with confidence. Hit with a lot of topspin, and the ball should stay in play consistently. Mix in some flat serves for more power, and you should still be able to make the majority of your second serves.
- Hitting groundstrokes upwind can be a confidence booster, because the ball is less likely to sail long. You can take full swings, and rip the ball confidently. However, some of your shots might land in the middle of the court, leaving your opponent with an easy opportunity to close out the point with a winner. Focus on keeping the ball deep.
- Lobbing can be dangerous when hitting upwind. If you don’t strike the ball deep enough, there’s a good chance your opponent can close out the point with an overhead. Hit the ball much harder than you normally would without wind, and keep the ball deep. When attacking the net yourself, your strategy shouldn’t alter on account of the wind.
Hot Tip: Nonstop Drop
Try mixing in some slices and slice dropshots when hitting upwind. The wind current can play to your advantage, and force your opponent into really tough gets. Don’t forget to use angles, as well.
Crosswinds can be tricky, but not if you know how to adjust your game. Starting with your serve, follow these steps:
- Practice your toss and notice how much the ball carries in the wind. You may have to keep your toss lower than normal if it’s too unpredictable.
- The ball will travel farther than usual to the right or left, so take that into account. You can use the wind to your advantage by pushing your opponent off the court with a slice serve.
- Whether you’re hitting a forehand, backhand, volley, or overhead, try to keep your shots in the center of the court. If you consistently keep the ball in the center of the court and low over the tape, your opponent will eventually wear down and make mistakes.
Hot Tip: Keep Tabs on the Wind
Crosswinds have a tendency to die down on occasion, and then pick up again moments later. This sudden change can be really frustrating because you’ll have to constantly change where you aim the ball. Adjust your game as needed, and mix up your shots depending on the circumstances.
Swirling winds are by far the hardest condition to deal with. In fact, they’re nearly impossible to plan for. There’s no tried-and-true method for dealing with violent, wild, and unpredictable gusts of wind. You’ll need to assess this situation on your own, and be the stronger mental player. Swirling winds are extremely frustrating, and the player who gets rattled the least has the best chance of winning.
Do your best to read the wind from point to point. You can apply the tactics from the previous sections depending on the direction of the wind at that particular moment. Like most other windy conditions, shortening your backswing is crucial. Ultimately, you might be best off chipping the ball over the net, and charging the net. The less court you have to cover, the easier it is to keep the ball in play.
Windy conditions, no matter the direction or speed, can test your mental game, ruin your technique, and nip at your nerve endings. If you show up to your match with a game plan, though, you’re more likely to survive the frustrating conditions. Rather than blaming Mother Nature for disturbing your game of tennis, try to gain an advantage on your opponent any way possible. Mold your game around whatever works at the time, and focus on winning points — not style points.