How to Prepare Your Tennis Stroke
The tennis groundstroke involves a lot of moving parts, and it’s difficult to learn these technicalities all at once. Rather, you need to take a more meticulous approach and dissect your swing — whether it’s your serve, volley, or forehand — step by step. This tennis guide explains how to prepare your swing for a groundstroke, and it breaks down the technique into two easy phases.
In order to better understand how to prepare for a groundstroke, the following two steps provide the groundwork for your swing:
The split step is a fundamental footwork technique that tennis players use to prepare for a shot. After you strike the ball, you should bring your racquet back into the ready position — body square to the net, feet about shoulder-width apart, racquet held near the center of your chest, and both hands on the racquet. As your opponent begins his swing and nears contact, you need to split step in the following manner:
- Jump an inch or two off of the ground.
- Land on the balls of your feet with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your knees slightly bent.
Your jump should be more of a bounce — you don’t actually spring high into the air. This jump helps you get into the ready position and move to the ball, but it shouldn’t take a lot of time or energy.
Without the proper split-step technique, you’ll be out of position and unprepared to chase down the shot. It’s practically impossible to hit with pace and control if you have to reach for the shot or if the ball jams you. A sound split step, though, puts you in position to react quickly, set up your stroke, and move to the ball.
You might as well leave your racquet at home if you can’t move your feet properly. On the same token, you don’t want to waste all of that footwork on a rubbish swing.
Out of your split step, you need to pivot, turn your shoulders, and then bring your racquet back, pointing towards the back fence. Keep in mind you just want to turn your shoulders to prepare for the shot, rather than using your entire arm. On your forehand, your free arm should come in front of and across your body, roughly parallel to the baseline. Your free arm helps you stay balanced, and it makes it easier to track the ball as you move.
How far back you bring your racquet is a point of debate. While advanced players generally load up with a big backswing, not all players necessarily need that. In fact, short backswings are great for controlling the ball, and you can still hit with ample pace. Compact groundstrokes can really help with consistency, especially on serve returns. Use whatever technique is most natural, but never bring your racquet back too far. Pointing it back any farther than 90 degrees is too much backswing.
Hot Tip: Keep a Fixed Gaze
Don’t move your head or shift your gaze as you bring the racquet back and move towards the ball. Your head and core stay somewhat fixed as you prepare your stroke. A steady head helps you stay balanced and track the ball.
Preparation is Half the Battle
Without proper preparation techniques, you’ll never be able to hit with pace and control consistently. If you can turn these tips into habit, at the very least you should be able to keep a rally going. Although these steps seem straightforward, they are the foundations of your stroke and impact the rest of your swing. Preparation, though, is only half the battle. Learning how to swing through contact and follow through will complete your groundstroke.