The Ultimate Guide To Basic Tennis Shots and Strokes

The perfect introduction to tennis shots and how you can use them to your advantage.

Tennis is a fun sport, but it can be hard to start learning. There are so many tennis strokes and techniques that you need to know before you can play effectively. 

This Ultimate Guide To Basic Tennis Shots and Strokes will help you learn how to hit every shot in tennis, from a consistent serve, forehand groundstrokes, backhand groundstrokes, volleys, lobs, and even overhead smashes.

No matter your level of experience, we'll teach you how to improve your tennis game by mastering these basic shots first!

Tennis shots versus tennis strokes

Before you learn the basic tennis shots, it's essential to understand the difference between a "Tennis Shot" and a "Tennis Stroke.”

In tennis, there are six strokes you can hit: serve, forehand, backhand, forehand volley, backhand volley, and overhead.

The strokes can all be executed differently and, therefore, produce different shots. For example, a forehand stroke can produce several shots, such as a down-the-line forehand, crosscourt forehand, a lob, or passing shot.

Types of tennis shots

There are many types of tennis shots, and the following framework can classify them:

1. When the tennis ball is hit

  • Serve
  • Groundstroke
  • Volley
  • Half volley

2. Where the tennis ball is hit

  • Cross-court shot
  • Down the line shot
  • Passing shot
  • Drop shot
  • Lob 

3. How the tennis ball is hit

  • Forehand
  • Backhand
  • Smash
  • Flat
  • Slice
  • Topspin
  • Sidespin
  • Block

The tennis forehand

The tennis forehand, a type of groundstroke, is the most basic shot in tennis, which is why every tennis player learns it first.

Tennis players like Roger Federer dominate matches predominantly with their powerful forehand shots.

When you hold the tennis racquet, your hand’s front (fore) will face your opponent when making the tennis shot.

Your main tennis shot is a cross-body shot with the dominant hand (or sometimes, the preferred hand), traveling low to high, followed by a follow-through over the shoulder.

Forehand groundstrokes are either hit with one hand or two hands, depending on how you grip the tennis racquet.

The three most common grips used in forehand tennis are the eastern forehand grip, the semi-western grip, and the western grip.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each grip. Generally speaking, the semi-western forehand grip is used most often.

A one-handed forehand has the advantage of being able to reach a ball further than a two-handed forehand.

A two-handed forehand may, however produce more power. 

The basic tennis backhand

When the back of the dominant hand of the tennis player is facing the opponent, it's called a backhand tennis shot when making a shot.

A backhand involves striking the ball with the left side of your body if you're right-handed. Similarly, the backhand of left-handed players will be executed on the right side (non-dominant side).

When you play backhand strokes, although you use your dominant hand, you use the non-dominant side of your body, and therefore it is not as strong as the forehand shot for most players.

The backhand can be hit with one or two hands.

Some professional tennis players prefer the one-handed backhand to the two-handed backhand. The pros who use the one-handed backhand have a wider range of motion, somewhat higher drive and power, and more spin variation.

The disadvantages of the one-handed backhand (compared to the two-handed backhand) are less control, more difficulty hitting high shots, and less ability to hit the ball late. It's also more challenging to return serve with one-handed backhands.

These disadvantages have led most players and coaches to teach and play the two-handed backhand solely. As a result, the majority of professional players (both men and women) use two-handed backhands.

The tennis serve

The serve is the only shot where you have complete control. The serve begins each point, and players hit it from either the deuce court, which is located to the right of the center mark when facing the net at the baseline or the ad court, which is located on the left side of the center mark.

Either way, both first serve and the second serve give a player two chances to serve into the box on the opposite side of the court.

Serves are typically hit with a continental grip and are defined as flat, kick, or slice.

The flat serve

A flat serve is when a player hits the ball with little to no spin.

The ability to smash the ball with a lot of velocity or speed offers your opponent very little time to respond and hit the ball, which is the main advantage of a flat serve.

Flat serves are more challenging to hit into the service box because the server applies little spin to the ball.

As a result, this is often a shot hit exclusively on a player's first serve to assure a more reliable serve, such as a kick serve, on the second serve.

The kick serve

To apply a kick serve when tennis players hit the ball, they must hit up on the ball and snap their wrist when making contact to generate strong topspin (forward rotation of a tennis ball while in movement).

The action of this topspin shot ensures that the ball travels high over the net and drops into the service box.

The kick serve is a fantastic option because, with practice, most players can learn to hit this type of shot on the tennis court practically every time.

Aside from consistency, the kick serve is also a dangerous weapon for many players who can generate enough spin on the ball to cause it to "kick" off the ground as it lands in the service box.

A good kick serve forces the ball to bounce much higher than the ideal height for a forehand or backhand. Most players prefer to return the ball when it is about waist height, so anything above this height becomes more challenging to hit.

Therefore, until your opponent has enough time to hit a return at a more appropriate height, they are forced to either step forward and return the ball immediately off the bounce or step back to give themselves more time to hit the ball.

Since the kick serve affords a high margin for error, it is a shot players commonly use on their second serve to ensure they put the ball in play as early as possible.

The slice serve

A slice serve is a tricky shot produced by striking the outer edge of the ball. It is a slice is a variation of the backhand shot.

It’s best to hit the right side of the ball for right-handed players and the left side of the ball for left-handed players. Producing a side spin that skids when it hits the court and bounces in the spin direction.

The slice serve may be very effective, especially when hit out wide or into a player’s body. When a shot is hit out wide in the deuce court, the player is forced to the side of the court, freeing up space for a putaway shot.

Players can be "frozen" by a slice serve when the ball is hit into their torso. Depending on which side you hit the ball to or how fast they can react, it is tough for the opposing player to hit a forehand or a backhand return.

The basic volley

A volley is a shot fired in the air when a player hits the ball directly out of the air rather than allowing the ball to bounce first.

A "rally" occurs when the ball bounces first.

The volley is very short, back and forth hitting, usually near the net.

The volley can be played on either the forehand or backhand side.

Volleys are aggressive shots that are employed when you are confident that you will win the point or set up a winning move if you hit them.

Volleys are played with a continental grip, which results in a neutral racquet face that easily deflects balls back to your opponent. This grip ensures that the ball can pass over the top of the net without going too far.

Youth and beginner tennis players may be encouraged to hit their backhand volley with two hands in some cases for added support.

At its most basic level, it does not necessitate any racquet swinging or any body movement.

Volleying is more about outstanding footwork than it is about what you do with your racquet.

Nonetheless, it can be one of the most challenging strokes to perfect in tennis.

Volleys are technical and demand a high level of expertise and timing because it is played so close to the net.

Going to the net to hit a volley exposes you to lobs and passing shots, so execute it only when you're willing to take this risk.

The primary goal of getting to the net and volleying is to seize control of the point and allow yourself to hit at a greater angle, so shutting out the point.

The volley is also an essential aspect of doubles tennis, which is popular.

If you want to be a good doubles player or an offensive singles player, you must learn to strike volleys with speed, rotation, touch, and accuracy.

Forehand volley

Although the forehand volley is a simple movement, it requires firm hands and quick reflexes. You only use one arm to hit a ball on your dominant side, and the ball never touches the ground.

Forehand volleys, like forehand groundstrokes, are hit with your dominant hand. Towards the right side of your body if you're right-handed, and towards the left side if you're left-handed.

Backhand volley

The backhand volley resembles a backhand slice, but it is performed without allowing the ball to touch the ground. Typically, a volley will take place when you are standing near the net. 

You always hit a backhand volley on your non-dominant side. 

When hitting your backhand in a volley, your dominant hand should be on the left side of your body if you are right-handed and on the right side of your body if you are left-handed.

Taking time away from your opponent's with backhand volleys will enable you to shorten the points and take advantage of your net game. 

Half volley

The ball is designed to bounce off the ground when you hit a half volley, unlike a standard volley. The goal is to hit the ball "on the rise," which requires more talent than a traditional volley because it requires precise movement, ideal positioning, and flawless timing.

The half volley is not a typical shot because it is preferable to strike a volley or a full groundstroke. In some instances, however, it can be helpful and lead to a quick point.

A half volley can be hit as a forehand or a backhand in the same way a volley would be hit: either as you approach the net or when you're at the net.

A half volley is a shot in which you can't reach the ball quickly enough to hit a volley before the ball bounces and don't have enough time to hit a full groundstroke. As a result, you allow the ball to bounce before immediately blocking or deflecting it back to the opposing side of the court.

It is better to hit a volley in the air or a groundstroke after the ball bounces in most circumstances.

However, there are occasions when you can't quite get to the volley and don't have time to set yourself up for a groundstroke, in which case the half volley is an excellent choice.

Using a continental grip, half volleys can be hit as forehand or backhand volleys. 

The lob

A lob is a slow-moving shot with a very high trajectory in tennis. The lob serves mainly as a defensive shot.

The objective of the lob is to go over your opponent's head or force the net player to hit a tough shot.

Some people even utilize the lob in rallies.

While that may be effective at beginner-level tennis, it is not effective at the intermediate and not at the advanced level.

It is advised that you only lob when the other player is at the net or when you're out of position and off the court.

The latter helps give you time to return to the point.

Lobbing the ball while off the court is highly effective if the opposing player dislikes moving away from the baseline.

Apply this strategy when you're strung wide against a perennial baseline player.

The lob can be hit from either the forehand or backhand.

It is usually hit with topspin, but it can also be hit with a slice.

There are three reasons a topspin lob is significantly favored and more successful than the slice shot.

  • The topspin lob generally keeps the ball on the court.
  • It is more difficult for your opponent to hit a fast spinning, dipping ball, while slice shots drift more and are much easier to hit.
  • A topspin lob allows you to lob with more speed and margin for error than a slice. Simply brush the bottom of the ball and finish your stroke high to hit the lob. You'll practically be redirecting all of the ball's speed into the "brush.” 

Remember to lob your opponent on their backhand side is consistently more effective. The backhand overhead is a far more difficult shot to hit than the standard overhead smash shot. If you conceal the lob properly, you may make it much more effective.

Prepare in the same way you would for any forehand or backhand. Brush the ball instead of hitting it with your typical stroke.

Lobbing is a decent strategy, but it isn't a quick fix for beating a player that likes to come to the net. Mix other shots and powerful topspin shots in with your lobs instead. This confuses your opponent and keeps them wondering what's your next shot.

If you're playing outside and it's very windy, pay attention to the direction the wind is blowing. On a windy day, it's best to avoid lobs into the wind. When the wind is blowing against you, it is tough to hit a lob. If you lob towards the wind, the ball will not travel very far and will be smashed by your opponent.

Lobbing with the wind, on the other hand, is highly recommended.

Be careful not to put too much pressure on the ball when hitting a lob with the wind behind you. Simply hit lightly and allow the wind to do the work.

You can practice lobs just as readily as drop shots. The best way to practice lobs is to place someone at the net and see how well you can lob them.

Repeat the process on both the forehand and backhand wings. Do this until you're an expert at topspin lobs from both sides.

The overhead smash

In tennis, an overhead is a shot that is often hit off of a lob.

Overheads are typically performed at the net and employ the same action as a tennis serve. You can hit one from the baseline.

The overhead is a strong smash tactic in which players whip their racquet downwards to win the point or drag their opponent off-court to set up an easier win.

Good footwork and timing are crucial for the overhead shot.

Most people miss their overhead shots because their footwork does not put them in a good position to hit the ball.

When a ball is lobbed to you, your initial inclination should be to turn to your forehand side and lift your racquet.

This is the same side where you hit forehands and serves from.

From here, your initial move should be a cross-step.

When you're finished, side-step back into position for the perfect overhead shot.

People stepping backward to strike the overhead is a common mistake.

They skip the first step, which is to turn to their side.

This hardly ever works and can lead to you stumbling and injuring yourself.

With proper movement, footwork drills, and repetition, you can make the overhead shot one of your strongest shots when you play matches.

If you can put away your overheads with speed and precision, you'll put a lot of pressure on your opponents, especially as you come to the net.

The overhead can also be hit from the backhand side.

Although it is uncommon, most professional players can put away balls with a backhand overhead. This is done with a flick of the wrist.

The overhead backhand stroke, on the other hand, is extremely tough for most players.

It's still worth practicing, though, as you are bound to encounter it in a tennis match from time to time.

The standard overhead is one of the vital types of tennis shots to learn since it will help you in both singles and doubles tennis. The overhead is something that most players don't practice enough.

When you move towards the net and create pressure on your opponent, they will frequently hit a lob. Since the lob can be challenging to execute, many of them will end up just over your head when you're at the net.

In this situation, you'll have the option of hitting an overhead, which is effectively a slightly modified version of your serve while moving at the net.

The foundations of the serve and overhead are nearly identical. You hit overheads with the continental grip, as you do with a serve.

The drop shot

The drop shot is a more sophisticated tennis shot that employs a backspin to send the ball as near to the opponent's side of the net as possible.

In most cases, a drop shot is taken from the baseline and demands a great deal of ability and ball control, or "touch."

Furthermore, the element of surprise is essential for a successful drop shot, making it more challenging to perform because many players cannot effectively conceal their purpose to hit the drop shot. Drop shots are essentially slice shots with mild backspin or sidespin and little force.

Drop shots are intended to be used when your opponent is too far away from the net or becomes unbalanced during a rally. The drop shot is a particularly effective shot where you can win a point outright.

Bear in mind that a poorly executed drop shot allows your opponent ample opportunity to race and collect the ball.

The approach shot

A player hits an approach shot as you move toward the net, which is ideal whenever you transition from the baseline.

Typically, approach shots are hit as a backhand or forehand, and they're often hit when the ball drops short in the court, allowing you to step in and move forward.

An effective approach shot is one that puts pressure on your opponent. The goal is to close out the point while at the net to take control of the point.

The passing shot

Passing shots occur when one player rushes to the net in an attempt to volley, but the opposing player at the baseline performs a groundstroke that escapes the reach of the net player.

When you're not confident with your lobs or face an aggressive net player, mastering the passing shot is essential! 

Final thoughts

Despite the simplicity of playing tennis, mastering all the tennis shots and strokes can be difficult.

The tennis shots and strokes are the basic movements necessary for any tennis player to start playing tennis. It is essential to train these basic shots because they are fundamental for any tennis match.

Fortunately, with practice, anyone can learn the types of tennis shots, strengthen their tennis game, and hit the tennis court like a pro!

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