A competent tennis player has eight basic shots in his or her repertoire: the serve, forehand, backhand, volley, half-volley, overhead smash, drop shot, and lob.
A serve (or, more formally, a “service”) in tennis is a shot to start a point. The serve is initiated by tossing the ball into the air and hitting it (usually near the apex of its trajectory) into the diagonally opposite service box without touching the net. The serve may be hit under- or overhand.
Tim Henman preparing to hit a serve. The left arm is extended, having just launched the ball into the air. The right arm will be raised up and forward at speed so that the racket connects with the ball.
Experienced players strive to master the conventional overhand serve to maximize its power and placement. The server may employ different types of serve:
- Flat Serve
- Topspin Serve (Sometimes called a “Kick/Kicker” serve. Often times confused with the “American Twist” serve, since both types of serves are called “Kick/Kicker” serves.)
- American Twist/Twist Serve (Also, sometimes called a “Kick/Kicker” serve, which can confuse people, since “Topspin” serves are also called the same thing. Furthermore, this serve is often times confused with the “Topspin-Slice” serve as well.)
- Slice/Slider/Sidespin Serve
- Topspin-Slice Serve (Often times confused to be the same as the American Twist/Twist, though it’s not. The serves are very different from one another.)
- Reverse Slice/Reverse Slider/Reverse Sidespin Serve
- Reverse Twist/Reverse American Twist Serve
- Reverse Topspin-Slice Serve
A reverse type of spin serve is hit in a manner that spins the ball opposite the natural spin of the server, the spin direction depending upon right- or left-handedness.
Some servers are content to use the serve simply to initiate the point; advanced players often try to hit a winning shot with their serve. A winning serve that is not touched by the opponent is called an ace; if the receiver manages to touch it but fails to successfully return it, it is called a service winner.
Roger Federer preparing to hit a forehand. Much can be learned from this photograph. Note how he is “loading” his body weight on his back (right) foot and coiling his shoulders with the help of his left hand. From this position, he will “uncoil” his body beginning with his legs, progressing to his hips and then on to his arms. This is how the “modern” forehand utilizing the open stance is executed.
For a right-handed player, the forehand is a stroke that begins on the right side of his body, continues across his body as contact is made with the ball, and ends on the left side of his body. There are various grips for executing the forehand and their popularity has fluctuated over the years. The most important ones are the continental, the eastern, “semi-western” and the western. For a number of years the small, apparently frail 1920s player Bill Johnston was considered by many to have had the best forehand of all time, a stroke that he hit shoulder-high using a western grip. Few top players used the western grip after the 1920s, but in the latter part of the 20th century, as shot-making techniques and equipment changed radically, the western forehand made a strong comeback and is now used by many modern players. No matter which grip is used, most forehands are generally executed with one hand holding the racquet, but there have been fine players with two-handed forehands. In the 1940s and 50s the Ecuadorian/American player Pancho Segura used a two-handed forehand to devastating effect against larger, more powerful players, and many females and young players use the two-handed grips today.
Li Na hitting a two-handed backhand
For right-handed players, the backhand is a stroke that begins on the left side of their body, continues across their body as contact is made with the ball, and ends on the right side of their body. It can be executed with either one hand or with both and is generally considered more difficult to master than the forehand. For most of the 20th Century it was performed with one hand, using either an eastern or a continental grip. The first notable players to use two hands were the 1930s Australians Vivian McGrath and John Bromwich, but they were lonely exceptions. The two-handed grip gained popularity in the 1970s as Björn Borg, Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors, and later Mats Wilander used it to great effect, and it is now used by a large number of the world’s best players, including Andre Agassi. Andy Roddick, uses the “extreme western” grip to create massive amounts of top spin. It is difficult to do this and also causes injuries when done incorrectly. Two hands give the player more power, while one hand can generate a slice shot, applying backspin on the ball to produce a low trajectory bounce. The player long considered to have had the best backhand of all time, Don Budge, had a very powerful one-handed stroke in the 1930s and ’40s that imparted topspin onto the ball. Ken Rosewall, another player noted for his one-handed backhand, used a deadly accurate slice backhand with underspin through the 1950s and ’60s. A small number of players, notably Monica Seles, use two hands on both the backhand and forehand sides.
Rafael Nadal performing a backhand volley
A volley is made in the air before the ball bounces, generally near the net, and is usually made with a stiff-wristed punching motion to hit the ball into an open area of the opponent’s court. The half volley is made by hitting the ball on the rise just after it has bounced, once again generally in the vicinity of the net. From a poor defensive position on the baseline, the lob can be used as either an offensive or defensive weapon, hitting the ball high and deep into the opponent’s court to either enable the lobber to get into better defensive position or to win the point outright by hitting it over the opponent’s head. If the lob is not hit deeply enough into the other court, however, the opponent may then hit an overhead smash, a hard, serve-like shot, to try to end the point. Finally, if an opponent is deep in his court, a player may suddenly employ an unexpected drop shot, softly tapping the ball just over the net so that the opponent is unable to run in fast enough to retrieve it.