Good form in tennis, as in swimming, golf, or other sports activities, is a variable quality which defies definition. It appears in various shapes according to the personality and physique of the individual player. The terms that apply to good form tennis stroke production are ease, rhythm, balance, efficiency, power.
ACCURACY and SPEED are essential in the good stroke. Players achieve these qualities in their strokes by devious methods. The types of strokes that seem most natural and suit their physiques and personalities are best. An example of variation in a “good form” tennis stroke is the use of the circular and the straight backswing. It is more natural for some players to lift their racquets back, as in preparation for batting or throwing a baseball.
For others, the natural back-swing will be a straight throw-back of the racquet, at the height at which they intend to hit the ball. We see national champions of both varieties, although the majority of the top notch players use the circular backswing. Another variation is the amount of wrist action used in a stroke. Some players use a great deal of wrist snap with rather a short arm swing. Others use a long arm sweep with less wrist action. The important thing is to have a swift, low drive that lands deep in the backcourt.
As long as the strokes are accurate and forceful, and the player is well balanced, untiring and efficient, we may say “good form” is present in his tennis game.
Learning to “stroke” the ball is the chief objective for a beginner. It can be aimed more accurately and sent more forcefully if it is carried forward on the racquet strings in the desired direction.
A momentary impact of ball on racquet, which results when the racquet jabs at the ball, gives neither an accurate nor a forceful ball flight. Players who have formed the habit of “hitting” at the ball — if they continue to “jab” — they fail to improve with practise. The “stroke” must be used if such students wish to emerge from the mire of inaccurate and ineffectual play.
The beginner’s strokes should be the embryonic form of the advanced strokes. The concentration is on the principles of good form with expectations of increased accuracy and speed as the student masters the stroke. Patience is the watchword.
Accuracy in a tennis stroke depends primarily upon the racquet face angle at the time of contact with the ball. If the racquet faces upward, the ball goes upward, etc. The adjustment of the racquet face angle, to the ball is learned unconsciously. The more times the player hits the ball, the more accurate he should become. However, if a player learns strokes with which accuracy is difficult to achieve, he may show little improvement.
Very few beginners who use “jabbing” strokes ever develop into good tennis players. This type of stroke is characterized by elbow action, and the ball position in front of the head or shoulders. The racquet swings in a downward direction, and many netted balls result. The best stroke is the horizontal arm swing, involving shoulder joint action, so that the racquet is facing the desired ball flight during the forward swing. In this stroke the same muscular action may be used in stroking a shoulder, waist, or knee high ball.
The serve, accomplished by tossing the ball in the air and sending it over the net into the service court, involves a different kind of form, but should follow the same principles of good form for accuracy and speed. Beginners must throw the ball high enough to allow them to strike it with the racquet face slightly closed. Thus the ball flies over the net in a downward direction, insuring its landing in the service court regardless of how hard it is hit. The swing should allow the racquet to follow through as far as possible in the desired direction of the ball flight.
Methods Of Placing The Ball
1. The easiest way for the beginner to aim the ball is to take up a stance at right angles to where he wants the ball to go, just as in golf. Thus the body is facing the line of direction of the ball. A transfer of weight and a follow through in the direction of the placement aids the accuracy of the stroke.
2. An advanced player often uses the wrist as the placing agent, particularly when he wishes to deceive the opponent concerning the direction the ball is to take. Thus in the drives, flexion or hyperextension of the wrist as the ball is hit will send it to left or right, fooling the opponent and scoring a placement shot for the stroker. In the serve, slight inward or outward rotation of the wrist acts as the placing agent, causing the ball to go to the left or the right of where the receiver expects it.
3. The swing may be varied in order to achieve placements. Thus by apparently hitting the ball hard, but in reality tapping it, the player may place the ball just over the net when the opponent expects a deep shot. Various swing directions and follow throughs also aid in placing the ball.
Note – These advanced methods of placing may appear to be “poor form” strokes. It is not advisable for beginners to use them lest they become bewildered by the apparent paradox and develop poor form strokes.
“Certain adjustments in stroking which are contrary to orthodox form, but are necessitated by the emergency of the player’s situation.”
No player has ever been so perfect that he could always use an orthodox form stroke. “Accommodation” will be seen many times in the progress of the best tournaments. Deceptive bounces, desperate scrambling for the ball, etc. necessitate many peculiar methods of stroking, far away from the prescribed form. Some examples are two-handed shots, push strokes, elbow-action jabs, swinging at the ball after falling full length on the ground. When the player is at a great disadvantage, his one endeavor may be just to “get the ball back.”
For the beginner it is best not to encourage accommodation in stroking for it tends to lead to bad habits, away from orthodox form. Thus the push, elbow-action hit, scoop and chop should not be used by the novice. Better that he miss the ball or send it out of court when practising the correct swing. Only through continuous use of the principles of good form will the beginner develop good strokes. Accommodation should be reserved for advanced players who know when and where to use it.
Modern tennis is sometimes called “streamlined” and is described as though it were a new and different type of tennis. Actually the term describes the attacking style in tennis. Attack has always been characteristic of true tennis champions. Today, it is true, more players are using an attacking game, and the defensive player does not survive as many rounds in a topflight tournament as in former days.
Women’s tennis has changed more than men’s tennis, for modern women players make greater use of the volley than formerly. In other words women’s tennis is approaching nearer to the masculine style. Alice Marble was the perfect example of this, for her whole game was based on attack. Women’s doubles today is a much superior game to doubles of former days, for women can volley, can use overhead shots, and are no longer afraid to go to the net. Ten years ago it was seldom that one of the top ranking women players would follow her serve to the net in doubles. Today the majority of the nationally ranked players come to the net as soon as they have served.
Also the Australian Formation, which places the receiver’s partner in the net position is used much more today than formerly. The theory is that net positions are so important in doubles that the receiving team takes a chance on rushing to forecourt positions as well as the serving team, who have the right to be there. The partners who achieve parallel positions at the net first have an important advantage over the other team.
Skill in the use of the volley and overhead smash has increased greatly in modern tennis. It seems as though the reaction time ability of tennis players has improved along with quicker reaction time of modern motorists and pedestrians. It is essential for life, if one is to survive either in tournaments or in modern traffic. In doubles often all four players are at the net at the same time, and the ball flies back and forth so quickly that it is hard for the spectators to follow. Yet the number of errors made by the players would seem to be as low as in the old days of more leisurely stroking.
The service does not seem to have changed much during the years, except that women’s serves have more speed than they used to have. Depth of service becomes increasingly important in order to keep the receiver well back. The second serve must be almost as forceful as the first, or have a great amount of spin. The Twist Serve is popular as a second serve with men. There is a tendency for service to be broken through more often in modern tennis than formerly, due to the improvement in ground stroke technic.
The improvement in ground stroke technic comes because more players are versatile, utilizing various types of flat or spinning shots with equal finesse.
Implications For The Beginner
Beginners need to take their time in stroking. They need to perfect the three foundation strokes before attempting the more advanced strokes and spins. Streamlined Tennis is advanced tennis, and should not be attempted by the beginner. Although some teachers give beginners the volley stroke in an elementary course in tennis, the author thinks it is not advisable. Time spent on volleying means time taken away from practise of the ground strokes.
Beginning pupils must develop strength in the shoulder girdle and arm muscles in order to swing the racquet freely in the drives. Volleying does not develop these muscles. Therefore the practise on drives is a foundation, not only of the fundamental strokes, but of the fundamental muscles for tennis. Pupils require endless practise on the serve. Here again, muscles must be strengthened. The back muscles, which are usually weak, need rigorous training. Few beginners can stand the strain of throwing their whole body into the serve even twenty times in succession. Practise on the drives may be interspersed by the buddy system, one player serving ten balls while his partner returns the serves, and vice versa.
The beginner should concentrate on the forehand drive, the backhand drive, and the serve during the first year of play, with the volley and doubles play added for variety toward the end. During the second year the lob, smash, chop and slice are added to the stroke vocabulary. The third year is consumed with practise and play which bring on the automatic or instinctive powers of stroke production. Thus the player can think about strategy and not strokes. The fourth year of play is Streamlined Tennis. How far the player will go in advanced play depends upon his capacity for endless practise, maintenance of good physical condition, and “will to win”.