Tennis is easy to learn if you have a baseball background. The forehand and backhand drives are similar to batting; the serve involves the same muscular action as an over-arm throw. Of course the tennis drives do not aim to be homeruns, but neither do all baseball hits. Ability to control the base-hit, grounder, and bunt should carryover into controlled tennis drives. Effective overarm throws should carryover into forceful, accurate serves. Wrist flexibility and strength developed in baseball practise should help tennis grips and wrist action. Examples of .carryover from baseball to tennis are found in the former tennis champions, Frankie Parker and Alice Marble. Both were outstanding baseball players and both learned to be outstanding tennis players in a few years because of the direct carryover of skill from one sport to the other.
Skill in any sport with coordinations similar to tennis is excellent background for rapid learning. Thus Fred Perry became a famous tennis champion in five years by transferring his skills from table tennis, in which he was an International Champion. One American tennis star held the California State championships in tennis, badminton and table tennis at the same time. Likewise, golf players tend to become good tennis players and vice versa.
1. Get acquainted with your tennis racquet and ball. Feel the difference in the racquet swing and the liveliness of the tennis ball, as contrasted to your baseball, badminton, or golf swing. You must locate the proper grip on the racquet handle in order to hit the ball squarely in the middle of the gut. You must learn to bat both right-handed (forehand) and left-handed (backhand) in tennis. A slight shift in grip will be necessary in the backhand.
2. Check your form in swinging against that of a good tennis player to be sure you are using the right mechanics. Try to imitate the good player.
3. Practise stroking the ball against a backboard or on the court, learning to apply topspin. A drive can be hit with great force to land within the court boundaries if the ball carries topspin. You can prove this by placing lots of topspin on the ball and watching its flight. The ball will curve up over the net and start to drop immediately. Thus an arced flight is characteristic of a topspin drive. Of course a fast ball aimed too high above the net will not have enough arc to bring it down within the 39 feet area on the other side of the net. The Margin of Safety above the net is found to be approximately ten feet. The so-called “flat drives” of the champions carry very little topspin and use a narrow margin of safety over the net. These drives shoot like bullets across the net. The beginner should not attempt these advanced strokes because the ball will land in the net more times than not.
4. Get “the feel” of a good stroke. This is a muscle picture which must be memorized so you know the difference between a good-form stroke and a poorly coordinated one. Copying the actions of tennis experts, even to the extent of practising before a mirror, will help you learn to memorize the “right feel.” Timing of body action, racquet swing, and wrist action must be coordinated. Several outstanding coaches have pupils practise phantom swings until the “feel” of the stroke is learned. Thus the problem of hitting the ball is postponed until good habits of swinging are established.
5. Try out the good swing in hitting the ball. Take up your side-to-net stance and drop the ball in the most advantageous spot to hit. You can try this with or without a bounce. The same procedure is used in learning to serve. The serve requires learning a good ball toss up over your head. This must be practised endlessly. However, the situation is different for the drives. It is pointless to practise strokes from a stationary stance very much because the game of tennis is not played that way.
6. Footwork and quick adjustment to an oncoming ball are basic practise methods in learning the drives. It is discouraging practise, for the beginner tends to forget all about the beautiful swings he has learned without the ball, or in a stationary stance. Judging the right distance from the ball and the right time to start the swing are two of the most difficult points in learning a good drive. Thousands of attempts to adjust to the oncoming ball means thousands of different adjustments, because the ball never comes off the backboard or over the net in exactly the same way. It is sensible to start slowly, giving yourself time to move into position and swing without undue haste. Thus it is a good idea to get a friend to toss you balls from the net until you learn how to move into position for a good stroke.
Don’t set up a practise situation which is too difficult because that will make you forget the good-form swing. However, if you are anxious to discover whether you can return a sizzler, try it out against the backboard or on the court, but don’t sacrifice good form. Accept your awkwardness and poor performance as a part of the learning process. Even if you get only one “good feeling” drive during a half-hour rally, that is worthwhile. As you gain mastery of your feet and timing, your batting average will increase.
7. A beginner may expect to produce one successful serve to about ten unsuccessful serves. Obviously there is no point in playing a regular game of tennis with such a lack of skill. The best practise procedure is to use fifteen or twenty balls (old ones will do) and get a buddy to help you. He can collect the balls as you serve them a basket is helpful. Perhaps your friend is learning the serve also, so he will serve all the balls back to you. An hour of this practise will give you both a good work-out, for it is similar to practising a throw from second base to home plate in baseball!
8. The next step is “grooving the swing.” When you gain confidence from continued success in repeating the same movement, you can know that you have found the groove. Thus you have learned the feeling and the timing of the stroke and are able to do it automatically. Even though many of your drives and serves may land outside the boundary lines or catch the top of the net, if the stroke mechanics are right, your accuracy will steadily improve.
A Good Climate For Tennis Growth
You can learn good tennis only if you place yourself in the right climate. You must avoid bad company. In tennis, this means that you must keep away from friends and opponents who aim their balls at the sky, or use tricky cuts. It is impossible to learn good tennis strokes if you have to cope with balls that bound over your head, or don’t bounce at all. Learning good foundation strokes is done through hitting knee-to-waist-high balls. Rallying the ball hundreds of times back and forth over the net is very important practise. If you have no tennis companion who can keep the ball down within reasonable clearance of the net, to land deep in the back court, then stick to backboard practise. Against the backboard you can control the height of the ball and hit the ball as hard as you please. Many excellent players learned their foundation strokes before ever going onto a tennis court. They avoided “bad company.”
Likewise, in learning the serve you must seek a good climate, viz., the proper ball toss. Unless you can use a full swing, with much wrist and body action, it is futile to swing at all. You can serve the ball a million times and learn nothing about a good serve if the ball is not in the right position at the right time when you hit it. Remember—your ball toss determines the success of your serve. Only by tossing it high enough in the right direction, at the right time, will your swing and ball-contact be synchronized.
9. The final step in learning tennis is to concentrate on placement and court strategy. When your strokes have become automatic, then you can think about beating your opponent. Practise of certain shots to be used in certain situations is essential—for example—a cross court drive to the backhand corner when your opponent is out of position, or a serve to the outside corner when your opponent stands in toward the center. You must add the volley, lob, overhead smash, chop and slice strokes to your stroke collection so that the right stroke automatically comes into play at the right time.
For many of us, tennis never becomes the exciting, dramatic game of muscle and wits which the experts make it. For some of us, the player is his own worst enemy because his percentage of good shots is so overbalanced by the poor ones. Enjoyment comes through the physical exertion; through concentration on the challenging problem of making your feet and racquet do what you want them to do; and through the friendly rivalry with one’s opponents. The reward is great. One can always remember a couple of perfect strokes and well-played points. The dub shots fade into convenient forgetfulness. There is always another day, and the hope that one’s game will contain more thrilling, well-played moments. Anyway, the feeling of well being and relaxation is truly recreative. Whether a champion or a beginner— we feel that tennis is the greatest game in the world!