Tennis is the fourth most popular sport on the planet, with a fan following of more than a billion people across the globe.
Think about the players who were as cool as a cucumber, yet dispatched every opponent that came their way, and the names that come to mind are Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, and Chris Evert. Talking about power tennis, who else than Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic! And then there was Boris Becker, who dived around everywhere on the court, never to be counted out of a point. Looking at these stars playing, one might think, tennis isn't such a difficult game after all! Trust me, it's not as easy at it looks, and these players trained their hearts out and had the passion in them to reach the levels that they did. To succeed in anything, one first needs to get the basics right. The same goes for the game of tennis too.
So here are all the basic shots that are played in this wonderful game, be it on a grass court, clay court, or a hard court.
(click on images to enlarge
This is the basic and most important shot in every player's game, and also one of the first shots that almost everyone learns to master. The racket is held with a locked and firm grip, and the shot is played on the correct side (right side for a right-handed player and left side for a left-handed player), by swinging the racket from behind to front, directing it towards where the ball needs to be hit. This shot has one continuous swing, and the speed is determined by how far the player swings the racket from behind the ball. For the greatest effect, this shot should be played with the body weight towards the front. An effective forehand either produces a winner or is so good that the opponent produces a weak return which allows you to put the ball away with ease and win the point.
Best in the Business: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The backhand shot is simply the opposite of the forehand, though it's not as simple as that. It is played on the wrong side of the player, by swinging the racket from behind towards where the ball needs to be directed. The other techniques that need to be used in this shot are similar to that of the forehand. Everyone, well almost, masters the forehand, but getting the backhand right is not so easy. And a player who has a powerful backhand along with the forehand, ends up having a much more lethal attacking game. With a good backhand, you are in a better position to retrieve more balls, and also, more often, set up points that way you want, eventually allowing you to dictate your own terms in more rallies of the match.
Best in the Business: Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova, and Roger Federer.
This is the same as the backhand shot mentioned above, the only difference being that instead of playing it with one hand, both hands are used. Now the reason can be any of the two - some players simply use it to generate more power, while others need to use it as their single-handed backhand is not such a powerful shot in their armor. Also, the situation can determine whether the single-handed or double-handed backhand needs to be used. For example, if you are moving forward to attack a weak return from your opponent, then finishing off the point with a double-handed backhand would be preferable. If the opponent's return is not very near to you, then with less time in hand, stretching and executing a single-handed backhand would be easier.
Best in the Business: Monica Seles. Andre Agassi and Novak Djokovic for excellent returns and power with minimum back swing.
The top spin shot uses the basics of a forehand, with some tweaks for a different end result. Imagine you are executing the forehand shot itself, that's the basic posture. But the racket's starting point needs to be at least a foot below the height it will finally contact the ball. Usually, final contact is around mid-stomach height. At the point of contact, the back of the ball needs to be hit with the axis of the racket parallel to the ground. The ball should be hit anywhere between 4 - 5 inches above the net so that it has maximum effect after bouncing in the opponent's side of the court. The top spin allows the ball to bounce and go ahead even more, making it difficult for the opponent to either reach the ball or execute a decent return. It is also used to have a counter-effect if the opponent has played a slice shot.
Best in the Business: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The slice shot is used when you want the ball to sail through low into the other half of the court. It is also normally done on a backhand shot. Using a firm grip, the racket needs to be taken from a high point and hit down towards the ball, something similar to a karate chop. This keeps the ball low when it bounces in the other half of the court. It is also termed as backspin or underspin, and will force to opponent to play a top spin or a shot which comes high and weak, back at you. This shot is also played a lot when you are on the defensive, and the opponent is bombarding you with powerful shots come fast at you. Slicing the ball back gives you more time to get back into the point, and also doesn't allow your opponent to attack as much.
Best in the Business: Roger Federer.
A drop shot can be played like another version of the slice, or can also be simply a gentle touch over the net, in such a way that the opponent cannot reach or retrieve the ball. This shot produces a lot of backspin, just manages to go over the net and hardly bounces at all in the other half. It is most effective when used as a surprise weapon while the opponent is back deep into his half, and is not in a position to run forward fast enough to retrieve the ball right at the net. It works best on a clay court where the bounce of the ball is lower than all other surface types. This is not an easy shot to execute, and should not be tried too often, as besides the difficulty level, it will only end up negating the surprise element that it has.
Best in the Business: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
In this shot, the ball is hit before it bounces on the ground. It is usually executed after the point has been set up with a deep shot that has the opponent defending right back at the baseline. The wrist has to be very firm to play the volley, and the ball is just punched into the vacant area of the opponent's side of the court with an angled racket. Also, you need to be either right at the net or well inside your baseline, to get maximum advantage. Pete Sampras was best known for playing the volley to maximum effect. The half volley is just the same as the volley. The only difference being that the ball is just allowed to bounce and is hit immediately on the rise. You need to choose wisely between both shots, depending how the point is being played.
Best in the Business: Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, and Roger Federer. John McEnroe for touch and angles.
This is a shot played when your opponent has come forward right to the net in an attacking position, and you feel you cannot win the point with a passing shot. The ball needs to be hit with the racket angling between 0 to 45 degrees. It should sail over the opponent in such a way that he cannot jump to smash it, and it should bounce in his court at the back, not allowing him enough time to run back and retrieve it. Using some topspin in this shot greatly increases its effectiveness. This is however the offensive lob. If you are in a defensive position during a point, your opponent being at the baseline, a lob can then be used too, to break the opponent's rhythm, which will also increase the duration of the point and give you vital time to get back into a proper position eventually.
Best in the Business: Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi.
The overhead smash can be played when you are either right at the net or a fair distance inside your baseline, and you receive a ball that is high. It can be taken either directly or on the bounce. The technique is quite like the serve, but many players love to jump up and execute the overhead smash. Watch how Pete Sampras executed this shot, and you will know what I mean. Though, it is safest when played with either one or both feet on the ground, which allows for least margin of error. This shot should be aimed not to close to the net nor too close to the baseline of the opponent. Ideally, you would want to execute this shot in such a way, that your opponent is not in a position to even get to the ball, leave alone hit one back at you.
Best in the Business: Andy Roddick. Pete Sampras for slam dunk style smash.
The serve is the start of a point. The idea is to put the ball in play by serving it into the opponent's side of the court. The serve needs to fall in the diagonal part of the opposite side of the court, in the square just after the net, which is called the service box. The ball needs to be tossed up in the air, and the aim is to strike it at the highest point possible with a fully-stretched arm. While doing so, either foot should not touch the baseline until the serve is completed. There are different types of serves, though the common ones are the flat powerful serve and the slice serve. A serve is an important part of the game, and most often sets up the way the point is played. A serve that ends without the opponent even getting the racket to the ball is called an Ace.
Best in the Business: Goran Ivanisevic, Richard Krajicek, Andy Roddick, Ivo Karlović, John Isner, and the Williams sisters. Pete Sampras for consistency.
These were the basic tennis shot names, which are most widely used in any game, be it amateur or professional. For a good overall game, executing these basic shots in tennis are a bare minimum for any player. And for all those who simply love to watch the game, when your favorite player plays an excellent shot and wins a point, you will now exactly know what that shot is all about. Right!