Tennis Lessons - What to Expect
Tennis is a great sport to learn how to play but Americans have given up on the sport in recent years as starts like Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras retired from the professional ranks. Playing singles tennis is one of the best forms of exercise there is with many players burning up to 500 calories each hour. Tennis can be strenuous if you are a good player that keeps the ball in play and keeps running after balls on your side of the court. Of course, to get to that point you need to be consistent and play more often. I have been playing for almost 15 years now and have a 4.5 rating with the USTA. When I play singles my opponents can keep the ball in the court which forces me to keep running and hitting my groundstrokes. A mistake or a winner are how the points are finished off. In any event, learning how to play tennis is something everyone should do since you can play the sport long into your 70's and even into your 80's if you are lucky. Taking tennis lessons is a good way to improve your physical fitness levels and learn a new sport.
Tennis lessons start with the basics - forehand, backhand, volleys, serve. Most instructors will start by "feeding" you balls by standing at the net and having you stand somewhere near the baseline on your side of the court. They will gently hit the ball in your direction and have you attempt to it over the net to their side. The first few lessons are all about getting a feel for the ball hitting your racquet and learning how to judge where to stand in vicinity to the ball as it approaches you. Good footwork skills are very important if you want to be a decent tennis player. Your instructor will help you with your tennis grip - where your hands go on the racquet for the various strokes. There are different forehand grips - continental, western, eastern, etc. You have to play with what makes sense, I use an extreme western forehand grip and hit tons of topspin like Rafael Nadal. Ivan Lendl used a continental grip for flatter shots. Forehands are the easiest shots to hit as they are the most natural and comfortable. The backhand stroke is a little harder as you need to decide if you will be hitting a one handed or two handed backhand. Younger players tend to hit two hands but older players generally go with the 1 hand slice or chip backhand to simplify their movement and game. Often you will get more power from two hands but much more control from a 1 handed backhand. Your instructor can give you pointers on your grip and which style fits you best. After a few sessions of hitting shots over the net and getting the feel for forehand to backhand shots, you can start more complicated drills where you hit a few groundstrokes and then come to the net. Many beginners are hesistant to approach the net but you can put away shots if you play your ball well when at the net. If gives your opponent less time to react and forces them to come up with something good if they want to pass you. Part of tennis training is working on your core muscles as much of tennis is focused on your mid section and stomach muscles. Your power is based on your body rotation and torque that allows you to swing through the ball and generate power or spin. You should be stretching before any tennis lesson and doing a light warmup before actually hitting tennis balls hard. Footwork drills are another aspect of learning tennis so you can move around the court with some agility and athleticism. Your feet should constantly be moving when playing tennis as you will most likely have to move to get to the ball and hit it. There is no time for laziness on the court. Being able to anticipate shots and move to the ball well in advance gives you time to setup and really go for your shots. Trust me, when you just barely get to the ball and have to hit it, you are neither balanced nor prepared to hit the propery stroke. I would have to say that for the average beginner, it would take at least 4 or 5 lessons to become comfortable running to the ball and hitting it on balance. Many beginner tennis players get caught in "no mans land" which is somewhere between the service line and the baseline which is a terrible spot to stand give that most balls land in this zone. You will be hitting balls of your ankles which is impossible. You strongest hitting zone is around your waste so you want to make sure you judge the bounce of the ball and get setup in time to do this. Be patient and always remember that getting the ball into the court when you hit it is more important than blasting a ball as hard as you can into the net or over the baseline on the other side. You can't win a point in tennis if you don't keep the ball in play. As you become proficient, you can move on to tougher shots like the drop valley and overhead smash. I was lucky enough that my dad had plenty of patience with me when I was younger so that I could learn the sport of tennis.
Groundstrokes - Forehand and Backhand:
Anyone who plays tennis knows that groundstrokes are the basic fundamentals and you need to practice them the most. As we noted above your grip will define what type of groundstrokes you are hitting - flat, underspin, topspin. Many players become proficient at slicing the ball around the court and do just fine in rallies. Others are more concerned with learning the balance between power and spin so they can control the ball best. The best players in the world, like Roger Federer, are able to hit balls with a variety of spins and still power through the ball when necessary for a winner. If you are able to hit with different speeds and spins, you will keep your opponent guessing as to what to expect and this is a huge advantage to you. Your forehand should generate speed and be able to "setup" points for you so you can win them. Most often a backhand should be the steadier of your 2 main strokes and keep you in points so your forehand can hit a winner. I recommend two handed backhands for all beginners but develop a slice or chip backhand as a more defensive shot to keep yourself alive in points. There are excellent drills for forehands and backhands you will probably do with your instructor or coach. Down the lines are the hardest shots in tennis to hit since the net is slightly higher at the point, so concentrate on going for your winners cross court where the net is the lowest. You can practice all these shots with a playing partner or friend. There is no quick way to become good at something like tennis, it takes 100's of court hours and hitting the shots to become proficient at them. Don't be afraid to miss and learn to "hit out" or go for your shots when the opportunity arises. I see so many players play so well in a point all the way up to where they need to finish it off with a winner and they net the easy ball. Nerves and lack of confidence cause this, so practice being aggresive when the time is right so you will have the guts to hit the shot when it counts the most.
Serving a Tennis Ball:
The biggest weapon in tennis is the serve. You pretty much are able to get your opponent on the defensive right away if you are good at hitting your serve. Getting in the 1st serve is key, but ultimately you want to be able to place the serve around the service box and mix up the speeds and spins so your opponent is just trying to return it. This gives you the advantage right from the start in the point letting you dictate play. If you watch the pros play, they move the serves around and have excellent accuracy even when hitting 2nd serves. If you get an ace, that means the serve went past your opponent without them even hitting it. An ace is the ultimate weapon to have in your arsenal. The key to serving is to get the ball toss up in the air so you have to "hit forward" and "go after" your serve. You want your momentum going into the court when hitting the serve. Don't fall backwards or sideways as this takes away from your power and accuracy. Serving takes lots of practice to develop a consistent shot. Another thing is that you need to have a reliable 2nd serve, one with more spin and less power. You'll want to slice the ball in on your 2nd serve or give it more "kick" which means the ball will bounce up higher on the returner of serve and make it more difficult on them. My best advice is to get a bucket of balls and go to your local courts and hit serves every few days until you get into a good rhythm. Don't try to smash the first serve as hard as you can, consider a 3/4 pace 1st serve just to get it in and start the point positively. You'd be surprised at how many people will give you a weak return even if you serve at 3/4 speed.
How Much are Tennis Lessons:
Everyone always asks me "how much will tennis lessons cost me?". The answer varies depending on if you are doing a group or individual lesson, will it be at a resort or in your local public park, etc. I would say a good amount is about $40/hr for a private lesson from a local teaching pro at a public park. If you go to a local tennis club you are taking more like $60 to $80 an hour for a teaching pro. Group lessons may run you $200 for 10 lessons (1 hour each) which is only $20/hour. Don't do group lessons with more than 3 or 4 players or else you will be standing around too much and never get into a good rhythm. Tennis lessons should be fun and the instructor should be positive and a good motivator. As you build up your stamina and skill level, more one on one time will be what you want but definitely do a group lesson to start with. It will give you a chance to meet new people and potentially find a few hitting partners that can play with you outside the lesson. Your local parks and recs department should have lessons throughout the year and even if you live in a rainy climate look for indoor courts and see if they have group lessons or individual plans. Our indoor courts have a drop-in on Sunday nights where you can come in and play for like $10 and do hitting drills, play doubles, or just practice your serve. If you want your kids to take tennis lessons, make sure they get good instructions for the first year so they develop good habits on technique. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy yourself. My dad still plays quality doubles at the age of 80. Youtube.com is another source on learning aspects of tennis. People post videos on different shots and show you how to hit the ball. They go from the basics of holding the racquet, how to hit topspin, and serving. Instructional DVD's are not bad either, but getting out on the court is the best practice you can get.