How can I play better tennis?

Answer: Explore these practical tips by Vic Braden, renowned tennis coach and sport psychologist, described in his book, Vic Braden’s Laugh and Win at Doubles.


Tips for hitting the various strokes

Receiving serve:

  1. Take ball on rise, especially if server is slow on her feet!
  2. If server has mobility problems, play the ball short to drag the server in.
  3. Cross court—short or deep
  4. Don’t look up until you’ve made contact –make this automatic
  5. Practice watching servers hit the ball and try to guess where it’s going – do this when the server is serving to your partner or when other people are playing
  6. Get up on balls of feet when the server tosses the ball and lean forward.
  7. Move to serve early and towards the ball so you hit out in front of your body.
  8. The better you get, the shorter your swing.


  1. Keep chin up and head very still.


  1. Don’t let opposition distract you – think of a mental cue (target) to aim for.
  2. Hit forward using low-to-high motion.
  3. Start off practicing overly long lobs and then correct by making a steeper forward and upward strike, so the extra length goes into height.
  4. Lob diagonally to gain extra time and distance.
  5. Aim 10’ within baseline – or ideally within 5’
  6. Practice lobbing against a partner, especially when being forced to run off the court or to baseline
  7. Practice running down a lob by turning and running forwards, rather than back-pedalling. The moment you see a lob coming, turn and run forwards towards the fence and don’t look for the ball until you hear it bounce


  1. Do hard slice serve forcing player off court.
  2. Toss ball forward, then snap down with forearm. This saves hurting the shoulder.
  3. Try to land falling forward with a fall-in step. Then look at the opposition and try to anticipate their return.


  1. Need to face our fears – be bold, trust our reaction time.
  2. Punch volley with a short swing – literally fix your racket in position and move your body through the shot.
  3. Keep the elbow up and turn your body  and volley from the shoulder, not from the forearm.
  4. Don’t face the net as you volley—stand side on
  5. Hit through an imaginary “volley window”. Aim  for target window above the net rather than  for spots on the court and punch the volley through the window.
  6. Hit out, not down


General hitting tips

  1. Hit the ball, don’t baby it.
  2. Learn to take the ball on the rise as this gives your opposition less time and people play less well when rushed. You’ll need to shorten your back swing to take the ball on the rise.
  3. Keep your head very still – don’t look where it’s going. If you pull up too early and see where ball is going you’ll hit ball on the edge of the strings.
  4. Keep your returns low.
  5. Serve to your opponent’s weaker side.
  6. Move to the net and go for angles.
  7. Keep moving and think  “the next shot is coming to me.
  8. Aim your return of serve at a specific target away from the net player.
  9. Lob when you’re in trouble.
  10. Keep ball low and down the middle.
  11. Hit the shot that should be hit, regardless of the score. Avoid thinking, “I just want to play it safe and keep the ball alive.
  12. When playing against weaker players, use the opportunity to practice your shots. That way, you’ll learn something while evening up the score a bit.
  13. Study your opposition’s racket face for clues.
  14. Practice your anticipation skills – – good anticipation skills means you  can cover more court with less effort.
  15. Intently study your opposition as they hit  their drives  or lobs down the line or cross court. Look at their front hip, feet and other body language for clues as to where the ball is going.
  16. When you’re not playing, watch other players as they play their shots and guess where their balls are going. Keep score of how accurate you are at anticipation.
  17. “Keep your feet moving all the time.”  Arthur Ashe wrote this instruction to himself and placed it under the umpire stand to read every time he changed ends.


Tips for practicing

  1. Work on your arm strength.
  2. Walk through every scenario without your racket.
  3. Act out of various scenarios with your partner too.
  4. Shadow play unbelievable shots – -where you run forward and back and all over the court getting to imaginary amazing shots.


What kind of player are you?

Bad players:

  1. Tend to give up;
  2. Complain about their poor shots;
  3. Hit too many dinky, pokey shots;
  4. Are timid about going for their shots on the net;
  5. Lack aggression – -always want to move back.

Good players:

  1. Are aggressive and know tactics;
  2. Keep the ball in play;
  3. Are not afraid to make mistakes;
  4. Always try;
  5. Don’t apologize for missed shots;
  6. Applaud good shots by others.


Tips for playing the mental game:

  1. Check : “What do I think my partner’s expectations are of me?” Correct your thoughts if they’re negative.
  2. Check: “What do I expect of my partner?” Am I thinking, “This person is going to a burden to carry“; Or “My partner isn’t strong enough to carry me.” Correct those negative thoughts.
  3. Practice your strokes during practice, but just hit the ball when you’re playing.
  4. Minimize the number of things you think about when playing – – be aware of your thoughts and replace unhelpful thoughts with helpful ones.
  5. When your partner is playing badly say something encouraging such as , “Don’t worry. Just keep playing hard. You’ll soon get on top of your game.

How can I improve?

Answer: Engage a coach to take you through the four stages of mastery.

Atul Gawande explains how in this 3-minute video: Do Surgeons Need Coaches?

Atul Gawande: Coaching and the Four Stages of Mastery from The New Yorker on