Instruction 101: FAQs About Getting Started In Tennis

by: Ed McGrogan | March 24, 2010

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TENNIS.com

If you’re thinking about giving the game a try, good for you: Tennis is a sport you will enjoy for a lifetime. Here are the answers to 10 common questions beginners ask us about getting into the game.

What kind of racquet should I purchase?
There are many great options available, and most retailers will allow you to test racquets before you purchase one. Rick Macci, a U.S. Professional Tennis Association-certified master professional who has trained the Williams sisters and Andy Roddick, among others, says that first-time buyers should look for a frame that has the proper grip size, depending on the size of your hand, and the correct length and weight, depending on your age and strength. You won’t need to break the bank on your first stick. For everything you need to know about racquets, strings and shoes, and check out our beginner’s gear guide.

How do I hold the racquet? Does it matter?
It matters a lot, but you have a lot of options, too. Professionals use all variety of grips, so don’t let anyone tell you that any particular grip can’t be successful. That said, some grips are easier to learn than others, and some are more versatile. On the forehand side, for example, we would advise against a full Western grip, which isn’t suited to all surfaces unless wielded by an expert. On the serve, the Continental is a must, though you might not be able to use it right away. For more specifics, plus explanations, definitions, and diagrams, see our grip guide.

Should I start with a ball that’s softer than a regular tennis ball?
QuickStart, as the USTA calls it, is an increasingly popular method for teaching tennis to children. The ball is bigger and softer, and doesn’t bounce as high. The court is smaller. The goal is to help a child learn proper technique without the frustration of chasing a small, hard ball that bounces over his or her head every other shot. QuickStart has benefits for adults, too. Don’t get stuck on the program forever, though: Eventually you have to learn to hit with a regulation racquet and ball.

What’s better, private or group lessons?
Both have advantages. Private lessons are the best way to identify flaws in your game and fix them quickly—or, better yet, help you develop sound mechanics from the beginning, before you develop any bad habits. You’re going to develop faster with the private attention of an instructor. Group lessons are more social and less expensive. And unless you think you are a Roger Federer in the making, you probably don’t need one-on-one attention exclusively. If possible, a mix of both private and group lessons is ideal. This way, you hit balls against players your own level and enjoy the social aspects of the game, while occasionally spending a lot of time on specific skills with an instructor.

How do I find a good instructor?
Good instructors can be found anywhere from local public parks to private clubs. Two organizations, the USPTA and Professional Tennis Registry, certify instructors and offer databases to help you find them. USPTA’s service is at www.usptafindapro.com; PTR’s service can be found here.

Enough practice; I think I’d like to play a match. What’s better preparation, lessons or joining a league?
Ideally, you need to do both. No matter how many lessons you take, and no matter how smooth and stylish your strokes become, you must practice using those strokes under pressure. Tennis can be an intense, emotionally taxing game. What works in practice might not work as well when you’re facing a match point. League play is a great way to improve your skills under pressure. You also should read some of TENNIS magazine’s Mind Game columns, which give advice on all manner of mental struggles the game entails.

I want more court time, but I’m not good enough to play in a league. What should I do?
The wall is the only undefeated player in history. If you need to hit a lot of balls, find the side of a building. It’s that simple. Also consider practicing, rather than playing sets, with players at or slightly above your level. There are many drills and workouts you can run on your own that will improve your game quickly. Tennis legend Rod Laver, one of two men in history to achieve the calendar year Grand Slam, offers a few examples here. There are many more drills in TENNIS.com’s instruction section.

What can I learn from the pros?
A lot—a lot that’s good, and a lot that’s bad. Pros have amazing technique, but that technique is often too sophisticated for a club player to try to adopt for himself or herself. If you try to emulate the extreme body rotation pros use on their strokes and their serves, you’ll be disappointed in your results (and might suffer some aches and pains, too). Professional instructors can help you understand the simple, sound techniques at the foundation of the best shots in the game. Check out our recurring series, Great Shots, for photos and analysis of pro technique by some of the best minds in the game. Those features are written with club players in mind. Also, the pros’ most underappreciated skill is their footwork. Learn how to improve yours.

I don’t know enough people who play tennis. Can you help me find them?
Most clubs have a bulletin board where players can exchange information; many teaching pros will set up students with other students of similar levels. The United States Tennis Association offers a great service to match players at findapartner.usta.com.

How often should I play?
As often as you can. The sport is a blast, and you’ll want to play for the rest of your life. But don’t overdo it. Work up slowly and make sure you have a pro check out on your technique from time to time; this will help you prevent injuries. You can learn a lot about nutrition, fueling and off-court exercises to keep you in great tennis shape in TENNIS.com’s fitness section.

Got a question that’s specific to your game? Submit it to our instruction editor.

Tom Perrotta edits TENNIS magazine’s instruction content.

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