Tennis for Beginners – The Basics of Learning How to Play

Tomaz Mencinger

Tomaz Mencinger is a professional tennis coach from Slovenia, who teaches a feel based method of developing effortless and bio-mechanically sound tennis technique that works for all levels of players.

Tennis For Beginners – 5 Steps To Consistent Groundstrokes

When a tennis beginner starts learning to play tennis, they first need to learn basic forehand and backhand technique as these will allow them to play, enjoy the game and come back for more.learn-how-to-play-tennis

The basics of tennis of course also include the serve, volley and the overhead strokes, but these techniques can be learned later as the beginner learns to rally first cooperatively with their partner.

All groundstrokes, meaning the forehand and the one-handed or two-handed backhand variation, follow very similar step-by-step progressions with only slight adjustments between them.

The following instructions for tennis beginners will build a proper foundation of basic strokes and allow them to learn to play tennis in the fastest way possible.

5 Steps To Learning Tennis Technique For Beginners

beginner1Since ball judgment is not developed yet with beginners, tennis first has to be played at a shorter distance and at a lower speed. We call it mini tennis, and it’s played from just behind the service line.

Playing at such a short distance and low speed allows beginners to still have time to judge the ball fairly well and not feel rushed as it reaches them. It’s also imperative that, since we modified the tennis game in a certain way, we modify stroke technique, too.

One of the most common mistakes when learning to play tennis is learning the basic groundstroke technique from the start, which means that the player is being taught to make a full turn and execute a full swing at the ball.

This simply creates way too much power and swing speed and makes it difficult to control the ball well at such a short distance. Therefore we have to use specific tennis instructions for beginners in order to teach them to play tennis right from the first minute they’re on the court.

By following these 5 step-by-step lessons for tennis beginners, they will be able to progress quickly and at the same time enjoy their time on the court.

1. Playing from the Contact Point and Extending Forward

how-to-play-forehandInstead of teaching the preparation of strokes first with a full turn and the backswing, we actually place the racquet just slightly behind the expected contact point.

You might feel that you have no power there, but you’ll quickly realize that even moving the racquet just a few inches towards the ball as you’re about to hit it gives it enough energy to fly over the net and reach your partner after one bounce.

Hitting the ball at the right time and at the right contact point is the key to consistency and correct tennis technique. Focusing first on this element of the game rather than on the mechanics of the stroke will help every tennis beginner improve very quickly and be able to play without many mistakes.

In this first step, you don’t have to focus much on the follow-through technique; instead, you simply extend your arm forward, guiding the ball towards the other side.

This initial technical adjustment applies to the forehand, one-handed backhand and the two-handed backhand.

In all cases, they start playing from the contact point first and simply extend straight forward and upwards, giving the ball some direction and height.

2. Playing from the Contact Point and Adding a Follow-through

forehand-follow-throughAs you become more comfortable and consistent playing from the contact point and extending forward, we can add the basic follow-through technique.

On the forehand and two-handed backhand groundstrokes, the follow-through is the same: we finish with the racquet over the shoulder. It should touch the shoulder with the edge and point its butt cap towards the net.

In case of a one-handed backhand, the body has to stay sideways with the arm fully extended and the racquet in a vertical position with its butt cap pointing to the ground.

You should now keep playing mini tennis, still preparing your strokes by placing the racquet just behind the contact point and now adding the follow-through technique on each stroke so that you start ingraining this movement into your subconscious.

These two steps are very important for the first few lessons that a tennis beginner takes as   they focus on the most important and actually one of the most challenging parts of tennis,   which is meeting the ball at an ideal distance from the body. This is the most efficient and comfortable way to play tennis.

Only when the player becomes more consistent playing mini tennis with this modified stroke technique do we move to the next progression in developing basic groundstroke technique.

3. Adding the Split Step

beginner-splitA split step is the basic type of footwork that needs to be present on every shot you’re receiving.

It’s a quick hop where you jump slightly off the ground and split your feet wide in the air and land in this same position, namely with your feet well apart. That helps you push off in any direction very quickly.

The key for the split step is proper timing and that means that you must land into the split step exactly when you realize where the ball is going. If you time it correctly, you’ll also feel that you can move explosively towards the ball.

4. Increasing the Distance of Play and Adding Stroke Preparation

Before increasing the distance to the full court, a tennis beginner should play for a while at about ¾ distance from the net, meaning that they move just inside the baseline and aim their shots at their opponent’s service line area.

This still keeps the speed of the ball low and gives them enough time to judge the ball well and move to it without being rushed. At this stage, we add another technical element for each stroke, and that’s the preparation.

The Forehand

The player should use their non-dominant hand and keep it on the throat of the racquet as they make their so-called unit turn. “Unit turn” means that the whole body including the arms moves as one unit.

We simply turn to the side while keeping our head facing forward, and we extend both arms to the side. From there, we release the non-dominant hand, let the racquet drop behind the body and   then pull it forward through the already familiar positions which are the contact point and the follow-through.

The Two-handed Backhand

backhand-preparationWe prepare in a very similar manner as we do on the forehand since the stroke is essentially a forehand with the non-dominant hand. We turn the body to the side while keeping the head facing forward. While we’re turning, we also need to adjust the grip of the dominant hand, and we change it from the eastern forehand grip to the continental.

We also slide the non-dominant hand from the throat down to the handle while we’re changing the grip. This somewhat complex move has to be practiced for a while so that it becomes quick and eventually completely subconscious. From there, we again let the racquet drop and fall behind us. Then we pull it through the familiar contact point and follow-through stages that we already mastered.

The One-handed Backhand

We also execute the unit turn, but we of course keep the non-dominant hand on the throat of the racquet. We again let the racquet drop, and we release the non-dominant hand just before the racquet starts to accelerate towards the contact point and continue to the follow-through.

5. Playing from the Baseline

As you practice hitting from mid-court, you’ll soon become more used to the speed of the ball and the preparation which you added in the previous step.

The best way to add power to your strokes is to simply let your body find the most natural way of generating more power.

You will very naturally add a little bit more body turn and perhaps a little bit more backswing, and the ball will easily reach your partner after one bounce.

5 Tennis Tips for Beginners to Accelerate the Learning Curve

While the basic stroke technique is the foundation of learning to play tennis for a complete beginner, there are actually other skills that the play has to master in order to play tennis well.

The following 5 tips and drills for tennis beginners will help you quickly overcome the biggest obstacles in learning tennis from scratch and allow you to advance quickly to higher levels.

1. Learning to Judge the Ball

Ball judgment ability improves automatically through lots of playing, but we can accelerate the process with one simple drill.

Simply play the ball after two bounces instead of one. You’ll have to move further back, of course, but you and your partner should still aim to make the first bounce in the service box. This drill will help you see how far the ball actually goes after the first bounce, and that will help you memorize its trajectory.

Play a two-bounce drill for a few minutes and then go back to playing after only one bounce to see if your ball judgment ability has improved.

2. How to Play with “Feel” and Control

A big challenge for almost every tennis beginner is that they hit too hard. The moving ball may overwhelm them and, despite the proper stroke progressions mentioned above, they still swing too much at the ball.

A good way to prevent that and to learn to play tennis with feel is to have the beginner stand just next to the net and place the racquet on their partner’s side.

The partner then tosses the ball right into their racquet, and the beginner has to play into   their hands from that position. The net of course prevents them from backswing, yet they will realize quickly that, even without any backswing, they can generate enough force to make the ball reach their partner.

After a minute or so playing from this position, move back to the service line and see if you can implement this minimal backswing and still play the ball over the net.

3. How to Play More Relaxed

beginner-arcAnother reason why a tennis beginner cannot control the ball well is because they are too tight. Perhaps they still think a lot about the instructions and how to move their arms, or perhaps they are affected by the bouncing ball and simply become tense in the process of hitting it back to their partner.

A very simple but effective way of becoming more relaxed is through becoming aware of your tension. The goal is to rate your tension from 1 to 5, 5 being the most tense, 1 being the most relaxed.

So, as you play mini tennis, ¾ tennis or already on the baseline, remember to check with yourself how tense you are from 1 to 5. If you realize that you’re at 3 or more, simply ask yourself to play at level 2 for a while.

You’ll see that your body can become more relaxed, but you do have to ask it to do that.

4. How to Play the Ball in an Arc

Tennis beginners often times think that a good shot is the one that goes over very close to the top of the net. That’s of course not true as that sort of play is very risky.

The best way to be constantly reminded that you should play in an arc is to use an obstacle at the net. You can place your tennis bag vertically on the bench or put a tennis racquet into the ball basket or even buy a more professional tool like a special rope that you can stretch over the net.

All these obstacles will constantly remind you to play in an arc and help you ingrain this idea into your subconscious.

5. How to Reach the Ball in Time

Beginners often times reach the ball late and therefore feel rushed and hit a poor shot. A good way to learn to get to the ball early is to exaggerate the situation at first.

You can do that by running to the side first, stopping and waiting for your partner to feed you the ball there. This helps you become aware of that space of time between your movement and your stroke. And once you’re aware of that short period of time, you can now look for it.

Eventually your partner feeds the ball to the side first and then you start moving towards it, but now you’re aware that you not only want to reach the ball but you also want to reach the ball with some extra time between your movement and your stroke.


The 5 step-by-step specific instructions for tennis beginners and the extra 5 tips for overcoming the biggest challenges beginners face will accelerate your learning process and help you play and enjoy tennis in a very short amount of time.

Following these lessons for beginners will also put you on the right track for learning more advanced tennis skills like adding topspin or slice to your strokes and learning different footwork patterns that will quickly move you from a beginner to an intermediate tennis player and beyond.

What are you biggest challenges in getting started as a tennis beginner? Tell me in the comments below!


  1. ulises funes

    exist any grip that help to a person that he have problems with artritis in his hands.
    i need some help.

    1. Tomaz Mencinger

      Hi Ulises,

      I recommend that you experiment since I can’t say at which wrist position or movement you feel pain. Keep changing your grip by one or two milimeters and see how it feels.

      Note that at first you won’t hit consistent balls as you must get used to it but your first task is to find a grip that doesn’t cause you pain. Once you find it, follow the progressions mentioned above, especially playing from the contact point onwards so that you get the feel for the racquet head orientation with a new grip.

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