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. Allison

    Thank you so much for the advise. I’m joining tennis this year and I have no idea how to play so I’m taking notes on this website and I think I’m doing great so far.

  2. Stan Adamski

    Has bad habis from playing softball. she holds bat down toward ground, & not up. Doesn’t follow thru. Turns whole body toward net as if to bunt the ball. She has very little confidence.

  3. Joan Grennan

    I believe rightly or wrongly that the fundamental thing in tennis is lowering the body to ‘get down’ for the ball . everyone naturally thinks of tennis as swinging a racket . Would it not make sense to start coaching from the ground up as this will alert beginners from the word ‘go’ . If they get into the habit of swinging without bending it will be very hard to undo the shortcoming . I watch people who have played for years without using the legs correctly .

  4. Victor

    Hi Tomaz. If I use a Windshield Wiper Forehand. Do I have to accelerate a racket or better do a heavy high topspin?

  5. Nilofar Chowdhury


    Hi Tomaz. My son has been learning to play tennis for quite a while now. He has not mastered his service yet. The instructor teaches him to serve at the end of his allotted game time when he is very tired. I requested him to make my son practice his service towards the beginning when he is not tired but he says that service should only be taught at the end. Is this correct?

  6. Rhonda

    Hi Tomaz. My husband and I recently started playing tennis and we’re playing against each other for now. He’s 6′ and I’m under 5′. Any tips for how a short person should play?

  7. Kees Sengers

    I hold my tennis racket to tight all the time. It even becomes hot. And now my pulse starts to hurt a litttle.
    I see Roger Federer almost Always flipping his racket around with his dominant hand. Should I be doing that too ?

    1. Tomaz Mencinger

      Hi Kees,

      Rate your current grip tightness from 1-5 and then try to grip your racket for a while with 0.5
      less tightness and see if you can play like that.

      Then as you get comfortable with that grip tightness do down another notch in tightness and
      play until you’re comfortable again.

      Roger flips his racket unconsciously, I don’t think this is something you should consciously copy.

  8. Tom

    Hi! I haven’t played tennis in over 20 years. Back in the 70’s, my tennis coach was Rod Laver! I was on the tennis team at Palmetto Dunes, Hilton Head Island. As a matter of fact, Rod gave me my first beer! (Was a Fosters btw.) So not having played in a long time, I searched for “tips for beginners” and your site appeared. I really enjoyed your post. I especially like when you said “…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…All these obstacles will constantly remind you to play in an arc and help you ingrain this idea into your subconscious.” This was a light bulb moment for me by asking myself to do something…asking my mind, spirit and body to implement something and then ingrain it into my subconscious was similar to the Law of Attraction. Now I “ask myself something” often and not just pertaining to Tennis. Thank You Tomaz! #MatchPoint

  9. Donald e. Albrecht

    Hi Tomaz,
    Which forehand grip should be used by a beginning 55 plus female beginner, and is it not important to establish a comfortable grip from the start?
    Also, would tossing balls to this beginner not serve a useful purpose for timing, bounce , and footwork?
    I have a million questions but will be happy for now with the few asked.
    Thank you, Don

    1. Tomaz Mencinger

      Hi Donald,

      I would suggest an eastern forehand grip for a beginner and it can also shift a bit towards the semi-western.

      You can toss the balls to the beginner if they really have trouble just hitting the ball. Otherwise I suggest playing a lot of mini tennis and using softer balls.

  10. Mohammad Hasaan Bin Zafar

    Hey Tomaz
    Can you suggest how can suggest any good books or any online courses that I can opt for if I have to learn tennis? I have developed an interest in the game but unfortunately this game is obsolete in my country. What do you suggest how do I start?
    Thank you for your time!

    1. Tomaz Mencinger

      Hi Mohammad,

      Well, you can go straight ahead and get my Tennis for Beginners course that is sold right here on this site or search for it online.

      That should get your on the right track when it comes to stroke technique.

  11. JB

    Hello Tomaz,

    I switched from racquetball to tennis about 2 years ago, after playing racquetball for over 20 years and having a national ranking. Recently, reached out to a tennis Pro to work with me, the tennis Pro told me I had too many bad habits, and that I swing like I’m hitting at a wall. My initial reaction was seriously; so, thought perhaps I should find a different Pro. For me developing solid fundamentals and good ground strokes should be my focus, and should be achievable.

    What best advice can you give me?

    Thank You!

    1. Tomaz

      Well he might be right he is telling you that your swinging it around your body and it won’t g as high so pretend there’s a wall next to you and you do not want to hit it

  12. Yury Bettoni

    Learn, practice, learn & more practice!
    Keeping patience is the main challenge for the beginners. This steps are extremely perfect for the newbies. You shouldn’t start from any professional level tennis if you’re a beginner at all. In that case you may lose hope early. A good basement can be effective for you in future to be a best tennis player. I recommend this guide.
    Thanks Tom. This post was really very well!

  13. Elsa Anderson

    My daughter and I decided to start taking tennis lessons so that we can spend more time together. Neither of us have played before, so your tip about playing from the baseline will definitely help us as we play each other. I’m excited to start playing and I think this will also be a great way to exercise for both of us. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips!

  14. Ann

    I have played quite a lot of tennis as I am 74 and I started when I was 11 and got to club ladies second tennis team standard. I stopped playing about 10 years ago because of arthritis but with good medication now I want to start again. i signed up for some group tennis coaching at our local university tennis centre and they suggested I go to the beginners course. I don’t mind being with beginners but after 2 sessions I am getting very put off as the coach has changed my forehand and backhand grips and I can hardly get a ball over the net. i think we are doing mini tennis with softer balls and standing near the net but with a full swing. Even the swing is different apparently. Do you think I can teach my muscles to change after all these years?

  15. Tomaz Mencinger

    Hi Laura,

    Sure, you can learn tennis just fine. You need to follow the correct progressions and make sure you play at least twice a week because that’s how your ball judgment and timing skills will improve. We can’t teach those in English ;), they simply develop through lots of playing.

    1. George

      Hi Tomaz,

      Should I learn to serve first or hit groundstrokes? And when should I learn to play up at the net?

      1. Tomaz

        Hi George,

        Learn the groundstrokes first so you can play and practice. Serve and volleys come second.

  16. Laura

    Hi Tomaz
    I’ve never had the chance tho get proper lessons but managed to learn lots through reading and watching. My kids take lessons and I often hit with them, really badly. Can a slim, 43 year old lady really learn and manage to play or would it be too late for me? And what would you recommend I do? Regards

  17. 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.

    1. Bana

      Hey Tom,

      I have taken tennis lesson from different instructors whom some are in a favor of the open stence and some the closed stance. Which one do you recommend? I know there are pros and cons to both but which technique is most effective and used today?

      1. Tomaz

        Hi Bana,

        Open stance gives us more power and more time to hit the ball since we don’t step into the ball. Closed stance takes us one step closer to the ball and therefore cuts off some of the time.

        The open stance is less accurate though since we rotate the body more through the shot. So we get more power but less accuracy.

        Closed stance is more accurate since we swing more forwards and we use it for approach shots or for down the line shots and so on.

        Keep in mind though that as you play the game you should have no thoughts about which stance to use.

        We learn and practice stances and footwork patterns in training sessions in isolation, meaning someone feeds us balls or we do shadow strokes and we commit the movements to our subconscious.

        When we play it’s our subconscious brain that “chooses” the right stance for the situation. We simply move and play the game tactically…

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