Does watching Serena Williams on the tennis court inspire you to pick up a new sport? Lucky for you, tennis is a sport that you can enjoy your entire life. So whether you are five years or sixty-five years old, you can pick it up.
In fact, some people don’t even start playing until after they retire. How many other sports can you say that about? Try taking up ice hockey when you’re sixty-five!
If you’ve never played tennis before and want to give it a try, here is everything you need to know to get started.
Tennis doesn't require a ton of equipment. But, like any hobby, the more you get into it, the more you can justify upgrading your equipment.
Here is the basic equipment you need to play tennis:
- A racket.
- Tennis balls. They usually come in packs of three, which is plenty for your first time.
- Sneakers. No need for special shoes, gym shoes will do just fine. But try to avoid black soles as they will leave marks on the court.
- Water. This is always smart to have no matter what sport you are playing.
- A partner.
- A court to play.
Finding a Racket
This isn’t handball. You need a racket; you can’t play tennis without it.
If you're just trying out tennis, don't waste a bunch of money on a racket you might not ever use.
Try borrowing one from a friend or family member first. Or, check out a local thrift store or look for something cheap and used (under $50) on eBay.
If all else fails, you can buy a new one from your local sporting goods store or on Amazon, but we suggest you wait until you have a few practice rounds under your belt. Don't forget to check out speciality shops as well, many tennis stores will let you borrow a racket for a small rental fee.
We know it’s tempting to splurge on an expensive racket. They are available in so many pretty colors and materials; besides, the more it costs, the better you will play.
Wrong! Just because your racket is the same one Roger Federer uses does not mean you are going to play like him.
Tennis rackets are very personal, and the correct one for you is based on many things, including your playing style.
Because they are very expensive, and you don’t have a playing style yet, you should stick with a cheap racket for now and then upgrade in a few months. It’s something fun you can look forward to down the road.
Holding a Tennis Racket
We can provide you with a few tips on how to hold your racket. These 4 tips can be applied to any racket, no matter its age, size or price:
- Eastern Grip - This is probably the most popular grip for beginners. Think of this as shaking hands with the racket grip. It is easy to hit the ball fast and feels the most natural.
- Semi-Western Grip - For this grip, you move your hand slightly to the right or under the grip for more control and topspin.
- Western Grip - Not as popular, and not for beginners, but this is where your hand is almost entirely under the grip and gives you the most topspin.
- Continental Grip - This grip is also known as the serving grip and great for volleying over the net. Remember this grip once you’ve nailed that backspin on the ball.
Recruiting a Partner
You would feel pretty silly standing at one end of a court and hitting balls that never come back to you.
So find yourself a partner.
Try to convince a friend to take this journey with you even if it means you have to agree to treat them to an ice cream cone every now and then to keep them around. It will be well worth it in the end.
Plus, playing with a friend will help you improve your game, and you can learn from each other’s mistakes. If a friend is not around, most rec centers have a ball machine and you can at least practice your stroke.
Learning to Play
You have your racket and a bestie to play with, now you need to learn how to play. But how do you do this without busting your wallet on private lessons?
Sign up for local community group tennis lessons. Many Town Parks and Community Recreation Centers will run group lessons for beginners. Do a google search; you can usually find these schedules online.
These programs offer so much more than just a way to learn the technical skills of tennis. They are a mingling spot for like-minded individuals with the same lack of skills as you who have come together to learn to play.
Be on the lookout for good players to add to your roster of practice partners. And who knows, maybe you’ll even gain a few friends in the process.
They will go over this in a lesson, but there are three main strokes you will use on the court:
- Volley - This is a close shot, most likely when the ball is in the air or hit off a bounce. You use the continental grip for the volley stroke.
- Groundstoke - A groundstroke is going to be a long-range shot when hitting the ball by the baseline(we will cover what that means later). This stroke can be done with a forehand, or a backhand hit.
- The Serve - The serve stroke is the one you will want to work on the most. This is how you start every game and is the one stroke you have complete control over. This requires a lot of hand-eye coordination. For a serve you are throwing the ball up in the air and then hitting it over the net, unlike the other reactionary strokes.
Locating a Court
Most parks and almost all middle schools and high schools have courts that can be used free of charge.
If it’s rainy or you live in a cold climate, you can look for indoor courts, but these are going to cost you. Many indoor facilities require you to become a member to use their courts and charge anywhere from $40-$60 per hour for court time. Look around; if you’re lucky, you can find an indoor facility that will let you use the courts without becoming a member.
If you think you will use the courts a lot and don’t mind the cost, go ahead and become a member. Many facilities have great perks that you can take advantage of as a member.
Practicing and Improving
Once you have learned the basics, you need to practice. This is where your friends come in. The more you practice, the better you get.
When you’ve exhausted all your friends, but still want to play, hit against a wall. Consistency and repetition are two keys to improving your tennis stroke. So, while it looks boring, hitting the ball on a wall is very beneficial to your development and can be quite fun.
It doesn’t have to be a fancy wall at a park; any stable wall will do. Just, don’t go banging on your neighbor’s garage door, they probably won’t appreciate that.
Now is the time to invest in a good quality lesson or two. Most private tennis instructors work out of tennis clubs or community facilities where you rent courts. The most practical option is to get into a drill with 4 people. It is less expensive and more fun than a private lesson, and will help you get the playing experience you need. You’ll be surprised how quickly you will improve in this format.
Now that you are developing as a player and understand the basics let’s return to that racket conversation from earlier in the article. The pro that you have been taking lessons with will be able to give you some pointers on racket weight, balance and material. Your instructor can help you match a racket to your playing style. Demoing a racket is always a good idea. Play with a few different rackets until you find the one that is the perfect match for you.
Basic Tennis FAQs
Now that you have a racket, a partner and a place to play, it is time to learn about the rules. The scoring in tennis is unique and can seem confusing in the beginning. Here is a breakdown of some basic tennis terminology and rules:
How big is a tennis court?
A tennis court is 78 ft long and 38 ft wide.
How High is the Net?
The net is 3.5 feet tall.
What are all the Lines For?
The lines mean many different things, here is a quick rundown:
- Baseline - These are at both ends of the court and are the boundaries as well as the serving line.
- Center Mark - This is a small line in the middle of both baselines that shows the center of the court. They help you know exactly where to stand when you are serving.
- Center Line - This divide the two boxes which you use when serving
- Service Line - This is the line that divides the front and the back of the court
- Singles Sideline - The inner line of the two boundary lines that runs perpendicular to the net
- Doubles Sideline - The outer line of the boundary lines that runs perpendicular to the net and is only used in doubles matches
How does scoring work?
Ever wonder what that "game, set, match" saying means? Well, it comes from tennis.
A tennis "match" is comprised of 3 "sets." To win a set, you must win at least six "games."
Now, things get a little complicated. When you have zero points in a game, it is called "love." The first point is "15," the second is "30," the third is "40," and then the final point is "game point." You must win by two points to win the game.
How do you ‘Win’ a Point?
A point is won when a player of the opposite team misses the ball. This can also happen if the opposing team hits the ball out of the court, into the nets or if the ball hits them. A point is also scored if the same player hits the ball more than once.
How Does the Game Start?
First, you need to decide who is going to serve first - this is generally done with a coin toss, but since you are just starting out, you can decide with your partner. To put the ball into play, you must "serve" the ball. The server must stand behind the baseline (back edge of the court) and serve into the square on the other side of the court, diagnolly.
What is a Foot Fault?
A foot fault is when the person serving steps in front of the baseline when serving or steps across the centerline. This results in the player losing their turn to serve.
What is a Let?
A let happens when you serve the ball, and it hits the net before falling into the correct box to make it a proper serve. You can do as many lets as you want, but only if the ball lands in the service box it was intended to after hitting the net.
What is a Deuce?
A Deuce is when the game is tied 40 to 40. For the player or team to win the game, they must win by two consecutive points.
Do you Switch Sides?
Yes, players switch sides if they are playing a set or a match on the odd number games.
These are all things to strive for as you improve each day.
If you’re not a competitive person, that’s OK too. Put together a regular Sunday morning doubles game or join a league at your favorite tennis club and go out for brunch after.
Grab your friend and get out there. It’s never too late to start and who knows, maybe tennis will become a lifelong hobby.