How to Swing a Tennis Racket for Beginners
It may seem simple, but there’s a lot that goes into a proper tennis swing. Learn how to perfect your forehand and backhand and swing with precision every time.
In most sports, taking it back to the basics is key to laying a solid foundation. From eager beginners to accomplished pros, the mechanics of a swing are vital to success on the tennis court. Racket sports like tennis are all about minute details that affect the power of the swing, the spin of the ball, and the placement on the court — and the game-winning point almost always comes down to if you have the magic combination to make the perfect shot.
How to Swing a Tennis Racket: Start with the Basics
We asked professional tennis player Katrina Scott and her coach David Kass to break down the basic technique of achieving a smooth forehand and backhand swing. At just 17 years old, Scott is already a force in the professional leagues. When 2020 put tournaments on pause, she took the time to redevelop her swing and finetune the basics with the help of Kass, founder and head coach of Kass Tennis Academy in Columbus, Ohio. “The basics are everything,” said Scott. “They’re the structure of your game, and then you build from there.” Scott and Kass recommend getting your strokes down from day one because it affects everything in your game. Said Scott, “it’s the little things in tennis that make the biggest difference.”
Breaking Down a Proper Tennis Swing
Bevels, numbers, knuckles…what are we talking about?
When teaching grips, Kass refers to the bevels on the racket handle. Looking at the butt of the racket with the strings perpendicular to the ground, you’ll see it’s shaped like an octagon with eight flat sides. If you’re right-handed, the numbers go around clockwise, while left-handed folks will refer to numbers counter-clockwise, but number 1 always starts on top.
Looking at your palm, the base knuckle of your pointer finger is what you’ll place on a bevel to determine your grip. To get an idea of how to grip your racket, Kass recommends placing your racket on the ground and picking it up as you would naturally. Likely your pointer finger knuckle is on the 3rd or 4th bevel, which are the two main grips to use in forehand swings.
- Eastern Grip: Knuckle is on the 3rd bevel. This is a beginner-friendly grip that is easy to find and allows the racket face to point straight forward toward the net.
- Semi-Western Grip: Knuckle is on the 4th bevel. This is a popular grip among professional players like Katrina Scott and adds more spin to the ball.
- Continental and Western Grips: These are less common in modern tennis and are not recommended for beginner players’ forehand.
Two-handed Backhand Grip
- Right-hand knuckle shifts to 2nd bevel for a Continental grip.
- Left hand grabs handle above right hand like you’re shaking hands with the racket, with your knuckle on the 7th bevel. It will feel like an Eastern grip but with your left hand.
- This is the athletic position where you should begin and end each swing, whether it’s a forehand, a backhand, or a volley. It’s the in-between as you’re waiting for your opponent to hit the ball across the net, and it provides a solid foundation to move quickly around the court. In this athletic ready stance, you should be:
- On the balls of your feet, stance wider than your shoulders.
- Knees bent, ready to spring
- Hold the racket out in front with your elbows in front of your body.
- Your grip should be in a forehand position with your left hand supporting the racket at the throat.
1. Turn and prep
From your ready stance, your weight shifts in the direction the ball is headed, and your hips, torso and arms all turn as one unit, taking the racket with it. This helps wind up your kinetic energy, and when you swing your body will help create force and add power. As you bring your racket back, your non-dominant hand comes off the throat of the racket but stays out in front to add balance.
2. Contact point
The contact point is where the ball makes contact with the sweet spot on your strings. Your arm should be comfortably bent in front of you, with the strings parallel with the net. When you swing, the power comes from your shoulder and torso turning toward the net, not all from your arm.
3. Follow through
After you hit the ball, following through to bring the racket over your opposite shoulder is key to swinging with power and recovering safely. From the contact point, continue to push the racket forward toward the net as long as possible to create a straight shot, then bring it up and over your shoulder to finish. Your left heel will be up, stepping forward at the end to return to the ready position.
1. Grip switch
As you’re moving to the ball, your left hand will come down from the throat and into the handshake position. Use this to hold the racket while you shift your right-hand grip to the 2nd bevel. Practice Kass’s beginner tennis drills to get a hang of switching grips quickly.
2. Turn and prep
Similar to the forehand, your body will turn as a unit to bring the racket back, shifting your weight in the direction the ball is headed.
3. Contact point
As you swing forward, step your right foot in line with your left to create power and balance in your swing. Use your left hand and your torso to drive the racket forward through the ball.
4. Follow through
Continue to drive your racket through the ball toward the net, then follow through over your other shoulder, ending on balance and stepping through into your ready stance.
- Take it slow. Progress little by little to lay the foundation correctly. Start with shadow swings to get a hang of the correct tennis swing motion before introducing a ball.
- Relax. As you increase your swing speed or advance through drills, you might start to tense up and try to muscle through the ball. If this happens, go back to shadow swings to get relaxed again and remember the breakdown of the steps.
- Hit record. If something isn’t working, it can help to record yourself on video to watch your technique and make adjustments to your form, or work with a coach who can give you pointers in real-time.
- Jog your memory. This can be a lot to remember once you’re on the court, so be sure to download the PDF on your phone to take these pointers with you in a quick-glance format.
You hear it all the time, but Kass stresses again that practice makes perfect. “For a brand new player just starting tennis, I would recommend really being patient and understanding that it takes awhile to pick up the basics,” said Kass. “Once you get the basics, you can move quicker from there.” Take these steps and practice them over and over to get the hang of your swing, and soon you’ll be able to move on to drills that will help you ingrain your swing and level up your play.
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