An Expert Guide to the Different Tennis Shots

Published on 07/11/2023 · 7 min readMaster every shot on the court! Our expert guide explores the various tennis shots, from powerful serves to precise volleys. Level up your game!
Nicolas Carrero, Tennis Expert
By Tennis Expert Nicolas Carrero

Photo by ESB Professional

You’ve probably watched a tennis match before and thought “how do they do that?!” after a great point or shot. Tennis is one of the hardest sports in the world to master. It takes hundreds of hours to think you have perfected a shot. But nobody actually masters the game. Even the legends like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have weaknesses and miss shots. But how big is your tool box? Are you a one dimensional player, or do you possess a variety of tools to use? Is your technique holding you back? Today, let’s talk about the different shot styles you can hit during a tennis match.

Breaking Down Serves

Serving is the first type of shot that begins a game, match, or point. There are four different types of serves you can hit. Let’s break each one down:

Flat Serves

Diagram by Maquiladora

The flat serve is the most common type of serve. It is hit with a continental grip, otherwise known as the “hammer grip”, because it’s a similar grip to holding a hammer. It is a hard and powerful serve, and often the fastest possible type to hit. As indicated by the name, the ball comes at you flatly off the racket and off the bounce. It is the ideal first serve for most players because, when hit perfectly, it has a great chance to become an ace—or, an unreturnable serve.

Slice Serves

The second serve style is slice. A slice serve is hit with a sideways motion that causes the ball to have an exaggerated bounce with side spin—usually to the outside of the court. When hit right, it usually moves your opponents off the court and leaves you with an open court to hit a winner with.

Kick Serves

Diagram by Maquiladora

The kick serve is the hardest serve to master. That’s because they are usually hit with less power than the other two, but they have more control and a different ball bounce. Kick balls hit the ground and spin forward, making the returner move back or towards the side. When hit correctly, a kick serve causes the ball to bounce higher. Kick and slice serves are both popular second serves.

Underhand Serves

This serve is used much less frequently and is much more controversial. The underhand serve is different from the other styles because, as the name states, it is hit below the shoulder area. Each of the other serve styles are hit about your head, and take a good wind up to hit fully with power.

The underhand serve is a different type of slice motion. It happens quickly and can be disguised during the ball-bouncing routine that one does as they get ready to serve. It is a controversial serve because it is usually seen as bad sportsmanship, or showing up your opponent.

When hitting this serve, the ball usually lands short and with side spin. That makes the opponents have to run up and hit an awkward shot. This type of serve can be used once in a while to surprise your opponent, especially if they are standing way behind the baseline during returns. However, it is not recommended to practice often: after a while it is easy to take advantage of, and because you will upset your opponent.

Forehands

Diagram by Maquiladora

A forehand shot is the most-used tennis stroke in the game—and probably the first shot you learned when starting tennis. With this shot, you take your dominant hand and swing away. However, far from being a standard shot, there are many different types of forehands to hit.

  • Flat shot: Just like with serves, this is the fastest possible forehand you can hit. It usually bounces low and skids off the court, and is best for attacking and being aggressive during points. To hit a flat forehand, you’ll need to use a Western grip. This grip turns the racket head slightly sideways and down towards the court when getting ready for the shot.
  • Topspin: Arguably the most popular forehand style, topspin forehands come with a heavy spin that makes the ball drop faster and bounce higher—making it a tricky shot to return. This type of forehand requires either a Western or Eastern forehand grip. The grip is the opposite of the Western. With this grip, the racket head is also turned sideways during wind up, but faces more towards the sky than the court.
  • Slice: The slice forehand is hit with backspin, which causes the ball to bounce lower and change direction after hitting the ground. This shot can also be disguised into a drop shot, which is when you hit a short ball that your opponent can’t reach in time before the second bounce. To hit a slice, you usually need to use a continental grip.

Backhands

Diagram by Maquiladora

A backhand groundstroke is the shot you hit with your non-dominant side. What makes the backhand unique is that it can be hit in two ways: with two hands or with one—depending on what feels better for the player.

The first type of backhand we’ll discuss is the flat backhand. To hit a flat or slice backhand, you may use either a continental(slice) or eastern grip(flat), depending on how flat you want to hit it. Back in the early years of tennis people mostly only hit slice backhands. A slice backhand is when you hit the ball in a cutting motion, straight down–like you would while cutting a chunk of protein off while preparing a meal. It produces a reverse spin on the ball that causes the ball to bounce backwards when it lands. A flat backhand is when you hit through the ball and the ball travels in a straight line across the court.

Further, one of the most common backhand shots is the top-spin backhand. Using the Eastern grip, the topspin backhand gives the player more room for error—as the ball clears over the net higher than a flat or slice shot. If you use a one-handed backhand, the Western grip will be more useful than a Continental or Eastern because of its easier gripping capabilities.

Volleys

Backhand Volley. Diagram by Maquiladora

Now let’s take a look at the shot players use when they come to the net: a volley. This shot, which can either be a forehand or a backhand, is performed by a player before letting the ball bounce. It uses a continental forehand grip and is one of the more important skills in the game of tennis.

Volley strokes are more compact than a normal forehand or backhand from the back. There is less time to wind up and usually more power coming from your opponent's side. Both your windup and your follow through are very short, as there is no time to waste when you are that close to the net. And with this shot, you can put away the point quicker and be more aggressive moving forward.

There are several different shots you can hit from the net. A half volley is when you hit a ball right after it has bounced and is still very low. This is usually a defensive shot, as the ball is coming hard and low--forcing you to come up with a half volley.

Overheads are another shot popular at the net. An overhead smash is basically the same hitting motion as a serve. Whenever you come to the net and an opponent tries to lob you and leaves it short, you can hit an overhead shot to put the point away.

You can also hit a drop shot volley from either side, as you would from the baseline. This is when you leave the ball short for your opponent to try and run it down.

Chat With a Real Expert

Although there are many different shot and grip styles, the intention is the same—to win the point, the game, and the match. The beauty of tennis is that there are so many different options and styles one can play with. The court is a canvas, and the players are free to use their brush to paint accordingly. For beginners, that may be overwhelming; but for advanced players, it’s never enough!

If you feel like you’re left with questions about your own tennis game, consider reaching out to a Curated Tennis Expert, like me. Our knowledge team of Experts provides free, customized tennis advice and gear recommendations. So, if you’re looking for a new racquet, or simply want to learn more about the sport, get in touch with us today.

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Nicolas Carrero, Tennis Expert
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Nicolas Carrero
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