In tennis, there are a wide variety of tennis shots that can be used to keep the ball in play. Whether you want to play competitively or just for fun, gaining a full understanding of the different types of tennis shots can be helpful and informative.
It can also provide you a framework for understanding which strokes and tennis shots you might want to work on. This way when you step out on the court with a friend or tennis instructor you can get the most out of your time.
The first type of tennis shot, and perhaps most commonly associated with tennis, is the groundstroke. Groundstrokes are typically hit standing a few feet from the baseline and are either hit as a forehand or a backhand.
Topspin Forehand and Backhands
The forehand and backhand are typically the very first strokes that a player will be taught. A forehand is hit with your dominant hand and arm (right if you’re right-handed and left if you’re left-handed), while a backhand is hit either with two hands for a two-handed backhand or with one hand (still your dominant hand), for a one-handed backhand.
Forehands are hit with one of three tennis grips: eastern, semi-western or western. Each grip has its advantages and disadvantages, however, these days the semi-western forehand grip is the most common.
A double handed backhand is commonly held with the dominant hand holding a continental grip and then placing your other hand above your dominant hand on the handle. While a one-handed backhand is usually held with a reverse eastern grip.
A typical forehand and backhand are hit with topspin, where the player brushes up and over the top of a tennis ball to generate spin. Doing so allows players to hit the ball more aggressively while ensuring that the ball drops back into the court.
In a normal rally, a player might hit a few different variations of their forehand and backhand, such as down the middle of the court, crosscourt or down the line.
Flat Forehand and Backhand
A flat forehand or backhand is one in which the player simply does not apply a significant amount of topspin to their shot.
Players with an eastern forehand grip can usually hit this shot more effectively since the angle of their racquet is less conducive to spin, while players with a semi-western or western grip can have a difficult time “flattening out” the ball because the angle of the tennis racquet is more geared towards generating topspin.
On the backhand side, most players usually won’t have much trouble flattening out the ball when hitting using a one or two-handed backhand.
A flat forehand or backhand is usually hit when a player does not want to give their opponent as much time to react. With a topspin groundstroke, the ball hits the court and bounces up and towards your opponent, typically giving them more time to react. However, flat shots with little topspin won’t bounce high, rather they’ll almost skid across the court.
A flat groundstroke is usually more challenging to hit while keeping the shot within boundaries of the tennis court since there isn’t much topspin being applied. As a result, most players will hit flat groundstrokes sparingly.
Slice Forehand & Backhand
A slice forehand or backhand is essentially the opposite of a topspin shot. Rather than brushing up and over the tennis ball, a slice shot is hit by brushing underneath the tennis ball and creating backspin.
Both the forehand and backhand slice are hit with one hand, usually with a continental grip or a slight variation of this grip bordering on an eastern grip.
The slice shot can be highly effective to quickly change the pace of a rally in an effort to throw your opponent off and is often hit as a defensive shot when the player has little time to react, or when a player is on the run.
Inside Out Forehand
An inside forehand is a popular tennis shot that occurs when a player runs around their backhand and hits a forehand cross-court. Typically, this shot is hit by a player with a strong forehand to take control of the point or by players who have a weaker backhand and would prefer to hit a forehand.
Inside In Forehand
Similar to an inside out forehand, a player hits an inside in forehand when they run around their backhand. However, instead of hitting the forehand cross-court as you would with an inside out forehand, you hit the forehand down the line.
In tennis, a volley is a tennis shot that is hit by the player before the ball bounces or hits the court while approaching the net or while at the net. The main purpose of coming to the net and volleying is to take control of the point and allow yourself to hit at more of an angle, thus closing out the point.
Forehand & Backhand Volleys
Similar to forehand groundstrokes, forehand volleys are hit with your dominant hand to the right side of your body if you’re right-handed, and to the left side of your body if you’re left-handed.
While backhand volleys are hit with your dominant hand on the left side of your body if you’re right-handed, and the right side of your body if you’re left-handed.
With volleys, you will hold a continental grip, which results in a rather neutral racquet face to easily deflect balls back to your opponent. This type of grip helps ensure the ball can make it over the top of the net, while not sending it too long and out of bounds.
In some cases, youth and beginner tennis players will be encouraged to hit their backhand volley with two hands for better support.
A half volley can be hit as both a forehand and a backhand and it’s usually hit in similar situations that a volley would be hit, either as you approach the net or while you’re at the net.
In essence, a half volley is a shot where you can’t get to the ball to hit a volley before it bounces and you don’t have enough time to hit a full groundstroke. As a result, you let the bounce and then quickly block, or deflect, the ball back to the other side of the court.
In most cases, it is preferable to hit a volley while the ball is in the air or a groundstroke after the ball bounces. However, there are invariably times when you can’t quite get to the volley and don’t have time to set yourself for a groundstroke, which makes the half volley a fantastic option.
Half volleys can be hit as a forehand or backhand using a continental grip.
The serve is the shot that starts each and every point. A serve is hit from either the deuce court, standing to the right side of the center mark when facing the net at the baseline or the ad court, standing to the left side of the center mark.
In either case, a player has two opportunities, the first and second serve, to successful hit the ball over the net and into the service box on the opposite side of the court.
Serves are hit using a continental grip, which allows players to hit a variety of different types, including flat, kick and slice serves.
A flat serve is one that is hit with very little, if any, spin. The biggest advantage of a flat serve is the ability to hit the ball with a lot of pace or speed, which gives your opponent very little time to react.
Due to the fact that very little spin is applied to the ball, flat serves are harder to hit into the service box successfully. As a result, this is typically a shot that is only hit on a player’s first serve to ensure they can hit a high percentage serve, such as a kick serve, on the second serve.
A kick serve is one where you generate a significant amount of topspin by hitting up on the ball and snapping their wrist when making contact, which ensures the ball travels high over the net and subsequently drops into the service box due to the topspin.
The kick serve is a great option because, through continuous practice, most players can learn to hit this shot in the court almost every time. In addition to consistency, the kick serve is also a weapon for many players who can generate enough spin on the ball, causing the ball to “kick” off the ground when it lands in the service box.
An effective kick serve sends the ball bouncing at a height that is well above the height that is ideal for a forehand or backhand. Most players will typically want to return the ball when it bounces right at about waist high, so anything above this height starts to become more challenging to hit.
As a result, your opponent is either forced to step forward and return the ball quickly off the bounce or to step back to give themselves enough time to hit a return at a more appropriate height.
Due to the nature of the kick serve, it affords players with a rather high margin for error and is, therefore, a very common shot used by players on their second serve to ensure they get the ball in play to start the point.
A slice serve is a serve where the outer edge, the right side of the ball for right-handed players, and the left side of the ball for left-handed players, is struck to produce a side spin that skids when it hits the court and bounces in the direction of the spin.
The slice serve can be an extremely effective serve, which is usually hit out wide or into the body of a player. When hit out wide in the deuce court the player is forced off to the side of the court, thus opening up the court for a putaway shot.
When hit into the player’s body, a slice serve can make it extremely difficult to hit either a forehand or a backhand return, which can “freeze” a player who is either guessing which side you were going to hit it to or couldn’t prepare quickly enough.
Return of Serve
A return is the tennis shot that is hit off of your opponents serve. As a result, the return is hit standing on the deuce (right) side of the court, or ad (left) side of the court when facing the net.
The return can come in different forms, however, it typically involves hitting a forehand or backhand off of your opponents serve. As a result, this presents a unique set of challenges in that the ball is traveling quickly, often leaving you with little time to react. In addition, it’s not always super easy to read the type of serve being hit or the direction in which your opponent is going to hit.
With the return of serve, preparation is key, and in many cases, the goal is simply to keep the ball in play or neutralize the point, without setting your opponent up for an easy put away shot.
In tennis, there are quite a few specialty shots, which are hit in specific situations when the previously mentioned shots are not ideal or may be hard to execute.
As the name implies, the approach shot is hit as you move towards or approach the net. As a result, this shot allows players to transition from the baseline to the net.
Approach shots can be hit as either a forehand or backhand, and they’ll usually occur when the opposing player hits the ball short in the court, allowing you to step in and move forward and into the ball.
The approach shot can be effective as it puts pressure on your opponent, and if executed effectively, gives you the opportunity to take control of the point and close it out while at the net.
The passing shot is one that is hit when your opponent is at the net and you attempt to hit it past them without them touching the ball.
Passing shots tend to put quite a bit of pressure on you to make a great shot, which can force many players to go for too much. However, executed well and you’ll put just as much pressure on your opponent while having the opportunity to leave your player demoralized at the net.
The lob can often be hit in a few different scenarios. First, as a player approaches the net there is a tendency for them to over close, which simply means they’ve moved too close to the net. To a certain extent getting closer to the net allows players to cut off the angles their opponent can hit, which usually makes it more difficult for you to pass them.
However, by over closing your opponent presents you with the opportunity to lob them. A lob is simply a forehand or backhand that is hit well over the top of your opponents head so that it lands deep in the court towards the baseline.
In this case, if you have enough preparation many players will opt to hit the lob with some amount of topspin with your typical forehand or backhand grip. Otherwise, the continental grip is often used to send the ball up over their opponents head.
Lobs can be a great shot to hit in defensive scenarios. For example, if your opponent forces you off to the side of the court and you have to chase down the ball then the lob can be a great shot to keep the ball in play.
Your opponent is likely to close the net in this situation, so a high lob can buy you some time to move back into position on the court and also force your opponent to hit at least one more shot to close out the point.
Similarly, if your opponent is at the net and they hit an aggressive shot towards you it can often be difficult to react quickly, so the lob can be a great way to quickly block the ball back and keep the ball in play, which also allows you to prepare for the next shot they hit.
The overhead is a shot in tennis that will typically be hit off of a lob. If you are moving towards the net and putting pressure on your opponent you will often find that they’ll hit a lob.
Since the lob is is typically difficult to execute, you’ll find that many of them end up right over your head when you’re at the net.
In this case, you’ll have the opportunity to hit an overhead, which is essentially a slightly modified version of your serve while you’re on the move at the net.
Just like a serve, overheads are hit using the continental grip.
The drop shot is a more advanced shot that is hit when your opponent is at the baseline. Drop shots are difficult to hit because they often require the element of surprise and superior control over the ball, often referred to as “touch.”
One likely scenario for a drop shot is if you’re in a rally with your opponent and you find them a little off balance after hitting one of their shots.
If you recognize this you may opt to very carefully slice the ball back over the net with as little power as possible to ensure it just clears the net, and lands only a few feet from the net, so that your opponent doesn’t have time to sprint forward and put the ball back in play.
Chip and Charge
The chip and charge is a specialty return of serve where you step into the court when returning the ball. Using a continental grip you slice, or chip, the ball back to the opposite side of the court, while you simultaneously move towards the net to set yourself up for a volley.
If executed well the chip and charge can be a great shot to quickly put pressure on your opponent right after they serve and position yourself to take control of the point at the net.
However, if executed poorly, the chip and charge can also set your opponent up for an easy passing shot.
A putaway shot isn’t a particular technical form of a shot, rather an expression referred to when you’re at or moving towards the net and you have the opportunity to send the ball past your opponent or out of their reach.
If you hit a great approach shot, pushing your opponent off to the side of the court, and they hit a groundstroke right back at you then you’ll want to “put away” the volley into the open court so that they don’t have the opportunity to hit yet another shot.
A winner is another expression used to describe any shot that you hit successfully into the opposite side of the court that your opponent can’t get to.
A successful passing shot is a winner, an overhead that your opponent can’t get to is a winner and a forehand hit cross court or down the line that your opponent can’t quite reach are also forms of winners.
A tweener is another tennis shot, which I’ve saved for last since it’s one of those shots that is hit very infrequently and is usually hit for entertainment, rather than being a highly effective shot.
Typically a tweener is typically considered any shot hit in between the legs. However, in my opinion, a true tweener is hit off of a tough lob.
In this situation, the player is forced to run the ball down while facing away from the net. In order to hit a tweener, the player will let the ball bounce in front of themselves. Then, as the ball drops back towards the court they step perfectly in front of the ball so that it drops to a height just about at or below the height of their knees so they can send it flying through their legs and back over the other side of the court.
If it sounds hard, it is, and few players can do it well under pressure, however, there have been some amazing tweeners hit by professionals during competition.
Have any questions about the different shots in tennis? Feel free to let us know in the comments below. We’d love to help!
Photo Credit: Ludmilla
Serve EssentialsA step-by-step course to develop and improve your serve
- Part 1: Technique
A step-by-step guide to building your serve from the ground up.
- Part 2: Fundamentals
Learn the core principles that are common among all great servers.
- Part 3: Drills
Practice essential drills to help bring your serve to life with ease.