An Overview of The Different Types of Tennis Shots
Learning the Basics
In tennis, there is a wide variety of shots that you can use 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 improving. This way, when you step out on the court with a friend or tennis instructor, you can get the most out of your time.
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The first type of tennis shot, and perhaps the one most commonly associated with tennis, is the groundstroke. Groundstrokes are typically hit standing a few feet from the baseline as a forehand or backhand.
Topspin Forehand and Backhands
The forehand and backhand are usually the first strokes that a player will learn. You’ll hit a forehand 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.
Most players will use one of three forehand tennis grips: eastern, semi-western or western. Each grip has 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 your other hand above your dominant hand on the handle. A one-handed backhand is usually one held with a reverse eastern grip.
A typical forehand and backhand have 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.a
In a rally, players might hit a few variations of their forehand and backhand, i.e., 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 much 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. In contrast, 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 conducive to generating topspin.
On the backhand side, most players usually won’t have much trouble flattening out the ball when using a one- or two-handed backhand.
A player will hit a flat forehand or backhand when they don’t want to give their opponent as much time to react. With a topspin groundstroke, the ball hits the court and bounces up and toward your opponent, typically giving them more time to respond. However, flat shots with little topspin won’t bounce high – 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. As a result, most players 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.
Players hit the forehand and backhand slice with one hand, usually with a continental grip or a slight variation of this grip bordering on an eastern.
The slice shot can be highly effective to quickly change the pace of a rally to throw off your opponent. It’s often hit as a defensive shot when a player has little time to react, or when a player is on the run.
An inside-out 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.
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 shot that a player hits without letting the ball bounce on their side of the court. Typically, the player is at or approaching the net when they hit the ball.
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.
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 hold a continental grip, which results in a neutral racquet face designed to deflect balls back to your opponent easily. This type of grip helps ensure the ball can make it over the top of the net while not sending it too long.
In some cases, youth and beginner tennis players will be encouraged to hit their backhand volley with two hands for better support.
Players can hit a half volley as both a forehand or a backhand 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 ball bounce and then quickly block or deflect it 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 every point, which players 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 serves – to hit the ball 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 minimal, 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.
Because players apply little spin to the ball, flat serves are harder to hit into the service box. As a result, this is typically a shot that is hit only on a player’s first serve to ensure they can hit a more reliable serve, such as a kick serve, on the second serve.
To hit a kick serve, players generate a significant amount of topspin by hitting up on the ball and snapping their wrist when making contact. This action ensures the ball travels high over the net and drops into the service box due to the topspin.
The kick serve is an excellent option because, with 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 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.
The kick serve affords a high margin for error and is, therefore, a prevalent shot used by players on their second serve to ensure they get the ball in play.
Players hit a slice serve by striking the outer edge – the right side of the ball for right-handed players and the left side of the ball for left-handed players – 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 extremely effective, especially when hit out wide or into a player’s body. 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 guessing which side you were going to hit it to or couldn’t prepare quickly enough.
Return of Serve
A return is a player’s reply to their opponent’s serve. As a result, you’ll hit the return 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 opponent’s serve, which presents a unique set of challenges in that the ball is traveling quickly, often leaving you little time to react. Also, it’s not always easy to read the type of serve or the direction 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 up your opponent for an easy putaway 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, you’ll hit an approach shot as you move toward the net, which makes it perfect from transitioning from the baseline.
Approach shots can be hit as 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. If executed effectively, it allows you to take control of the point and close it out while at the net.
The passing shot is one that players hit when their opponent is at the net, and they attempt to hit 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, execute well, and you’ll put just as much pressure on your opponent while having the opportunity to leave your opponent demoralized at the net.
Players can hit lob can in a few different scenarios. First, as a player approaches the net, there is a tendency to far forward. To an extent, getting closer to the net allows players to cut off the angles their opponent can hit, which can make 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 opponent’s head so that it lands deep in the court, toward the baseline.
In this case, if they have enough preparation, many players will opt to hit the lob with some amount of topspin with their typical forehand or backhand grip. Otherwise, players will use the continental grip to send the ball up over their opponent’s 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 toward you, it can often be difficult to react quickly. As a result, the lob can be a great tactic 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 players will typically hit off of a lob. If you are moving toward the net and putting pressure on your opponent, you will often find that they’ll hit a lob.
Since the lob can be challenging 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, you’ll hit overheads using the continental grip.
The drop shot is a more advanced shot that players hit when their opponent is at the baseline. Drop shots are difficult to execute because they often require the element of surprise and superior control over the ball, commonly 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 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 combination 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 up your opponent for an easy passing shot.
A putaway shot isn’t a particular technical form of a shot. Instead, it refers to hitting the ball past your opponent when you’re at the net.
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 an expression used to describe any shot you hit successfully into the opposite side of the court out of your opponent’s reach.
A successful passing shot is a winner, an overhead that your opponent can’t get to is a winner, and a forehand hit crosscourt or down the line that your opponent can’t quite reach are also winners.
I’ve saved the tweener for last because players usually hit it for its entertainment value rather than its efficacy.
A tweener is considered any shot hit in between the legs. However, most think of a true tweener as a shot hit off of a tough lob.
In this situation, the player needs to run down the ball while facing away from the net. To hit a tweener, the player will let the ball bounce in front of themselves. Then, as the ball drops back toward the court, they step perfectly in front of the ball so that it reaches height just below their knees so they can hit between their legs and send the ball flying through their legs and back over the other side of the court.
If it sounds hard, it is. Few players can do it well under pressure. However, there have been some amazing tweeners hit by professionals during competition.
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