Part of the fun of tennis is the social aspect of playing against an opponent, or joining three other people on the court if you’re playing doubles. If you’ve got a competitive edge, trying to defeat an opponent may be another reason you play tennis. If competition is important to you, you might have to sacrifice the social aspect occasionally and practice on your own, to improve your game. The payoff comes later, when you offer your next opponent a consoling handshake after whipping her on the court.
The simplest and least expensive way to practice tennis strokes on your own is to hit against a wall, or against the wooden backboard that’s often built into tennis court facilities. Simply hit a ball fairly straight into the wall, quickly assume a ready stance, then hit the rebounding ball back against the wall. Don’t allow the ball to bounce more than once before you hit it. Try to practice forehand and backhand shots during each rally, or practice one shot at a time. Challenge yourself by counting each ball you hit and seeing how long you can extend a rally, while still hitting the ball hard. Wall drills help you learn various strokes and build strength via repetition. Additionally, the harder you hit the ball, the less time you have to recover, so your defensive skills improve along with your offensive abilities.
Line-to-line drills are common in many sports. Basketball and football players perform them on courts or fields, for example, and hockey players do them on the ice. The drill develops speed and endurance, and helps you perform quicker starts and stops. To do the drill on a tennis court, stand at the intersection of the sideline and the far end of the service court. Sprint to midcourt, stop quickly and touch the midcourt line -- the line that bisects the service courts -- then turn and run back to your starting point. Run across the court again, but this time run to the far sideline, touch the line and return to the starting spot. Run to the outside of the far doubles alley and back for your third repetition. If neighboring courts are free, perform more reps by running to the next court’s near sideline, midcourt line and far sideline, until you need a rest.
When your opponent hits a scorching shot and you must react instantly, or when you’re at the net trying to volley a passing shot, quick footwork is a key to setting your body in the correct position. Practice your footwork on a court, or anywhere else where you can draw a straight line on the floor. Face the line and hop across it, both forward and backward, using one or two legs. Or perform the drill by jumping sideways with your shoulder facing the line. Do a stagger step drill by placing one foot in front of the line and the other behind, then shuffling each foot to the other side of the line simultaneously. Move your feet as quickly as possible and perform each drill for five to 15 seconds.
Serving is a solo activity, even during a match, so you don’t need any help to practice your serve. All you require is a racket, a large container of balls and an empty court. Simply practice all of your serves, from both the deuce and the ad courts, or structure your workout by placing targets in the service courts. Place cones or similar-sized objects in one or both service courts, then aim for the targets while you practice various serves. For example, place one target deep and in the middle of the service court to practice your flat serve. Place another target wide and deep in the deuce court to practice your spin serve. Aim for one specific target with each serve.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.