Watch Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal ply his trade for a couple of hours, and it’s easy to consider taking up tennis. You can hit a public court with a buddy and whack balls around, but, if proficiency is your goal, and you’d like it to come in the near future, there’s a more structured and efficient way to start experiencing the same joy and eternal frustration that the game gives to every player, regardless of world ranking.
Find a teacher:
Gauge what you want. If it’s a hobby, a group lesson through a club or park department would suffice. If it’s a serious pursuit, consider going private. You’ll spend more up front, but you’ll hit four to five times as many balls and receive non-stop attention. “Learning is about repetition of the correct stroke,” says Art Coleman, head pro at Oakley Country Club in Belmont, Mass.
Call your local club. After you ask the tennis director who’s the best pro, ask if he works with juniors or adults. Go with the former. If you’re competitive, that guy teaches kids who want to win, and he’ll have to push them, have the flexibility to change styles and match their energy levels. With any relationship, try out a few prospects to find the one who’s most compatible. The first lesson might not be maximum action—you’ll focus on the beginning and ending segments of forehands and backhands—but you should walk away enjoying it and feeling optimistic. “A pro needs to set and build your expectations. Just because it’s not exciting, it should still be fulfilling,” Coleman says.
Scour the grounds. While private lessons aren’t free, in the warmer months, they can be cheaper. Many club pros work outside and away from the overhead. Visit the public courts and look for the guy with the basket of balls. You can also call a club and they might put you in touch with a pro. After some private lessons building a solid foundation, shifting into a group setup can further improve your game with drills that hone consistency and by handling balls from people at your own level—the ones that you’d see in an actual match, Coleman says.
Prepare your body for the court:
Raise your temperature. You want to break a sweat, work your overall balance, and prepare your hips, torso and shoulders. The World’s Greatest Stretch will achieve those goals, while increasing your flexibility. “It activates so many muscles at the same time,” says Nick Anthony, a performance specialist at Athletes’ Performance. It’s also good post-lesson to maintain flexibility. Do 3 reps on each side.
Work to the side. Tennis is all about east-west movement. Lateral lunges, using just your bodyweight, will help prepare your body for the constant changes of direction, Anthony says. Do 5 on each side.
Open up the chest. Prepare your upper body with floor slides, which will force you to use the smaller muscles that provide stability for your shoulder joints, while bolstering flexibility. Do 6-8 reps as part of your warm-up.
Do detail work. Along with accelerating through the ball, you have to slow down your swing. That brake work is done by the rotator cuffs, small muscles that can easily become tight and weak when not stretched and conditioned properly. For starters, do 6-8 reps of side-lying shoulder internal rotations.