Groundstroke Strength Training

Want to make your strongest side a little stronger or perhaps make your weaker side less of a liability? Here are some suggestions of what to do.

  1. Isolate and focus on the stroke you are looking to improve. Look for every opportunity to hit the stroke particularly if it is the weaker side you are looking to improve. Unfortunately, most players in practice avoid hitting balls off their weaker side (i.e. positioning to the outside of the court to avoid hitting a shot in returning serve or in crosscourt exchanges).
  2. Hit a lot of balls. Repetition is everything in tennis, good and bad – good if you are smart in hitting the shots and sequences that make your game better and bad (or probably better stated “not as good”) if you continue to ignore these same shots and sequences. The best approach to practice (and practice by this definition also applies to match play) is to practice with a purpose. Incorporating different situational patterns into your practice sessions similar to working different scale patterns on the piano (even if your main focus is on one shot) helps your practice sessions stay fresh and interesting.
  3. Hit all forehands (or all backhands). Shade to the left or right of the center mark and take everything with either your forehand or backhand. If you are drawn out wide, raise the height of your responding shot to buy time to get back into the court and to avoid having to hit the next shot with your other groundstroke side. Do the same in cross-court exchanges. Recover to the middle of the court after each shot and take everything with your outside stroke or recover to the far left (or right) of the court and take everything with your inside stroke (i.e. inside/outside forehands). These types of patterns and responses are also great for building better footwork and agility.
  4. Hit for consistency. The best way to establish rhythm and timing is to hit a number of balls in succession in a sustained “live ball” rally. Maintain a pace that allows you to keep the ball in play. Increase the pace and tempo with success. Establish half-court, cross court or down-the-line patterns to isolate one stroke.
  5. Hit for depth. Maintain a rally with the goal of hitting every shot past the service line. As another option, establish a target area in the backcourt. Continue hitting until you have successfully hit X number of shots to this target area.
  6. Hit for redirection. Hit three (or a specific number of shots) cross court followed by a fourth shot hit down-the-line. Play points where your opponent is required to only hit cross court until you redirect a shot down-the-line (preferably not on the first shot). After the shot is redirected down-the-line, play out the point using the full court.
  7. Add variety and versatility to your game. Spend time working on high/low patterns (adjusting the trajectory and net clearance of your shots). It’s important to also devote time on varying spin (both the degree and nature of the spin). I earned good lunch money as a kid playing “Slice Wars” (every ball has to be hit with underspin). One of the first steps I take to prepare for tournament play (particularly when I haven’t played competitively in a while) is to hit a lot balls off my backhand side with topspin (not slice) to reestablish confidence in my ability to use the backhand as a weapon.
  8. Work on your offensive skills. Here are two drills to improve your ability to attack and finish the point. Play points (half court, down-the-line or cross court points as necessary to isolate one stroke) with the requirement that you finish the point in X number of shots. With the goal of encouraging aggression and offsetting the risk of making mistakes, play points in which winners (specifically winners hit with your designated stroke) are rewarded with bonus points.
  9. Work on your defensive skills. Play points in which you are rewarded for extending the length of the rally for more than X number of shots. Play a game in which you are required to begin each point by running down a forehand or backhand (from a starting position in the alley and in response to a ball fed to the opposite side of the court).
  10. Establish point patterns during play to encourage your opponent to hit to your strongest (or weakest side). Don’t worry about the outcome. Hit down-the-line with your forehand to draw shots to your backhand (or hit down-the-line with your backhand to draw shots to your forehand). Noticeably adjust your starting position for the return of serve to bait your opponent to hit to a particular side.

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