One of the basic, most important fundamentals I work at getting across to tennis students is the need to get their body out of the way of the ball while maintaining balance and moving their body weight forward into the ball.

For someone who isn’t able to understand how to do this, tennis is played more like ping pong, mainly using all arm to make shots.

Needless to say, there could be a lot more shanked and miss-hit shots to go along with very sore, tired arms.

After working to find and demonstrate an easy way for students to grasp this concept, here’s what I’ve been using that seems to make a light bulb go off for most everyone I teach:

Pick up a tennis ball with your “off” hand and hold it arm’s length from your body. Now, with your racquet in your dominant hand, hold the sweet spot (center of the strings) on the ball.

That is the ideal space you should maintain between your body and the ball when hitting groundstrokes.

If you can burn this “space” into your brain and create a reference point that becomes rote, you’ll quickly become a better ball striker.

An easy way to start practicing this is to simply feed balls to yourself:

  • Stand parallel to the baseline at the center of the tennis court (as if to hit a forehand) and drop a ball with your off hand, arm’s length away, toward the net post.
  • Step toward the ball and net post with your off-side foot (left foot if you’re right-handed) as the ball bounces up from the court.
  • Strike the ball with your racquet when it reaches the top of its bounce.
  • Bring your back foot forward (toes facing the net) like you’re walking toward the net while the racquet follows through over your off-side shoulder.
  • Once you feel you’ve got it, do it over about 8 billion more times. (Just kidding!)

And, on a lighter note, we end up with a more positive “stay at arm’s length” connotation than what typically has been meant by this phrase.

Leave it to tennis to accentuate the positive.

Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area. lwmarino@ hotmail.com