The Secret To Developing Fluid Strokes – Sweeping The Ball

Sep 18

When you see the fluid tennis strokes of someone who can play tennis well, you may wonder how you can achieve that.

The usual tennis instruction of being more relaxed when hitting may help, but often times it doesn’t.

The secret lies in how you imagine hitting the ball, and the answer to how you hit the ball with a fluid stroke lies in the idea of “sweeping the ball.”

The Key Idea Behind Sweeping The Ball

The idea of sweeping the ball is very simple, and the analogy with the broom and the leaf explains it very elegantly:

Broom analogy with tennis

Sweeping with the broom is a fluid movement that starts well before the leaf and ends well after the leaf. Hitting a tennis ball is very similar…

When you sweep the leaf with the broom, you don’t aim to hit the leaf.

Instead, you sweep before and after the leaf, and the leaf is just swept away.

The leaf does not affect your motion, and it does not make it jerky or make it slow down when the broom meets the leaf.

It’s the opposite – when the broom goes through the leaf, you actually accelerate slightly, but you don’t expect any resistance.

The same idea applies to hitting the ball with a tennis racquet, especially when it comes to groundstrokes and serves.

We don’t really try to hit the ball with the racquet, but we sweep through a much larger contact zone which extends before and after the ball. In the process of swinging through that area, the ball is simply “swept” by the racquet.

This is best done when the incoming ball is fairly easy and at the right height for groundstrokes.

When we are in a more difficult situation or when we want to hit a short cross-court passing shot, then we’ll need to “grab” the ball more, perhaps apply more push to it or put some extra spin on it, and the stroke feel will be different.

But the sweeping the ball approach is excellent for warming up and for longer sessions when you’re working simply on consistency and accuracy and when you’re not under pressure.

This way of hitting will become more and more automatic and will eventually transfer also into your strokes when you play for points, making them more effortless yet more effective.

When it comes to volleys and overheads, we apply less of the sweeping motion because it’s harder to time the ball and therefore we need to “find” it better in space.

Sweeping the ball means that we trust we’ll hit the ball if we almost completely let go of control of our strokes.

That works really well on the serve, since the ball is almost still in the air, and also on nice incoming balls for our groundstrokes, but volleys and overheads are more challenging.

Still, there is a way to apply the sweeping principle when you volley and smash, and it makes both strokes really much more comfortable and effortless.

Fluid tennis strokes

Fluid tennis strokes are nothing else than sweeping through the contact zone without being affected by the ball’s presence there.

Know that this approach to hitting the ball is not something that’s just in your arms; it’s actually quite a change in your mind.

In order to sweep the ball and let it be swept away with the racquet, you’ll need to let go of control more and also let go of the idea of hitting the ball hard.

In this way of hitting the ball, you’ll feel that you don’t hit the ball hard at all, yet the speed of the ball will be very high.

This process of letting go more and more and transitioning more from hitting the ball hard to sweeping the ball can start tomorrow and immediately give you some results, but it should be something you work on on a long-term basis, as you will find out that there are many levels of becoming more fluid and effortless in your tennis strokes.

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(32) comments

John McGinty September 18, 2014

Thank you again so much for your uniquely simple explanations as always Tomas. Is it possible to attempt to combine your sweep method initially with a speed up/spin at or near contact? Would keeping the initial start of the swing effortless, less tense with “brushing” but combine more control to the stroke at contact also be effective particularly on the more difficult balls?

Reply
    Tomaz September 18, 2014

    Hi John,

    Yes, that’s actually what happens when you combine all the feels and ideas on how to hit a tennis ball.

    The sweeping approach is an exaggeration of a part of the stroke which helps you experience what I mean with words.

    Once you experience and feel that, you can apply a part of it to your strokes and find a more efficient way of playing tennis.

    Reply
Eugene Mitchell September 18, 2014

You are one of if not the best instructor on the net ,thanks for your info

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Aine September 18, 2014

Tomaz:

Thanks for the wonderful lesson on Flowing Volleys.. how I love this instructional aspect..
I have been taught the punch volley only…
I am older, still fast on my feet ,play regularly and this is an invaluable tip..I like the ‘sweep[ing ” lesson also…will try it tomorrow a.m.
I really like you quiet way of teaching.. you hit the ball with such ease & grace..I am a bit intense and have trouble relaxing on the court.

Aine

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Mark September 19, 2014

as ever Tomaz excellent insight and advice that runs counter to the accepted view. This sweeping should also have the effect of appearing relaxed in mind and on the ball not tense.

Reply
    Tomaz September 19, 2014

    Thanks, Mark. Hopefully the broom helps you recall the relaxed and smooth sweeping motion that we all already possess and apply it to tennis strokes.

    Reply
Michael Renovich September 19, 2014

🙂 Can’t wait to try this! Don’t forget to have a look at the art of effortless power by Peter Ralston! Michael

Reply
saull September 19, 2014

Wonderful advice as always !

How do you thing this applies to a backhand slice ? More ? Less ?

I also found one useful tip regarding effortless and fluid motion. I using it and already shared it with some club mates. They found it useful too. And it is simple as it should be.

The idea is to think that your racked should have reached all the maximum speed just before contact. So you can not force the racked through the ball. Something very close to “sweeping” idea.

Reply
    Tomaz September 19, 2014

    Good tip, Saull. I personally do feel that around contact point the speed of my racquet is steady and not accelerating unless I play a short cross court top spin shot.

    Reply
Jonathan September 19, 2014

I love your effortless tennis theme teaching. As I have mentioned to you before, Federer is the poster for this form of tennis. I am not a fan of Tomic’s attitude, but I do like his effrortless form, particularly on his forehand. Watching the US Open Final,I felt I could really see this relaxed form you speak of on Cilic’s rally forehands. It really looked effortless, unlike Nishikori. Do you remember those dip in soap water ring? One sweeps them through the air smoothly to make the bubbles. This could be a good feel teaching point.

Reply
    Tomaz September 19, 2014

    Hey Jonathan,

    Yes, Cilic was really letting go on those forehands. And yes, making bubbles is another good analogy on sweeping and what the proper mental image should be when hitting a tennis ball

    Reply
Rich September 19, 2014

Tomaz – love your excellent analogy – sweeping the leaf really helps me visualise and use an effortless fluid swing where the racket takes the ball with it and imparts spin. This latest article/vid really compliments your earlier excellent article/vid on topspin and rolling the ball from 29 March 2014 – I’ve never played better and am ripping my shots. I’ve read and watched just about everything there is on the web on tennis instruction over the last 15 years, and your article from 29 March 2014 along with this one are the best two articles/vids for ground strokes out there. Thanks for helping me to stop micromanaging my strokes and instead let rip with ease. IMO, forget other internet coaches – you are the GOAT!

Reply
    Tomaz September 20, 2014

    Thanks for this great feedback, Rich.

    I know there’s a lot of mechanical instruction out there and initially it is necessary to guide the player’s body into the proper movements.

    But there are deeper elements of strokes that take you to the next level so I am looking to share those. Glad that it works for you!

    Reply
      Rich September 20, 2014

      Sounds great – can’t wait! Cheers Tomaz!!

      Reply
Robert September 21, 2014

Really like your “wax-in, wax-out” analogy!
Also great that you mention that this applies to situation where you have time to setup the ball… I find it difficult in tennis, that there are so many situations where balance, rhythm and the length of your stroke depends on…

Question: is the goal of this concept different/the same than the concept of “extending through” and “holding the Ball (after stroking in the non-hitting hand)”? In this concept you are arguing to focus on a zone before hitting and after hitting.

Reply
    Tomaz September 21, 2014

    Hi Robert,

    “Extending through” the contact zone usually ends up in holding tension in the arm much longer then it’s needed. And that tension is usually present at contact already.

    If you really carefully “listen” to your feel and tension when you sweep with the broom, you’ll feel how soon after the contact you’re letting go more and how the whole swing is more smooth without any additional tension in your arms.

    When you transfer that sweep to your strokes, you’ll see how nicely the ball flies off your racquet – and with good control!

    Reply
Larry Buhrman September 23, 2014

Hi Tomaz,

You have beautiful modern strokes and great communication skills, all part of why you are an excellent tennis professional. The sweeping mental image is very helpful.

In the beginning of this video you hit a backhand and a forehand ground stroke, both to perfection. Before I heard your explanation, I would describe what you did as carefully (but relaxed) finding the ball, touching or feeling the ball, and accelerating and sweeping the ball up and across. You seemed to do the same thing when you honed in on the individual leaf and swept it away across your body. What a brilliant analogy!

Was my initial observation and interpretation different from your perception?

Thank you for you terrific teaching videos and great advice!

Best regards,

Larry Buhrman

Reply
    Tomaz September 24, 2014

    Hey Larry,

    You could say so, but I am not really aware of finding the ball.

    But I did want to share in this video how I approach hitting the ball – which is not actually trying to hit the ball. 😉

    It’s more going through the air as if the ball is just a hologram being projected into space in front of me…

    Reply
Orlando September 25, 2014

(Sept 25/2014) Your video reminded me of this old video from a club player. This lady seems to be applying your sweeping concept in an immaculate way. Would you agree?. Shadowing the sweeping swing, without ball, could help to grab the feeling of the concept?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=44_AJgqMhzY&feature=endscreen

Orlando
SC, U.S.

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Anthony Puissant October 26, 2014

They say sports is 95% mental. Athletes need to keep it simple to play constantly at the high level.

Obviously, tennis is a very technical sport. We can explain in details the biomechanics of the forehand, but the goal is always to play the natural way.

Tomaz is the best to simplify tennis learning for all of us. His idea of «sweeping the ball» is one of my favorite.

I try to remember it every time I step into a court because it is the step to the next level.

Anthony,

Barcelona, Spain.

Reply
Mark Tully October 28, 2014

Dear Tomaz,
I am your ardent disciple and a sincere fan of your site. My tennis had seen vast improvements since my visit to your site a year ago. I am amazed at your technical explanations. Your Newtonian approach to tennis is something very rare and precious.

I am student of physics myself and would like to contribute a few more.

Your favorite teaching is “let go” i.e play tennis with a loose grip and feel the ball as it hits the racket. I love this technique but permit me to explain a tight grip technique too with some physics reasoning.

As you have indicated at many places in your teaching, tennis is all about momentum, its conservation etc.

Tennis strokes are nothing by elastic collision of two bodies. The racket and the ball. When two bodies of mass “mR” and “mb” moving with initial velocities uR and ub collide, then their final velocities vb (and vR) are given by the equation:

vb = (mb – mR)/(mb+mR) * ub + (2*mR)/(mb+mR) * uR

Some common observation to illustrate the above equation:
1. When two bodies of equal mass (i.e assume mR = mb) moving with velocities uR and ub collide then their velocities after collision will be given by the equation:
vR = ub; vb = uR
i.e their velocities will mutually exchange. We see this is various toys, carom board, billards…

2. If a body moving with velocity “u1” collides head-on with another body of the same mass at rest the stationary body, after collision, will move exactly with that velocity “u1” while the first body will come to rest. What a beautiful truth.

Before coming to tennis I should write two more situations

3. If the stationary particle is massive compared to the moving particle i.e mR >> mb then the mb will recoil with the same speed after collision while the massive body will still be at rest practically.
Needless to say wall practice in tennis is an example.

4. If the massive particle is moving with velocity uR, and if the ball is moving with velocity “ub” then the final velocity of the ball “vb” is given by:
vb = 2*uR – ub
i.e the if a ball moving at 100kmph collides against a “wall” moving at 10kmph in the opposite direction, the ball will recoil back with 120kmph!

Coming to tennis strokes, we can now try extrapolating this to a firm grip model with body movement and loose grip model with or without body movement.

Model 1: When you hold a firm grip, and practically immobilize the wrist while striking the ball we can model the player as a massive object with mass 50kg.

Model 2: If you hold a loose grip then the colliding body can be modeled as an object as mass = mass of the racket + partial mass of the arm etc. which can be approximately 500g.

Here are some numeric problems:

Loose grip model:
A ball is moving with velocity 100 kmph (27m/s). What should the swing velocity of the racket be to hit the ball back at the same 100 kmph speed? Assume mass of ball = 100g, weight of racket = 500g

From the elastic collision formula the answer is:
5.5m/s i.e 20kmph

Firm grip model:
What should the player’s forward movement be to hit the ball with the same speed? (Assume player is moving forward with a firm grip while striking the ball)
Ans = 0.1m/s i.e 0.36kmph.

Here are further more comparisons
———————————————————————————————–
| Ball velocity (kmph) | Racket speed (kmph)
Situation —————————————————————-
| Initial Target (Final) | loose grip firm grip
——————————————————————————————–
1 Rallying | 100 120 | 9 3
2 Winner | 50 100 | 9 25
3 Slow serve return | 100 100 | 5.5 0
4 Winner on serve | 70 120 | 13 7
5 Fast serve return | 200 100 | -5 -14
6 Serve | 0 200 | 118 100

The firm grip with body movement is superior for hitting ground strokes on fast approaching balls. i.e while rallying you can hit hard strokes at 1/3 the swing speed of the racket in loose grip. This might increase you accuracy and persistence.

For finishing a slow ball i.e hitting winners – firm grip can be superior too. You can hit fast winners at 60% swing speed of loose grip.

For return of slow serves and for hitting winners on slow serves firm grip could be superior.

Handling fast serves is difficult with firm grip.

Firm grip has no place in Serve. High racket head velocities have to be generated for the serve. Tomaz you have explained very nicely how to gracefully generate high velocity using all joints – from the wrist to elbow to shoulder to hip to leaning forward finally, building on the momentum of the racket rather then giving jerking impulsive velocities. From your teaching I have completely over hauled my serve and my serves are now consistent, effortless and unbreakable! I owe you a lot.

Mark Tully

Reply
    Tomaz October 28, 2014

    Awesome, Mark, thanks for this physics lesson!

    I’d like to add a few more variables into your equation and would like your feedback (and perhaps extra calculations 😉 ):

    1. A loose grips adds another joint to the equation. If the wrist (and elbow joint) is/are tight, then it’s like hitting with a long stick that is attached in the shoulder.

    If the wrist is looser (and elbow adds another “joint”), then it’s like hitting with a nunchaku. (please click the link to see what I mean)

    So the nunchaku has two “sticks” and a loose connection in between which is an analogy to a joint, except less extreme freedom of movement. But the principle is there.

    Common sense tells us that nunchaks hit harder – meaning the tip develops higher speed – than if you were to swing with a single stick.

    Can you explain with physics and equations why that is so?

    So a loose wrist and elbow transform an arm which was a “stick” into a 3 segment nunchaks which can develop much higher speed at the tip (racquet).

    2. Secondly, a looser wrist allows the forearm muscles to stretch and that causes a “rubber band” effect as they spring back into the original position while we simultaneously contract them when we feel it’s the right moment.

    There is no such thing if the wrist is tight.

    So this “stretch and spring back” of the forearm muscles is one of the keys for the final acceleration of the racquet and is extremely fast and powerful at the pro level.

    Looking forward to your thoughts!

    Reply
      Mark Tully October 31, 2014

      Dear Tomaz,
      I am very exited to see your response. Thankyou.

      First I think I got your “let go” teaching wrong. I used to sort of throw the bat at the ball. i.e I never really got this “rubber band” contraction into my head. OMG, what I was doing was like having a disconnected racket at the time of impact. No wonder I had to generate fast racket head speeds. Ultimately I developed elbow pain. To continue playing I switched to this “tight grip with body movement” technique and to my wonder I found my game better and it has come to stay.

      I will try this “rubber band” contraction tomorrow. I do appreciate its strength as a physics student!!

      And thanks Tomaz, for giving me those physics assignments. I will get back this weekend with calculations and simulations.

      BR,
      Mark

      Reply
Pal October 29, 2014

I would like to know should kids say aged between 12-14 be encouraged to hit hard with topspin or just focus on hitting low to high without power . Another question that I would like to ask you is how much above the net should the ball be hit, basically I want to know whether hitting not so high above the net is good or not ?

Reply
    Tomaz October 31, 2014

    Hi Pal,

    I would encourage kids to hit with little spin and hit the ball fairly flat as clean as possible. More spin should be added later.

    Typically you can play about 3-5 feet above the net. Hitting low over the net is risky…

    Reply
Q May 17, 2015

Took a racquet without any strings and had a friend of mine toss me tennis balls. My objective was to sweep the ball through the racquet. After I’ve done that about 10 times, I tried to feel the same sweep with a racquet with strings.

I tried to surprise myself when the ball bounced out from the racquet.

Like the feeling and yes my strokes are smoother!

Now I”m off to see if I can do it in a match.

Later

Q

Reply
Gabriel February 28, 2016

Hi Tomaz,

Thank you for posting these videos, it helps a lot the tennis players trying to improve their game.
I have a question: Is there any drill that could help me keep a proper distance from the ball when hitting forehands and also force me to turn the upper body? I’m always jammed when I hit the forehands and my shoulders are parallel with the net. Played soccer when I was younger and I have a tendency to come very close to the ball.

Thank you in advance for any tips you could come up with.

Gabriel

Reply
    Tomaz February 28, 2016

    Hi Gabriel,

    If you’re jammed when hitting forehands than awareness of that is the first step. The drill is simply realizing and noting the distance to the ball when you hit it.

    Ask yourself whether you were too close, too far or ideal. Then keep adjusting. I really don’t think there’s anything else than telling to yourself that you want to keep more distance from the ball the next time if this time your were too close.

    Now you may be getting too close also because you’re in an anxious state if that happens in a match. You’re too eager to get to it or you really don’t want to be too far from it when it matters a lot so you’re jamming into the ball “just in case”. ;9

    The cause is then mental so you have to work on keeping a cool head even in the “heat of the match”. That’s not easy and it takes time to master.

    I am pretty sure you turn the upper body when you start running, it’s very natural to do.

    But you may be opening up towards the court too early again because of the anxiety and the desire to see the court and your opponent before you hit the ball.

    You then lose the power of trunk rotation.

    So in tennis it doesn’t work that way. We need to calm the mind and learn to “play blindly”.

    In soccer you constantly check the positions of your team mates and your opponents but as you’re kicking the ball you are looking down at the ball and not where you will play it. I am sure you will agree with me that that’s the case.

    It’s the same process in tennis. You look at the ball when you’re hitting it and you have the target and the trajectory to there only in your mind.

    Reply
      Gabriel February 28, 2016

      Thank you so much for the quick reply, Tomaz. Someone was suggesting to wear a lifebuoy (life ring) under my arms so I’ll be forced to keep my elbow away from the body and that way keep a proper distance from the ball when trying to hit forehands. Obviously, I didn’t try this drill. I was afraid someone might have thought I escaped from a mental health hospital 🙂

      Reply
Arthur Quinby May 18, 2016

Love the sweeping thur the ball, and have found that if I do that AND exhale with your whooooosh sound, it really smooths out the stroke.

Works best when I trust it on my serve.

Off to cause trouble somewhere.

Q

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Jon C March 20, 2017

Tomaz – could you talk about racket face angle please. Are you consciously adjusting the face angle – say for a knee high ball vs chest height? Or are you changing the swing path – flatter for a higher ball? Or something else?

Jon

Reply
    Tomaz March 20, 2017

    Hi Jon,

    I don’t talk about the racket angle on my site because one should NEVER think consciously about the minute angles the racket makes.

    How can you possibly control for example 2 degrees of a racket angle change when your racket passes through the contact zone in 0.02 seconds?

    No one can consciously control such small changes in the racket angle.

    What you have been exposed to is ANALYSIS. Analysis is useful for coaches so that they understand in detail what’s going on and can therefore devise DRILLS that will teach the player how to control the ball.

    But we as player don’t play the ball by controlling the racket angles or swing paths!

    We develop that through training.

    We simply WANT or IMAGINE how we want the ball to fly and then go through trial and error process where we hit hundreds and thousands of balls and we keep adjusting based on the feedback of our shots.

    That’s how our subconscious brain learns to control the racket angle.

    So again, there is no thought whatsoever of racket angles or swing paths, we only WANT a certain ball trajectory and we keep trying to hit it until we do.

    It is that simple and at the same time that challenging.

    There is no magical shortcut that will make the ball land in consistently when we receive a different ball every single time it crosses the net.

    The only possible shortcut for many players is having a really clear and early intention which is actually totally intuitive for any player who has been involved for long time in sports with balls.

    Reply
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