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