You’ve probably heard the idea of being more relaxed while playing tennis and seen players being really comfortable while hitting with power.
But how do you play tennis in a more relaxed way? The tricky thing is that just saying to yourself to simply be more relaxed usually doesn’t work.
That’s why it’s best to use specific feel-based tennis drills and mental images that will help you find that more relaxed state while hitting the ball and realize how much cleaner and with less effort you can strike the ball.
All these tennis drills are simply applied when you warm up or just rally with a partner nicely down the middle.
Once you feel the difference and understand how you were able to play tennis at a higher level of relaxation while hitting down the middle, challenge yourself by working on the same principles in more challenging situations.
1. Play with natural swing speed
If you simply swing the racquet either on the forehand or backhand side in a way that’s the most comfortable for you, you’ll swing with what I call the “natural swing speed”.
It’s the swing speed that you like or, better said, that your body likes. This also means that you most likely don’t experience much tension while swinging like this.
While you’re at it, also try to feel what it means to accelerate the swing, which most often happens when intend to hit the ball hard, and what it means to slow down the swing, which usually happens when you want to control the shot a lot.
Try and feel how in both cases the swing does not feel that comfortable any more. Whether you accelerate or slow down, you will experience some tension mostly in your arm.
So once you feel your natural swing speed, meaning the swing speed that’s most comfortable for you, attempt to rally with this swing speed with your partner.
Do not accelerate or slow down when you’re about to hit the ball, and just swing at it with your natural swing speed.
Clear your mind from all the “shoulds” that you may hold like: you should hit the ball hard, you should be strong to hit the ball hard, the ball should fly fast, every shot should go in the court, etc.
All these and similar ideas may actually prevent you from even trying what swinging with your natural swing speed feels like.
Playing with your natural swing speed should be a warm up part of every tennis session, but you can actually play like that for the whole hour.
I have done that hundreds if not thousands of times, and I find it the best drill to make the learned technique connect and work to produce effortless tennis strokes.
2. Let the racquet hit the ball
While you’re playing with the natural swing speed and looking to feel more comfortable and relaxed on a tennis court, add the idea of letting the racquet hit the ball.
So often I see club players and juniors trying to muscle the ball as if they need massive amounts of strength to bounce the ball back to their partner.
It’s way easier than you may think. One way to feel that is to have the mental image of letting the racquet hit the ball – instead of “you” having to do the work.
That means that once you swing the racquet toward the ball, you don’t need to be “strong” at the point of contact.
You don’t need to hit the ball with power, but you simply allow the racquet’s momentum to bounce the ball off the strings.
You need to let the racquet take charge, and you need to let go of trying to control every ball so much.
Letting the racquet do more work means that you will do less and you will experience that as a loss of control.
You won’t feel sure that you’ll be able to make the ball hit the court – but that’s exactly what you need to work on.
Tennis is not a sport that is played in total control. If we attempt that, we will be very tense and the speed and accuracy of the ball will actually be very low.
You can actually let go of control much more than you probably think, and you’ll still have a lot of control and much more effortless and powerful strokes once you become better at it.
So I really recommend that you experiment with allowing your racquet to do more of the work and that you stop muscling the ball and trying to hit it hard.
Change the mental image from “hitting hard” to “hitting fast” if you really want more power eventually.
Work on swinging the racquet fast in the most comfortable and relaxed way, and you’ll see how fast the ball flies off the strings.
3. Release (instead of contracting)
The idea of releasing rather than contracting is very similar to the above idea of letting the racquet do more work.
If you were to throw the racquet while performing your forehand, backhand or serve, you would swing it and release it from your hand.
Now imagine that you’re “almost” releasing it when you’re hitting the ball – which means that the tension in your hand and the force with which you grip the racquet DECREASE.
Most players grip the racquet tighter and contract the muscles at the point of contact, but I assure you that that is not the foundation of fluid, consistent and powerful tennis strokes.
The foundation of power is relaxation and the ability to swing the arm with high speed—and that can be achieved only with the right combination of relaxation and tension.
Since most players are way too tense or contracted at the point of contact, I suggest you work toward releasing more while hitting the ball.
Again, you will feel the loss of control, and that’s why you need to simply rally down the middle and not worry about missing.
When you miss, just get another ball and start rallying again. As I mentioned above, I have played tennis like that probably a few thousand hours in my life, simply trying to hit the ball in the most comfortable way.
I would rally like that for the whole hour, sometimes even two, simply working on being more relaxed and comfortable while having a very clear trajectory of the ball in mind.
Once you become more familiar with controlling the ball in a more relaxed way, you’ll realize that this relaxed swing allows you to generate way more speed of the ball than if you were to muscle it and try to hit it hard.
Not only that, you will see that the levels of relaxation while playing tennis go many levels deep, and you may find yourself playing more and more relaxed as time goes by and consequently have more control of your shots and enjoy hitting the ball much more.
Just a quick note – while I didn’t demonstrate these three principles on the serve, you can and should try them when working on your serve.
See and feel how it is when you serve with your natural swing speed and when your goal is not to hit the ball hard all the time.
Allow your body to connect all the body parts in the most efficient way by simply swinging with your natural swing speed, letting the racquet do more work at contact and especially releasing more when hitting the ball rather than contracting your muscles.
Use these principles as a warm up before going for more power, and you’ll soon find much more effortless ways of hitting with power and good control.