How To Play Tennis In A More Relaxed Way

Dec 25

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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.


3 Drills For More Relaxed Groundstrokes

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

how to play tennis relaxed

Find your natural swing speed by swinging the racquet in the most comfortable way

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.

Playing tennis with momentum

The racquet will gain momentum along the (yellow) swing path with you doing the “work”. Just before contact STOP “working” and allow the racquet’s momentum to bounce the ball.

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.

Playing tennis with release

A “contracted” forehand on the left and a “release” forehand on the right

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.

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53 comments

  1. Thanks you Tomaz, for your most recent posting about ways to achieve relaxation while playing tennis — a nice Christmas present! I have been playing tennis for many years (about 50) and have become more and more convinced that the key for me is relaxation. I have been keeping a notebook of my tennis “insights” for the last few years, and the most common word used is “relax” (closely followed in frequency by the word “watch”). In fact the word is often written “RELAX!”. Of course, as you pointed out, just telling yourself to relax does not work, especially when written in bold letters with an exclamation point. But the exercises you recommend sound promising and am looking forward to trying them.

    I only discovered your website a few days ago, and I think you have a wonderful approach that I know will help make tennis even more enjoyable to me. Thanks again for your help!

    Bob

    • You’re very welcome, Bob, thanks for your feedback. While relaxation first needs to be worked on while rallying nicely, it is in fact the foundation of powerful and consistent strokes. It just takes some time to feel that…

  2. Thank you, again, for your holiday post…!

    Was just checking this out (youtube – American Baseball drill: ‘throwing the baseball bat’):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvazWo0CKuA

    Doug King posted a similar drill for serving where player actually throws the racquet through serve motion (like throwing an American football)…

    Thank you, again, Tomaz.

    • Thanks for sharing, waves! Yes, there are a lot of commonalities with other sports when it comes to generating power. And of course, the serve is the most “throwing related” stroke of all in tennis.

  3. Thank you, Tomaz, for another spectacular post! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas with family (and/or students)!

    There are a lot of tennis pros who try to reach out to the tennis world via modern technology (I’m very grateful for their efforts), but (in my opinion) no one has better (more intuitive) videos on techniques.

    Your lessons and videos have turned me and some of my friends into a much better player. And we love the sport more because we’re having more fun on courts.

    Thank you!
    Tony

  4. Dear Tomaz! This is again a very nice post! (Tennis-) Motor learning for (tennis-)beginners has a lot to do with the transformation of already known movements. If we give our students the time (and the chance!) to find individual solutions and don’t tell them, how the stroke has to look like, they will learn the game in an easy way! And “throwing”, what every child has developed for itself, is so similar to all tennis strokes. And the imagination “to throw the racket” away is an external focus, that makes motor learning easier and faster(!). I would like to link to your post from my blog http://www.innercoaching-blog.de. Is this ok for you? Greetings from Germany, Frercks

    • I totally agree about learning through playing, Frercks, thanks for your point of view.

      I also appreciate any links to this post, thanks!

  5. Thanks again Tomaz. Although this set of advice is along the same lines as your earlier “minimum effort” drills the philosophy is the same and explained even more. What I found very useful, also, is the feeling that as you “relax” on the “grip” and “strike motion” the mind, and body, finds a lot more SPACE to concentrate on the other essentials involved in a correct stroke. These include concentration on keeping the head up, looking at the ball on contact, hip rotation, follow through etc. Well done!
    George from Adelaide, Australia.

  6. Tomaz, Great instruction. I, like everyone else, have always heard about playing more relaxed, but your instruction and thoughts on it were really something that brought it home. About a year ago, I remember Federer said something in an interview about how he was trying to play “more relaxed” and he is probably the most relaxed looking player ever. I was just curious, you do look very relaxed in your instruction video. Are you able to maintain that easy looking style when you play competitive matches. Also, I am not a huge fan of Bernard Tomic, but I was curious if you have seen him play. He almost plays like he is just warming up, certainly at his own comfortable swing speed that you endorse.

    • Hi Jon,

      I think I still swing quite relaxed if I play for points, I only accelerate more so there is a moment of more tension but it doesn’t create stiff arm.

      I have seen Tomic also play live and yes, he does play very relaxed but in my opinion too relaxed in a way – his shots are not heavy enough to create consistent pressure at the top level.

      He would need to load more and unleash shots with more top spin which does create some kind of tension before you release the shot.

      • When you say you accelerate more, do you mean from the start of the swing, at impact, or just turning your body more violently into the ball? Also if you don’t mind, do you ever rally or play points with pro players?

        • The trunk (body rotation) and the arm are connected well. So at the beginning of the forward swing it’s more about body rotation and later in the swing it’s more the arm’s work.

          Yes, I have played with pro players (former Davis Cup level), it’s great to rally with them, they give you a very consistent ball and a good rhythm.

          • I found that very interesting what you said about Tomic, too relaxed. I think you are right, but it certainly is a very unusual issue. I can’t think of another one. You are certainly spot on about all of us recreational players being to tight, way too much compression on the shot.

          • I meant to say almost all recreational players contract through the shot just as you said.

  7. Thanks Tomaz, your regular blogs with excellent advice have improved my tennis strokes tremendously. In fact, relaxation in my strokes have prevented the common (mild) tendonitis I had when the workout with ball machine was too intensive. I do the same workout now but don’t get the symptoms. Does it make a difference with the swing whether one uses a Head Heavy or a Head Light racket?
    Thank you again for all your advice and I wish you a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New year in steamy Singapore. Would you still be there around early March 2014?
    Greetings from Down Under,
    Donne

    • Thanks for the kind feedback, Donne!

      Head heavy racquets help you feel more momentum in the swing. You can feel the “weight” at the end of the whole “lever” (arm + racquet) and it’s then easier to swing it.

      Light racquets in fact make all these swing and feel exercises much more difficult to perform. They are one of the main causes of poor technique.

      • Hello Tomaz,
        Thanks for the great post!
        I understand and agree that light rackets make free swinging more challenging.
        But what about the head light (but heavy) rackets Donne referred to?
        Thanks again and best wishes in 2014

        • Tomaz /

          Well, heavier racquets help but sometimes they are so balanced that it’s really tough to feel the “end” of the racquet.

          I recently tested a Yonex weighing 320 grams and it felt lighter in the swing than my 264 grams head heavy Wilson…

  8. Hi Tomaz, I was really pleased that you did this post as it’s an aspect of my game that I have been trying to master. I have found that maintaining a natural swing speed is hard to do when the opponent is varying the pace of shot. On a faster ball I find myself naturally hitting harder and forcing the shot. Also when practising forehands I find that being in a relaxed state naturally results in using more wrist action in the swing. I am looking forward to taking on board the 3 drills as I am sure they will be helpful. Thanks for the post.

    • You’re right, John, we do tend to swing faster when receiving a fast ball but if decide to maintain constant swing speed, you’ll see how your timing will improve as a result of that.

  9. Khaled Hegazy /

    Hello Tomaz, you touch my tennis emotions when i see your videos, really you have a high sense of tennis training, and i am always waiting for your new video to enjoy hearing and seeing your simple way of tennis training. Thank you and hope to see you soon.
    Khaled Hegazy from Egypt.

  10. It was some time ago that I first got the message to relax and let the racket do it, not my muscles, and the difference I experienced immediately was like day and night. My group spent several hours at a time on the courts, and I was leaving exhausted, drained, feeling fatigue nearly at the level of pain around my shoulders, upper back, and arms. Suddenly I was leaving feeling pleasantly exercised, and mentally fairly fresh. Your comments in the accompanying text about finding ‘levels of relaxation that go levels deep’ resonate with my experience and help explain how sometimes it works better than others.
    And let me say I think that your insights from coming into tennis from another sport and being old enough as a learner to have a good understanding of what you were acquiring make your work especially effective. I have benefited much from your instruction during the year, and I want to thank you for that.

  11. Georgia /

    Of all the tennis websites I follow, yours is by far the best. Can’t wait for your 2014 brilliant insights, you are a gifted teacher.

    Best, Georgia

    • Arthur Kase. /

      I am 90 years old and still playing tennis three times a week I’m trying to unlearn a lot of bad habits I acquired along the way . Your lesson have been great support asyou recognize almost everyone them.

  12. Greetings Tomaz

    My compliments to you. I find your teaching a rare breath of fresh air amid the abysmal ignorance of tennis (all) instruction. As a lifelong martial artist and tennis enthusiast I completely agree with and enjoy your novel take on the science of natural movement and the art of teaching. You realize that the natural need not be taught but only be recalled.

    Anyone wanting to TRULY learn this, imo the most complex individual non-contact individual sport,only have to do your very effective simple drills. I look forward to your perspective applied to movement – the basis of all.

    My recent hack and application of Capoeira’s jinga convinced me that their system is the most stripped down realization of the coil-to-coil bio-tensegrity movement of the body. If you just youtube jinga, and try it, you will instantly get what I mean.

    aloha
    kai

    • Thanks a lot, kaleo. Will take a look at jinga, we can always learn so much from other sports…

  13. Milivoj Klobucar /

    Dear Tomaz,
    Nice and very useful post! Thank you !!
    Just reading yours instructions / watching video, listening to your voice, puts me in relaxed state already.
    Thanks again.

  14. Hi Tomaz,
    Thank you for your post.I am so impressed with your dedicate and sharing your knowledge with the community. Your worked is being well recognize.

  15. Very helpful comments and excellent diagrams with player showing the various aspects as you describe them. This will be helpful in teaching to new tennis players.

    Thank you!

  16. Mary Lins /

    Tomaz, thank you so much for your holiday post focused on relaxation! I look forward to using these concepts tomorrow in my drills session. I do have a light racket so I hope the feel will still come through for me. I feel so much better about my game since finding and enjoying your videos and tips. Thank you again and I wish you success and happiness in 2014!

    Mary in Edmond, Oklahoma

  17. High quality teaching as usual Tomaz congratulations and look forward to your next video.
    P.s have been working on this with serve and noticed more power with less effort! Thanks

  18. Tomaz, Excellent concepts for generating natural momentum rather than trying to force power. I worked on this with a friend today and we were able to rally so much more comfortably and effectively and create easy depth/length by trying “not to try so hard.” Of course, it’s also the key to the serve as many of your other excellent videos demonstrate. Thank you!

  19. Luis Rolando /

    Never is too late to learn! At my 78, I have never heard explanations so incredible clear.
    Thank you coach and happy new year!

  20. Your last post about how to relax and improve groundstrokes is very helpful.

  21. Greg LaVelle /

    Thanks Tomaz for a fresh way of passing on to my students how to achieve better tennis in their clinics and lessons. Having taught for over 30 yrs, I’m always looking for new insights to old ways. The power game has seemed to have ruled the past few years but without doing so “relaxed”, players don’t seem to ever find it successful.Thanks for your dedication to the game and keeping me motivated for years to come ! Greg L.

    • You’re right, Greg, effortless power with high consistency of the shots is based on very comfortable and relaxed hitting at a lower pace.

  22. Jon C /

    Tomaz, do you have an opinion on rackets? Specifically, best weight and head-heavy vs head-light?

    • Tomaz /

      I would recommend racquets with weight from 280 to 300 grams and head heavy.

      These would help you feel the momentum when you swing and also help you feel what release is and what it means to let the racquet hit the ball.

      Light racquets offer good manoeuvrability but the racquet doesn’t hold the swing path consistently since you can steer it away so easily.

      Therefore it’s harder to swing effortlessly and get a clean hit on the ball.

      • John S /

        Hi Tomaz, I strongly believe that the question of what is the best racquet weight has to be age related. I am 69 and now use a lighter racquet than in my earlier days when I was naturally stronger. Also the size and strength of build of the player should also be a factor in deciding on the weight of the racket.

      • Jon C /

        I’ve always played with head light rackets. It looks like you play with a Wilson BLX Five. Could you recommend some head heavy rackets?

        • Tomaz /

          Hi Jon,

          One nice comfortable racquet is Babolat Pure Drive, you can also try Wilson Blade.

          The best way to find a good racquet is to test it – you can even do a few swings in the store and see which racquet feels best to swing the way you like it.

  23. Caoihmin /

    Hi Tomaz,

    One day, while playing, I realised I was so tense that I could hardly feel the ball. I really intended to control the racquet as you described. Instinctively I began to say “lâche” while swinging forward (french word for “let go”) and instantly saw a great difference. So thank you very much for this appraoch you made and for the drills, very easy to put into practise… As always ;-)

  24. eugene mitchell /

    I lost you for awhile,love you instructions ,and practice them when ever i can THANKS.

  25. Rick S /

    Tomaz,

    I am average 4.5 player looking to improve and recently I have been researching the web for drills. I came across your website and I am very impressed with your style. It suits me well and your suggestions make sense and they help immediately once I have a chance to try them. I am looking forward to getting deeper into your site and learning more from your wisdom and teaching style. Thanks!

  26. Hi Tomaz,
    I recently found your website and I think it is excellent.

    One thing I am having difficulty with is that in this section about staying relaxed you talk about throwing the racket at the ball and letting the racket hit the ball. But in your section on How to Hit a Tennis Ball you refer to the compress and roll image of hitting the ball, and with that the use of the large body muscles in preparation. You also say that we should not “hit” a tennis ball.

    Can you help me understand how the two images (letting the racket “hit the ball and compressing the ball and rolling it) are consistent. Thanks.

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Tom,

      Firstly, both concepts are exaggerations in order for you to try and them and FEEL what it means to do each.

      Do not look for certainty in my instruction – or any other for that matter. NO ONE can describe to you how it feels to hit the ball and what muscles to use at each moment.

      So on one hand compress & roll will you engage more muscles and also approach executing top spin in the right way.

      But I cannot tell you how tense you should be or how relaxed. You need to find your LEVEL or optimal level for each ball.

      Throwing the racquet at the ball and letting the racquet hit the ball is on the OPPOSITE end of the spectrum of tension.

      It is another concept for you too try.

      But if you let the racquet go completely, you will have no control.

      Again, you need to find the LEVEL of letting go through practice.

      Eventually, playing with these ideas you can find different LEVELS of engaging your body AND relaxation at the same time to find the most effortless shot.

      In most cases, we use body way more than we use the arm. The large muscle groups are engaged while the hand holds the racquet lightly.

      The body gives force while the hand gives feel and accurate steering.

      Again, how much level or ratio of each is impossible to describe. You need to experiment with these ideas and REFINE the feel through many repetitions.

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