The Importance Of Hitting In Your Ideal Strike Zone

Apr 26

If the concept of the ideal strike zone is not familiar to you, then you may be hitting your strokes much worse than you’re actually capable of.

That’s because when we hit the ball in the ideal strike zone, we get maximum power and control of our shot.

And when we don’t hit the ball in the ideal strike zone, we always have some loss of power and control. That’s because we have to improvise our stroke technique somewhat.

How To Find The Ideal Strike Zone

To feel and understand what a strike zone, stand next to the wall and simulate a forehand (or backhand) contact with your hand and then press into the wall.

You will see that you have the most power and leverage at around waist height at a comfortable distance to the side.

power zone for tennis strokes

You can quickly find your zone of power by pressing into the wall at different heights

You will still feel good power in the height area between your knees and shoulders, but anything lower or higher will not feel so strong.

Our body is built in a certain way. It is not able to produce such good leverage when we reach above our shoulders, below our knees or too far away from the body.

It is this feeling of “power” that determines the ideal strike zone.

Another way of finding the strike zone is to comfortably swing your arm and notice at what height your palm swings naturally.

ideal swing zone for backhand

Swinging your arm naturally also reveals your ideal strike zone

Again, you will notice that your hand swings naturally around waist height for both the forehand and the backhand side.

If you try to swing much higher or much lower, you will feel less comfort, which is what saps the power from your strokes.

As you can see, we can easily feel and determine what the ideal strike zone is and why we should strive to hit as many balls as we can in this hitting zone for effortless power and control.

Two Reasons You’re Not Hitting In The Strike Zone

There are two main reasons you’re not already striving to hit as many balls as you can in your ideal strike zone:

  • you’re not aware of the strike zone, or
  • you are aware that you hit better in the strike zone, but you want to conserve energy.

Not Being Aware Of The Strike Zone

If you’re not aware of the benefits of hitting in the ideal strike zone, then you’re probably playing for points most of the time where your focus is constantly on tactics and on your opponent(s).

Because you’re not paying attention to your body and how you feel, you fail to realize that shots hit in your ideal stroke zone have much more power and control than shots hit outside of your strike zone.

forehand outside of strike zone

It’s hard to be aware of your strike zone when playing points

You may also be in a beginner stage where the ball flight and technical instructions overwhelm you so much that you can’t really track what happens when you hit in or outside of the ideal strike zone.

In both cases, you have a very simple task in your mind for every incoming ball: “Reach the ball.”

As you will soon see, that’s not good enough for hitting quality tennis shots.

Wanting To Conserve Energy

Another type of player is the one who is aware of the benefits of hitting in the strike zone, but prioritizes comfort over quality of shots.

If we want to hit the ball in our ideal strike zone, we have to move around the court and constantly make bigger or smaller adjustments to position our whole body in such a place where our arm and racket will just swing very comfortably at the ideal height and hit the ball in the ideal strike zone.

hitting in ideal strike zone

It takes more effort and steps to get to the ball well

In other words, it takes a lot of effort to try to position well for every single incoming ball.

Some players prefer to conserve energy (let’s not use the word “lazy”…) and lean with their body and reach with their arm to wherever the ball is and hope that they can still hit it back into the court.

Many times, they do hit the ball in the court. However, because the shot lacks power and control, their opponent can easily take advantage of that and start to dominate.

The player might then blame their forehand or their backhand for the poor shot instead of the real cause – not having moved well enough to the ball and hitting in a balanced position.

To those players, I have one message: If you want to hit good shots in tennis, you have to pay the price for them. In tennis, we pay the price with effort and footwork.

There is NO WAY you can play good tennis and constantly juggle between being comfortable and playing tennis.

The second you enter a tennis court, you need to leave your desires to feel comfortable and not strain your legs outside.

To play good tennis, you need to work very hard with your legs so that your arms can be comfortable and there is no need to reach for the balls.

When your arms swing comfortably and you can hit the ball in the ideal strike zone, only then can you expect to hit consistent shots with good power.

Otherwise, just stop bothering to improve and have fun playing social tennis.

You will experience a lot of discomfort at first when you move around the court trying to position your body at the ideal distance from the ball, but you will get used to it eventually.

I am still working hard with my legs when playing, and I am aware of a certain discomfort, but now I have gotten used to it!

I ignore the discomfort since hitting a good tennis shot is much more important to me than feeling rested.

If I have to come to a sports facility to engage in sports, then the whole point is to burn some extra energy, to get my lungs working at full capacity and to cleanse my body through sweating.

I also want to maintain the speed and flexibility of my body as long as possible as none of us can stop the aging process.

So, why would I want to feel comfortable and conserve energy? I will rest when I get outside of the tennis court.

If I play tennis for 2 hours, I will be able to rest for the remainder of the day since it’s unlikely that I’ll run or quickly have to change direction in those 22 hours.

I am sharing my views on this topic so that hopefully those of you who still want to be comfortable every single second of your life see another way of looking at this and finally start giving it 100% when you’re on a tennis court.

How To Adjust With Your Feet Instead Of With Your Arms

If you have been adjusting to the ball by reaching for it – meaning you were adjusting by leaning and reaching out with your arm – then simply giving yourself an instruction to adjust with your feet won’t change much.

That’s because you have a bad habit now and you need a very specific drill to break it up.

Your brain is used to sending a signal first to your arms as you see the ball flying towards you.

Your legs just follow and help your arms a little bit, but it’s mostly your arms that do the adjusting.

To break this pattern, we need to “take the arms away” from the equation so that the player can adjust only with his feet.

We do that by sticking the butt of the racket into the hip on the side, and we hold the racket a bit higher on the handle.

strike zone drill

By preventing the arms from adjusting the player is forced to use their feet

When the coach tosses the ball to the player, he cannot adjust with his arms and he is forced to adjust with his feet.

Because we are trying to reprogram the brain, the player’s goal is just to touch the ball so that the drill activates the legs to adjust to the ball’s distance and depth instead of the arms.

After 10-20 repetitions, the player can swing normally again.

Because his legs are now “activated,” he will very likely adjust well to the ball with his feet.

The player will be aware of the difference in how to adjust to each incoming ball and will also feel the benefits of that.

Since he is no longer leaning and reaching for the ball, he has much better balance.

He is also hitting the ball in the ideal strike zone, so he will experience much more power and control.

adjusting footwork steps

Adjusting with the feet allows the player to hit the ball in the ideal strike zone

The drill, of course, has to be repeated over time so that this new program becomes automatic.

I have found this approach to be very effective in quickly teaching players the difference between adjusting with their arms and adjusting with their feet, which also means the difference between hitting outside or inside of their ideal strike zone.

See if you can become more aware of where you’re hitting the ball the next time you’re on the court.

Try to determine how the shot differs when you hit inside or outside of your ideal strike zone.

Of course, it’s best if you’re in a free hitting rally with your partner as only then can you pay attention to such details and continuously work on improving your positioning so that you can hit as many shots as possible in the ideal strike zone.

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(12) comments

EH April 26, 2017

Can you address footwork for dealing with an opponent who hits heavy topspin and gets balls high out of your strike zone and you feel like you are hitting every ball defensively above your shoulders.

Moving back can give up too much court and trying to take it really early can be difficult against heavy topspin.

Reply
    Tomaz April 26, 2017

    In most cases you have to move back and work hard, EH.

    There is no easy solution for that.

    A heavy topspin shot that also has pace is a weapon – that’s why it wins matches.

    The way to defend against is to:
    – be a great mover in defence and return many balls in play so that the attacker misses here and there
    – prevent the attacker from using that topspin as much as possible by playing serve and volley, chip and charge, slicing the ball low, looping back very high balls, etc.

    Reply
Tom Barabas April 27, 2017

Your instructions and explanation are one the best I’ve ever heard, seen, or experienced.

5+ stars !!!!!

Reply
    Tomaz April 27, 2017

    Thanks, Tom!

    Reply
Mohamed April 27, 2017

You are the tennis GAME.
I love you.
Thank you.

Reply
Mike Wyeth May 1, 2017

Very interesting. Is there a similar “constraint” for getting the position right for the one-handed backhand?

Reply
    Tomaz May 1, 2017

    Yes, Mike, same window of the strike zone on the backhand side too.

    Reply
Roger Pist May 16, 2017

Hi Tomaz, Pablo Cuevas watched your course “Serve Unlock”, he did pronation’s drill #1 on game Vs Zverev (Madrid Master 1000 2017).

My serve is better day by day.

Congratulations for your work.

Reply
    Tomaz May 17, 2017

    Thanks, Roger, I guess he really did watch it. 😉

    Reply

Hi Tomaz, thank you for the great article once again, I have seen several videos of yours and they surely helped me improve. I understood the importance of strike zone but I am having trouble moving quickly.

It seem to require working on footwork, fitness, and technique (split step), as all these affect how quickly I can sense the direction of the oncoming ball, and move myself quick enough to play a perfect shot in my strike zone. I feel I move like a pig than a dog and hate myself for it.

If not done already, this may be a good future video where you can show us how much time a pro gets to return a ball, and his slow motion until he finally makes a good contact. I can recollect Nadal here, his form this year in Clay, how fast he can move and return balls back, it’s mind-blowing.

Reply
    Tomaz May 19, 2017

    Hi Vignesh,

    Thanks for the kind feedback.

    You will improve your movement only with drills and not by reading or watching something or analyzing the pros.

    I suggest you go on Youtube and search for tennis footwork drills, tennis ladder drills or tennis cone drills and you’ll find plenty of ideas on how to train your movement.

    Reply
Simun June 13, 2017

Hi Tomaz, what would be you advice on a shoulder high balls that fall around service line?
Wait to come into strike zone or try to slam them from high above?
Thanks and regards

Reply
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