10 Tennis Tips for Beginners From Frances Tiafoe
By Jenna Braddock, MSH, RDN, CSSD, LD/N, ACSM-CPT
The ideas and suggestions written below are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health- and nutrition-related activity.
Tennis is a sport that has gained significant momentum in the past couple of years.1 If you’ve also joined the movement, you might be looking for tennis tips to improve your game. World-ranked pro tennis player Frances Tiafoe is the latest athlete to join the Clif Bar team, and he graciously shared his top 10 tips for beginners.
1. To get your racket grip right, pick it up from the ground.
While he might be a world-class tennis player, Tiafoe has one of the simplest methods to teach you how to hold your tennis racket. “The easiest way is to put the racket flat on the ground. Then reach down and pick it up with your dominant hand, that is your basic forehand [semi-western] grip.”
2. Learn as much as you can from free sources, then get in a lot of reps.
Don’t let formal instruction keep you from getting started and enjoying the game! While learning from a coach is always best, there is a plethora of free information that can help you improve your game.
“These days, you can [watch videos on] YouTube and learn so much. Once you have an idea of the basics, the best thing to do is go hit against a wall or a garage door. I used to do that for hours and hours when I was a kid. You can get a lot of reps very quickly and eventually find fun ways to keep it interesting with games and challenges against yourself.”
3. Stay patient as you learn.
“Tennis is one of the toughest sports out there,” Tiafoe advises. “You have to move, prepare your swing, swing through, and make clean contact — all while continuing to move and then recovering to make it to the next shot. It takes time to get the hang of it [like anything worth doing], so you have to remember that.”
4. Prevent injuries with a proper warm-up and cool-down.
If you’re one of those people who show up at the court and just start playing, you may want to reconsider your approach. Tiafoe helps prevent injuries with “a lot of stretching and an emphasis on warming up and cooling down properly.” He focuses on core, back, and shoulder exercises that improve mobility and strength by using resistance bands or body weight. This is great advice not only for a top-ranked tennis player but also for anyone who wants to enjoy the game injury-free.
5. The only equipment you need to get right when you’re starting to play is your tennis racket size.
“When you’re just getting started [playing tennis], almost any equipment will do. I think the only thing to be concerned about is the size of the racket,” Tiafoe advises.
Rackets vary in head size and length. If someone uses a racket that is too large or heavy for them, it will affect their ability to enjoy the game. Conversely, a racket that’s too small for someone could create a frustrating experience too.
“Once you have figured out your strokes and have a feel for the game [and know you want to keep playing], then you can look to buy some proper tennis shoes and a nicer racket appropriate to your size, strengths, and game style.”
6. Improve your serve by nearly throwing your racket.
The tennis serve may be one of the most challenging skills to perfect as a new player. Tiafoe says that “the best way to learn how to improve your serve is to work on the serving motion. Start by throwing a ball high and far, as if you’re trying to throw it over the back fence or high over a tree. Once you have practiced that, imagine you’re throwing the racket in the same way [don’t actually throw the racket, please!]. Then once you have that motion, take it to the tennis court [and step up to the baseline with your non-dominant foot]. Then toss the ball up high and in front of you with your [non-dominant] hand and get the feeling that you’re throwing the racket at the ball to make contact. At the very top of the contact point, try to snap your wrist and the racket head to bring the ball down into the service box.”
7. Improve your game with simple drills you don’t need a court for.
Throwing a tennis ball around can teach timing, coordination, and movement — skills that quickly translate to better footwork and eye-hand coordination on the court.
Tiafoe suggests these four drills:
- Throw a tennis ball against a wall and catch it with your dominant hand without letting it bounce.
- Throw a tennis ball against a wall, let it bounce, and then catch it with your dominant hand.
- Repeat both above drills but throw the ball at different angles, forcing you to move and catch it with your dominant hand.
- Repeat these drills but catch the ball with your non-dominant hand.
8. Start with doubles to enjoy tennis more.
Playing singles or doubles can certainly affect how you experience and enjoy tennis. Tiafoe suggests starting with doubles because it “can be an easy way to play socially with friends. In many cases, you can have three people on the court with you [who] are better players than you and therefore have an ability to control the ball and the game. This makes it easier to have better rallies and points, which always feels more entertaining when you first start.”
If you don’t have a group of tennis friends to join, invite others in your circle to learn together. Learning a new sport is a fantastic way to stay fit and agile as you age. Plus, time with friends will help build strong connections with each other.
9. Build strength and power by cross-training.
Playing tennis is a great way to use strength from your whole body. Improving and increasing your strength and power translates to a stronger game on the court. Tiafoe complements his on-court training with specific gym work to build strength, especially in his legs, core, shoulders, and back. “Once you have that strength,” he says, “It becomes very important to build that strength and power in stretched and dynamic positions. You’re only dangerous if you can hit powerful shots at full strength all while being in full control of your head and body.”
Beginners can quickly improve their tennis game by incorporating a basic full-body strength program. This type of cross-training can also help protect your body from injury.
10. Resting and fueling well are important factors for enjoying tennis and playing your best.
“It all starts with a good night’s sleep,” Tiafoe confesses about his tricks for success. “From there, you must ensure that you’re eating well and fueling your body properly for the activity you have planned for that day. If it’s a match day or training day, I’ll make sure I have a good breakfast, then a good lunch with a lot of healthy carbs and protein [if the match or practice is in the afternoon]. Then during the practice or match, I’ll make sure I’m fueling with something to keep my energy levels up. For me, it’s always the CLIF BAR® White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Flavor.”
Keeping your strength and stamina levels up is just as important for you as it is for an elite tennis player. Choose your favorite flavor of CLIF BAR® energy bar to help sustain your energy, whether you’re getting ready for a match or needing fuel to keep going set after set.
- USTA. “U.S. tennis participation grew for third straight year in 2022.” Published January 12, 2023. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://www.usta.com/en/home/s...;