How to start playing tennis if you’ve never held a racket before

Thinking about trying tennis but not sure how to start playing? Two experts share their top tips for beginners. 

Now that summer is here and we’re looking to spend as much time in the sunshine as possible, you may be looking for a fun outdoor alternative to your usual fitness routine. 

And with Wimbledon starting at the end of this month, what better time to head to one of the 20,000 tennis courts across the UK?

Whether you fancy yourself as the next Serena Williams or still need a bit of help with your serve, tennis will give you an all-round workout that builds your leg muscles, stamina and hand-eye coordination while improving the flexibility of your muscles and your bone density.

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And playing tennis brings great mental health benefits, too. A study from Southern Connecticut State University found that tennis players “scored higher in vigour, optimism and self-esteem while scoring lower in depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and tension than other athletes and non-athletes.”

Thinking of taking to the court for the first time? Jo Ward, a former British professional tennis player and LTA coach, shares her advice for beginners.

“Tennis improves your speed, stamina, coordination, balance, and a whole host of other areas.”

The benefits of playing tennis

“Firstly, it’s great for improving physical fitness. Tennis improves your speed, stamina, coordination, balance, and a whole host of other areas,” says Ward.

“Playing sport is also linked to positive mental health too, and tennis in particular provides mental stimulus as it requires problem-solving and focus. Also, an often overlooked benefit of getting into regular tennis is that it provides fantastic social opportunities (following government guidelines, of course).”

Nell Mead, a physiotherapist, has been playing tennis since she was six years old. “What I love about tennis is how you can have fun at any level. No matter how good or how bad you are at it, if you go to a tennis club, you will almost certainly be able to find someone to knock a ball about with,” she says. “The joy of chasing a little yellow ball around a court is the reason I’ve fought back from injuries and surgery. And it’s brought me lifelong friendships and friendly rivalries, and taught me valuable lessons about fair play, teamwork, winning, losing, resilience and leadership.”

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“There’s no ‘right time’ to pick up a racket and start playing at all.”

Is it possible to learn how to play tennis at any age?

“Absolutely,” says Ward. “We have adapted tennis, and the way we teach it, to account for different ages and the various motivations people have to pick up a racket and play. There’s no ‘right time’ to pick up a racket and start playing at all.”

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Top tips for starting to play tennis

Harriet Dart, author and professional British tennis player, shares her five top actionable tips for starting out on the tennis court.

1. Firstly, it’s always very important to be on your feet. Keep moving, be aware of your footwork as this will help you play better. Don’t stand still.

2. The second thing to master would be the ‘split step’ or the ‘get ready’ move – feet at least shoulder-width apart, hands out front and you jump into this position as the other person hits the ball so you’re ready to move to your next shot.

3. Make sure you get your racket back early, in preparation for your shot – that’s really important to ensure you’re ready to hit the ball in front of you, not behind, which will off-set you on your feet.

4. Next, focus on the ‘follow-through’; the continuation of your racket swing through the ball as you make contact between racket and ball which steers your shot in the right direction; low to high.

5. And lastly, just enjoy it. Tennis is such a fun game; there’s no right way and all it takes is a bit of practice to master the basics.

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For beginners, LTA recommends starting with lower compression balls, which are less bouncy and easier to control. “Start in a small space, so if you’re on a tennis court start closer to the net, and work your way back when you start to achieve a few successful hits and rallies,” advises Ward. “Don’t go full-on Serena as soon as you step on court and try to whack the ball a million miles an hour. If you want to master the basics quickly, find a local coach and get to know the basics. You’ll meet lots of people, get fitter, and get to grips with the game in no time.”

The LTA’s nationwide booking website, LTA Rally, is an easy way for tennis players to find, book, access and pay for tennis courts online. You don’t need a membership, just book online, turn up and play. The LTA is committed to opening tennis up to the nation, with the ambition of inspiring people of all abilities, ages and backgrounds to pick up a racket and play tennis on their terms with its call to action Play Your Way. LTA Rally helps to open up the sport and make it accessible and affordable to play. 

Images: LTA

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