The Main Tennis Stances for Hitting Groundstrokes

The main tennis stances used in modern tennis are the closed stance, open stance and semi open stance based on court position, shot selection and type.

The main tennis stances used in modern tennis are the closed stance, the open stance and the semi open stance. Professional tennis players use a variety of tennis stances based on the court positioning, shot selection and type of shot.


The discussion of tennis stances and which stance to use and where are some of the most confusing areas for tennis players learning the game of tennis.

In modern tennis, the pros use an increasing amount of rotational forces on both the forehand and backhand shots, resulting in different tennis stances based on the current situation of the point.

Tennis Stances and Stylistic Differences Between Each Player

Tennis is an individual sport and each individual has his own way of hitting each particular shot. No two bodies are the same and therefore no two players can have the exact same strokes as each other. Even if some players seem to hit the ball very similarly, there are subtle differences in their strokes. There are multitudes of ways that a tennis ball can be hit. There are different grips and stances that can be used, especially for the ground strokes. The modern game has been marked by an increase in the speed and pace of the ball during rallies.

The emphasis on power has also forced players to use longer swings. But longer swings take more time to execute. Players have to somehow be able to hit the ball using proper techniques while at the same time being able to deal with the fast pace of the game. Adaptability, flexibility and improvisation have therefore become more and more useful. One of the ways to respond and adapt to the different situations a player finds himself in on the court is to learn how and when to use the different stances.

There are three basic tennis stances: closed, open and semi-open.

The closed stance has the feet and body turned sideways to the net. It is sometimes also referred to as the classic stance. This is because during the wooden racket days when people played more matches on grass and more commonly used the eastern and continental grips, the closed stance was the way to hit almost all ground strokes.

Problems with Closed Stance Hitting in Modern Tennis

The main advantage of this stance is that in ensures complete and proper shoulder and body turn. However, there are some situations where it is not always possible because of lack of time. Also, on some strokes, the positioning of the feet on the closed stance limits the uncoiling of the body into the shot since the front leg gets in the way of completing the follow through.

In the older days, the follow through usually ended forward from the body in the direction of the ball so this wasn’t much of a problem as it is now for the more modern style.


Tennis Stance: A closed stance today is reserved mainly for the backhand shot where there is less upper body rotation. It is almost never seen on the forehand

Also, In today’s game, shoulder turn is only one element of the full body turn needed to hit a world class forehand. Today, players are learning to develop a full body coil in addition to the sideways turn of the shoulder. More on this technique & mechanics are available in the Modern Forehand Unlocked Ebook

Tennis Stances: Today’s Open Stance in Modern Tennis

Today, the follow through usually ends on the opposite side from where the stroke originated. For a right handed forehand, that would be the left shoulder or left side of the body. To adapt, people who use the closed stance pivot their front feet to face the net as they uncoil.

Alternatively, they may already point the foot forward as they set up for the shot just as they would on an open or semi-open stance. This is done by Maria Sharapova. The stroke is finished with the back leg often coming up off the ground as the weight is transferred completely to the front foot.


Tennis Stance: A fully open stance as shown by Venus Williams

Benefits of using the Open Stance

The open stance features the feet aligned parallel to the net. The toes may point forward or to the side, as long as they are in this alignment. The trunk and shoulders are still turned sideways on the backswing when using this tennis stance.
The most major advantage of this stance is that it facilitates a full follow through and a complete uncoiling of the torso. Also, less time can be taken to set up for the shot. The main disadvantage of this stance is that it sometimes doesn’t allow for proper weight transfer and maintenance of balance.

Sharapova is a good example of a player whose technique can be broken down in this way. When she is rushed, she tends to hit from an open stance without getting her feet to balance her stroke properly, especially her forehand.

Fortunately for her, she is quite a powerful hitter so she is usually the one forcing the other player into rushing. The open stance is most commonly used for topspin ground strokes, especially the western or semi-western forehand. Double handed backhands can also be effectively hit from this stance.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s Tennis Stances

windshield-wiper-forehand (1)

The Tennis Stance used most frequently by Nadal is either a open stance or semi open stance, allowing for his body to rotate into the shot for more power

Top players like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer can hit their forehands very effectively with any stance including this one. By properly loading the back foot, coiling the torso and turning the shoulders, the can really unleash their forehands. On the forward swing, their weight gets shifted to the front foot, which really is only slightly ahead of their back foot. However, the sheer torque they produce can sometimes carry them off the ground as they throw their body weight into the shot.

At contact, their torsos are completely facing forward to the net. Both players have long follow throughs and finish with the feet parallel and facing forward for a quick recovery back to the ready position.

Semi Open Stance in Tennis

The semi-open tennis stance is a stance in between closed and open. The feet are diagonal relative to the net. Like the open stance, the toes may point forward, to the side or obliquely. This stance offers some of the advantages of both the closed and open stance. You can turn your shoulders and coil your trunk completely while at the same time ensure that you have a clear path to uncoil and perform a long complete follow through.

This is also a commonly used stance in today’s game. Topspin western and semi western forehands and two-fisted backhands can be hit from this stance. Andre Agassi frequently used this stance on both his forehand and backhand ground strokes.

fundamentals-of-tennis-forehand (1)

Tennis Stance: A semi-open stance today is one of the main stances used by top professional players on the forehand. This stance allows for full upper body rotation

Tennis Stances: Learning the Neutral Stance

There is actually a fourth tennis stance known as the sideways or neutral stance. This stance features the feet also being diagonal to the net like the semi-open stance. However, the legs are reversed.
For example, for a right handed player hitting a forehand, he would have his left foot ahead of his right foot on a semi-open stance while it would be his right foot ahead of his left foot on a sideways stance. This limits the amount of shoulder and trunk turn unless you are very flexible. The advantage of this stance is that the player can run through the shot.

Using the Tennis Stance (Neutral) on Short Balls

Andre Agassi sometimes used this on his forehand drive approach. When he got a short ball, he ran forward to it and arrived at this stance to hit the ball deep into his opponent’s court. Because he had a lot of flexibility, he could coil his trunk just as he normally would. Without having to pause too much to hit the ball, he could continue running forward as he hit the shot and end up sooner at the net where he can finish the point with volley.


Andre Agassi uses the neutral stance on approach shots for effective forward momentum whilst moving forward

The neutral stance, however, cannot be used for backhand shots, especially single-handed ones. This stance is also seen on volleys and half volleys, especially those that require the player to run for the ball. Because things happen much more quickly when you are up at net, you cannot think about how to position your feet properly for each particular shot.

You just volley the ball any which way it arrives, as long as you are balanced and have the upper body and the racket in proper position.

Keys of Using the Correct Tennis Stance

The main keys to maintaining proper stroke production regardless of the tennis stance used is to have proper footwork and balance. To improve this, footwork drills, speed drills and agility drills are all imperative. Moving properly to the ball should become so ingrained that it becomes second nature.

It must not be something you actively think about when playing. Instead, it should be automatic and unconscious or instinctive. The technique of the stroke – the racket work – should also be kept as consistent as possible.

Off Court Training to Improve Your Tennis

Strength training with weights and medicine ball throwing exercises will help ensure proper power-producing stroke mechanics regardless of what stance you use. Aside from strength, flexibility needs to be developed. The most important area would be the trunk or core. Trunk twisting stretches, hip and groin stretches and shoulder stretches should be performed.

With these in mind, it becomes clear why the pros can play using the different tennis stances. Because these players train and work out properly, they can completely focus on the ball and think only about their strategies and tactics instead of having to spend any energy pondering about how to move their feet in order to arrive at the ball in a particular stance.

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Topspin in Tennis

How To Feel Topspin In Tennis The Way A Pro Hits It

While various devices are available to help you feel the topspin of a tennis stroke like a forehand or a backhand, they are relatively expensive and might be used for only a short period of time before you don’t need them anymore.

In addition, while you can experiment with trying to feel the topspin, you don’t really know how that should feel when a more skilled player hits topspin.

This raises two questions: How should a topspin feel, and what are the different variations and adjustments you have to make during the game in terms of topspin to control the ball well?

There’s a very simple way to demonstrate that without any need for special tools. Your coach or a higher-skilled player can easily help you feel how they hit a topspin.

Feeling And Understanding The Topspin And Its Variations

I help players feel the topspin by simply hitting them on the back of the shoulder (gently, of course).

(Special thanks to Julio for helping demonstrate this concept.)

I first hit them directly, which we call “flat” in tennis, so that they can feel what a flat or direct hit feels like.

feel of flat tennis stroke

This is how a flat shot feels like…

Then I hit them at a slight angle. That means I hit them “partially”.

… and this is how a topspin stroke feels like.

That’s actually how we hit topspin on a more advanced level.

We don’t “brush” the ball, but we “graze” it.

The idea of brushing the ball is fine for a total beginner to give them a really clear mental image of topspin and get them started.

I like to use the idea of “rolling” the ball against a wall or a partner’s racket.

You can even do it yourself, as you can see in this video (also, you can see that I am not the only one teaching topspin with a rolling idea):

But, once we play at higher speed on a higher level, the idea of brushing or rolling doesn’t apply very often when we want to hit the ball with topspin. (Note, however, that it applies on heavy topspin shots like a topspin lob or loopier balls, perhaps from defense.)

A much better idea and feel is to imagine grazing the ball.

Here’s the dictionary definition of the verb “graze”:

verb (used with object), grazed, graz·ing.
1. to touch or rub lightly in passing.
2. to scrape the skin from; abrade:
(The bullet just grazed his shoulder.)

When we graze the ball, we don’t slow down the racket.

In fact, we just partially hit the ball with the same or even an accelerated racket head movement.

In contrast, the idea of brushing typically causes players to slow down the racket in order to execute the brushing motion.

By doing so, you’re losing the speed of your shot and the amount of topspin since you’re slowing down your racket at contact.

(I explained this same idea in another way in one my previous articles on advanced topspin technique.)

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to grazing the ball is that the more we are inside the court (closer to the net), the less we need to hit the ball directly and the more we have to graze it.

Consider a situation when we’re well inside the court attacking a short ball.

If we hit the ball too “fully” (too flat), we’ll give the ball too much power, and it will fly long because we have way less court to hit into.

Therefore, we need to hit the ball partially (graze it) in order to apply lots of topspin but not lots of power.

As you now see, hitting a topspin forehand or backhand is not just one simple task or movement but a skill that requires the ability to hit the ball very precisely.

Developing The Skill Of Precision When Hitting Topspin

One of the biggest challenges of the game of tennis is adjusting your stroke according to the incoming ball (high, low, topspin, slice, fast, slow, etc.), your position on the court and the direction you want to hit.

So, when it comes to topspin, you need that skill or precision in order to adjust the RATIO of hitting fully into the ball and partially hitting the ball.

In other words, you need different ratios of flat and topspin – meaning hitting straight into the ball (horizontal vector of the racket path) and hitting the ball partially (vertical vector of the racket path).

If you’re far behind the baseline hitting a defensive shot, you need to hit well into the ball with some topspin because you need the ball to fly far.

But, if you’re inside the court attacking a short ball, you need a different ratio of flat and topspin vectors.

You need to hit the ball less directly and more just graze it.

This skill cannot, of course, be developed by you reading and theoretically understanding this article and consequently being able to play with different topspin ratios.

It requires specific drills that develop the skill of precisely hitting the ball with the right amount of topspin.

The most fundamental way to begin are by completing mini tennis drills (playing within service boxes) because hitting the ball with topspin and keeping the ball in the service box requires you to hit the ball very precisely.

mini tennis topspin drills

Various mini tennis drills develop better precision of hitting the ball with topspin.

If you are not precise, you’ll immediately hit the ball too long or into the net, and that gives you instant feedback on how to adjust on the next shot.

Playing full court, of course, gives you a much greater margin for error, and you may be hitting the ball quite imprecisely while still landing it in the court.

If you play this way, you may not realize that that same stroke won’t work well at higher speeds.

I will post more ideas in the future on how to develop the skill of spinning the ball in tennis, but for now, you can just experiment with these 3 drills (players play cross court):

  • The coach plays a slow, floaty slice, and the player hits topspin.
  • The coach plays a topspin, and the player has to stop the ball with slice and then play topspin.
  • The coach and the player both play topspin.

I invite you to experiment with the idea of grazing the ball (instead of brushing it) when you hit topspin shots (especially inside the court when dealing with short balls) and let us know how it works for you in the comments below. 3 Shares

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Tennis Serve Fundamentals – The Swing & Throw 10 comments Top rated comments first XT July 31, 2018

Tomaz – interesting concept. Would this grazing action also be “representative” of what happens on the serve? Vote: Share Tomaz July 31, 2018

Yes, grazing applies to serves too – meaning topspin and slice serves.

We can teach initially brushing in order to give the student a clear idea but eventually one needs to accelerate the racket head faster and “grazing” is probably a better trigger word to use. Vote: Share Thayr Richey July 30, 2018

Communicating tennis concepts verbally is difficult. Your use of the term “grazing” was very useful. As a senior play who has taken a lot of lessons and looked at a lot of tennis instructional videos, I have found that many coaches’ terminology is usually vague.

Thank you. Vote: Share Tomaz July 31, 2018

Thanks for the feedback, Thayr. I think we need to constantly look for better ways to teach… Vote: Share Marcelo July 27, 2018

Tomaz, great, great explanation, for all but especially for beginners.
As always very didactic, but poor Julio !! LOL
Thanks for your tips.
Greetings. Vote: Share Tomaz July 28, 2018

Thanks, Marcelo!


The sound of hitting here in the video is quite strong but the actual hits in reality were really gentle. Vote: Share Arturo Hernandez Corpi July 26, 2018

Hi Tomaz,


I like the grazing idea ALOT. As you have written (said, recorded, shown!) it is much easier to feel something than it is to say what it feels like. I suppose we could get into a long conversation about how this leads to all kinds of problems in human relations. But that digression is perhaps more appropriate for another forum.

The interesting thing is that you are proposing that we make someone feel what you are doing to them. In this case they feel you creating topspin as if they were the ball. Then that person will feel what they should do to the ball. One of the realizations I have had recently is that topspin feels to me as if my whole body is producing it. I really have started to feel this in my serve but also feel it in my groundstrokes.

Have you thought (or written) about how people transfer an image or feeling of themselves moving into what happens to an external object?

Is this like a fusion of the self and an external object?

Does this question make sense? Vote: Share Tomaz July 26, 2018

Hi Arturo,

I agree that the more skilled you are the more you feel it’s “you” hitting the ball and “you” applying topspin and not feel the arms or even the racket disconnected from you.


At high level the racket is simply an extension of one’s body whereas on a lower skill level the racket is a tool with which player wants to hit the ball.

As in all sports, it takes time and practice to reach such levels. Vote: Share Anne July 26, 2018

Hi Tomaz:

I have been continually taught to “brush” or”roll” the ball for topspin & have minimal success achieving good topspin especially when I am trying to execute a short ball stroke.

Thanks for your “grazing” tip…I will try this tomorrow a.m.
I really like your method of tennis instruction…

Anne Vote: Share Tomaz July 27, 2018


Thanks, Anne, give it a shot but start easy, with less than 50% power at first. Also, don’t take the instruction completely literally.

None of the instruction we can give in words or video can explain what actually happens in 0.004 seconds that the contact lasts.

Yes, that’s 4 thousands of a second.

So with every instruction the player must experiment and try to find and feel the concept that the coach was explaining. Vote: Share

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Tennis Footwork Patterns For Attacking Short Balls

Short balls in tennis are opportunities either to start dictating the rallies and pressuring your opponents into mistakes or to finish the points if the balls are really short.

Yet, so many of these short balls are wasted because players do not move quickly and smoothly towards them. Instead, they end up in awkward positions from which they make more mistakes when they should be making points.

While there are many ways to move to a short ball, we can narrow down the movement patterns to two types of footwork used most commonly, depending on whether the ball is just inside the baseline or whether it’s a really short ball closer to the service line.

Two Types Of Short Balls And How To Move Towards Them

A simple way to define short balls and movement towards them is to place them in two categories:

  • shorter balls just inside the baseline where you need some adjusting steps to get to them, and
  • really short balls that land around the service line where you actually need to run towards them.
Two types of short balls

Two types of short balls that result in different footwork patterns

Let’s see how the footwork patterns and other elements of tennis technique differ depending on which type of short ball you’re receiving.

Shorter Balls Just Inside The Baseline

When you have to move forward 2-3 meters (6-9 feet) towards the ball, you need to use an adjusting footwork pattern.

The sequence of actions you need to do is TURN – STEP – SHUFFLE and HIT, of course.

adjusting footwork for short balls

This applies to the forehand as well as one-handed and two-handed backhands.

The most common mistake that players make in this situation is that they don’t turn their upper body first (unit turn) and simply run towards this short ball.

Then they realize they have to execute the whole stroke from start to finish in a very short amount of time.

That’s why the stroke is rushed. The player is not balanced, and this typically results in a poor shot or even a mistake instead of allowing the player to take control of the rally.

So, it’s crucial that the player first turns their upper body and makes one step forward before making the final adjustment to the ball with the shuffle step.

That way, the player will have already executed half of the stroke at the beginning.

The player is now in a correct neutral stance position that allows for good balance and weight transfer, and the resulting shot is therefore very likely to be a good one.

Really Short Balls Close To The Service Line

When the ball is bouncing around the service line and it’s not struck with pace, you will have to run towards it as the previous footwork pattern doesn’t get you far enough nor is it fast enough.

Players will, of course, run towards this short ball, but they will usually make a very similar mistake like in the previous case. Specifically, they will not turn their upper body and start the stroke preparation along the way.

They will typically just run towards the ball. Then, once they reach it, they will realize that they still have to execute the whole stroke and therefore run out of time to do it well.

The correct sequence of actions is then RUN – TURN ALONG THE WAY – STOP and HIT, of course.

running footwork for short balls

This is a more difficult sequence of movements that requires more coordination between the arms and the legs since the player needs to keep running and start the upper body turn and stroke preparation along the way.

That’s why it’s really important that you practice this because it does take some time to master.

The benefit of mastering this footwork is that it gives you the ability to get to a short ball quickly, in the correct stance and with your stroke already prepared to fire.

And that, of course, will allow you to win most points where you receive a short ball. Just make sure you know how to