How to start playing tennis – plus why your body and social life will thank you

If you’ve been glued to Wimbledon and fancy having a go at the wonderful game of tennis, here’s how to get started.

Whenever you take up tennis, you can be assured it’s a sport that welcomes everybody, regardless of age. Many clubs have a nimble 80-odd-year-old or two still playing, and even winning matches. 

And of course, it’s not just good for you physically; there are many benefits you can enjoy, from better strength to improved mobility. I know, because I may be in my sixties now, but I’m still reaping the rewards of my love of tennis. 

An older couple arm in arm after a tennis gameCredit: wavebreakmedia/shutterstock
Tennis is a welcoming sport for players of every age and a great way to meet friends as you get fit

Why play tennis?

Active ageing will benefit your physical and mental health

Physical benefits

Muscle mass and strength are affected by age, and we all get slightly weaker with the years, but tennis can help keep this in check.   

You’re constantly on the move, whether it’s running to get into position, stretching for a shot or “dancing” on your feet in preparation to receive a ball. Stronger muscles will not only lead to strong bones but will help reduce joint injuries.

Exercise also improves balance, endurance and flexibility, and tennis can be a key player in boosting all three.  

As a form of cardio exercise, it also makes your heart beat faster and transports oxygen around your body to fuel muscles. Did I mention that it will help lower cholesterol and burn more calories? That’s a win, win, win. 

Mental benefits

Learning a new skill sharpens mental agility and tennis has a lot to offer on this score too. Good hand-eye coordination is essential, combining awareness of your body positioning with the ability to work out where the ball should go.

Tennis also involves problemsolving, which is beneficial for brain health. Where will my opponent hit the ball? How can I get there in time? Where can I return the ball to create the best chance of winning the point? All of these questions and more need answering in the moment on court.

Socially, it’s a winner too. It’s impossible to play tennis on your own; you need at least one other person for singles, and three for doubles. That’s an increased local friendship circle, which could be mentally beneficial given that a recent report recently cited loneliness ‘as bad for health as smoking’.

Tennis equipment

Essential kit on court

You could spend hundreds of pounds on tennis gear, and down the road you might. But until you know this is the game for you, stick to the basics. These include:

  • Tennis racket 
  • Tennis shoes (aka plimsolls) 
  • Tennis balls 
  • Breathable clothing you can run in  

First, a lightweight racket. A large head often suits beginners, offering more power and a bigger surface area to hit the ball.  

Rackets come in different grip sizes. Look on the frame or handle bottom. A 4¼in grip, for example, is the same as size 2, the alternative measuring system. Hold the racket on its side and grip the handle as if you’re shaking hands. You should be able to get an index finger in the space between the ends of your fingers and the mount of your thumb. Too much space, you need a smaller grip; too little, a larger one. The wrong size could make your racket slip or even cause tennis elbow. 

Featured product

Senston Tennis Set inc. 2 Rackets, Balls & Grips

RRP: £54.99

Senston Tennis Set inc. 2 Rackets, Balls & Grips

Another essential is tennis-specific shoes. A good all-rounder shoe is best – offering comfort, ankle protection, sideways stability and plenty of cushioning – to provide the best combo of grip and robustness.  

Then you’ll need some tennis balls (they’re typically sold in tubes of four), and some comfortable, breathable sportswear.

Getting started

What to look for on court

Learn the court layout

A tennis court may look daunting, but each zone dictates where you stand at particular points. This can aid focus. 

It’s a large rectangle divided by a net. All you have to do is get the ball over the net to land within the court confines (narrow length for singles and wider court, including tram lines, for doubles). 

 

Author Lynne on a tennis courtCredit: Lynne Maxwell
Lynne Maxwell has enjoyed tennis and everything it has to offer for many years

Service station

Stand behind the baseline on either side of the centre mark and serve into the service box diagonally opposite on your opponent’s side of the net. You have two chances to get the ball in. Your feet cannot touch or cross the baseline until you have hit the ball. 

The receiver may not hit the ball before it has bounced. The server alternates the side of the court to serve from after each point, starting on the right. After each game, the service goes to the opposition, the order of service being maintained throughout. 

Nets and lets

If a first served ball hits the net and lands in the service box beyond, it’s called a ‘let’. The server still has two chances to get the ball in. If the ball hits the net but lands out or on the server’s side of the net, this is a chance used up to land the ball in the service box. 

Things to avoid:

  • Don’t let the ball bounce more than once before returning it (you can also hit it before it bounces, which is known as a volley shot)
  • Don’t reach over the net to hit a ball before it has passed into your side of the court
  • Don’t touch the ball with anything other than your racket 
  • Don’t touch the net with your racket or any part of your body while the ball is in play 

Master the game

Top tips to build confidence and skill

Little and often is the way to play

Consider, how much time per week do you want to block out for tennis? Booking courts ahead will encourage you play. Remember: “The harder you practise, the luckier you’ll get!” 

Warm up first to prevent injury

Doing this on the tennis court will reinforce your knowledge of its layout. Here’s a great tennis warm-up:

  • Start in the middle of the tramlines on the left of the court and jog gently forwards towards the net and touch it with your racket. 
  • Facing the net, sidestep into the service box and jog slowly backwards to just behind the service line. 
  • Shuffle step several paces to the centre service line by stepping to the side with one foot and bringing the other to join it. 
  • Repeat the previous three points but working your way across to the right of the court, finishing in the tramlines. Walk to the starting point and repeat twice. 

Get to grips with your racket

Hold your racket like a frying pan, with a ball on the strings. Gently move the racket up and down, keeping its face parallel to the ground, until the ball starts bouncing. How long can you keep it going? 

Now use the racket to keep it bouncing on the ground. Counting the number of bounces out loud can increase success. While you’re counting, you’re not overthinking the physical requirements needed. 

Start playing

Grab a partner. Stand either side of the net, just inside the service line, and keep a rally going as long as possible, each player shouting out the number of the shot they made. It’s not just about you getting it over the net but also learning to control the ball so your partner can return it. 

Lynne Maxwell

Written by Lynne Maxwell

Published:

Lynne is a freelance journalist working for a range of clients including Kelsey Media, the Royal Society of Chemistry (despite dropping that subject at the earliest opportunity, much to her chemistry teacher’s relief) and, of course, Saga Exceptional. 

She was editor of a number of national magazines – including Improve your Sea Angling, Garden Answers and Country Walking – before launching a portfolio of websites in the country market as Editor in Chief. 

She has spent much of her career working in photography and gardening (including several publications of the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society) but her passions are tennis, which she plays socially or in matches about three times a week, and rural walks. In fact, every major birthday (a number divisible by five) she organises a walk with friends matching that number of miles. At some point she may consider changing to kilometres… but not yet. 

An interest in running was also sparked when she worked on Trail Running magazine and she enjoys parkrun on a Saturday and sometimes a run across the fields near her house, just  for the joy of it. 

She also has a degree-level diploma in Leadership Mentoring and Executive Coaching but has never found it effective with her own family. She’s married with one son and when she and her husband are not playing tennis, they like to go and watch it, especially the Rothesay classics because of the intimacy of the settings, so close to the top players, and Wimbledon. Despite ‘encouraging’ her son with a book on tennis for his first Christmas, he chose the dark side, preferring  to play and watch football with his mates or dad.