Tennis Court Zones
Tennis is most certainly a game of tactics. Sure, tennis players need good technique and fitness levels to play the game well. But the thing that will give you the best chance of success on the tennis court is your mental game. The strategy you bring to the court is incredibly important, so understanding the different areas of the court and how to play in each of them is paramount to your success!
What are Tennis Court Zones?
At Thetennisbros.com, we like to give you in depth analysis and our anecdotal thoughts about different aspects of the game of tennis. We cover tactics, technique, how to guides and even the rules and court dimensions.
So, when we refer to tennis court zones, what we actually mean are the different areas you may be playing from on the court, and how you should adjust your mental, tactical and physical approach accordingly.
These zones are more than just parts of the court, they represent the different arenas of battle in a competitive tennis encounter and they need to be understood in order to be played in effectively.
Therefore, we have broken the court down into four distinct zones and given you specific strategies of how to play in each zone, along with some tips for improving your game in each zone.
The idea here is that learning to play the right shot at the right time will improve your overall understanding of tennis tactics, so you can construct your points more effectively.
One of the most infuriating things that happens all too often with promising tennis players is being able to play a lot of shots, but not being able to decide the appropriate time to use each one.
This is something that holds a lot of players back and ultimately will be the difference between a good ball striker and a great match player.
And at the end of the day, whilst it is great to have a lot of shots up your sleeve, they’re pretty useless if you can never find the right time to use them.
So, let’s explore the four tennis court zones and how you can master your game in each of them!
Neutral – On the Baseline
First and foremost, let’s consider the most common area of the court that players will be operating in, the neutral zone. This is situated just behind the baseline and is where most players will spend a lot of time rallying from.
This is where you will always be starting the point, regardless of whether you are serving or returning. Therefore, it is very important to get comfortable playing in this zone, as you will likely be building all of your points from this area of the court.
Ideally, you will be looking to play consistent, rally balls from the neutral zone that can start to push your opponent back behind their own baseline, into their defensive zone.
This will likely offer up a shorter ball that you can step inside the court and attack, taking control of the point.
Something to remember when in the neutral zone is that you will probably be at level pegging with your opponent in this area, so don’t expect to win the point outright every time from this position.
All too often recreational players will try to hit winners from the neutral position on their first couple of shots in the rally, only to spray the ball wide or long, effectively giving the point to their opponent for free.
This is a common mistake that will cost you a lot of points and overall, matches.
Whilst you don’t want to take so many risks that you end up giving points away in the neutral zone, you also don’t want your opponent to be able to step in and attack you from this position either.
Therefore, it is important to hit the ball deep, with a good amount of spin and power so you have plenty of margin for error, but are able to keep your opponent back behind their own baseline.
How to Improve in this Zone
As we have mentioned, the main aim here is to keep your opponent back and stop them from attacking you, whilst also looking for whatever opening you can to step inside the court and take control of the point.
However, the neutral zone deserves a bit more attention than the others since it is the place from which you will be starting each and every point.
Firstly, let’s cover the serving aspect of the neutral zone. If you are hitting a first serve, you may want to move forwards and towards your backhand side to give yourself a bit more of a chance to get your forehand into play.
This sets you up nicely to be aggressive and dominate the point right from the word go. You can hit a heavy forehand and immediately put your opponent under pressure.
If you are hitting a second serve here, you may want to back up a bit after you land inside the court after your serve, as you can expect a more aggressive return from your opponent.
This will at least allow you to neutralise the point, since you will have a bit more time to react and get into position to hit a rally ball rather than a floating defensive shot.
When you are returning serve, it is a good idea to take a step or two back when returning a first serve.
If you are facing a massive server you may want to take the Murrray or Nadal approach of stepping all the way back into the defending zone, but if you can stay closer to the baseline you’ll be in a more neutral position to begin with.
Look to block the ball back deep and stop your opponent from stepping inside the court if you can, as this will nullify their aggressive first serve and get you into the rally where you can start to take control.
If you are returning a second serve, think about opening up the court with angles and adding a bit more power and spin to your shots as you take a step forward.
You may even be able to attack the second serve from the off, but if you can at least get your opponent moving or make them hit a weaker shot, you will have taken full advantage of the situation.
If you are looking for drills to improve your consistency from the neutral court zone, attach some tape or string to the fence around the court (if possible) or place a couple of rackets into the net so they raise the height you have to hit over significantly.
If you aim to get the ball a few metres over the net this will force you to play with more margin and topspin, thereby improving your deep, heavy trading balls.
Defend – Behind the Baseline
The next zone of the court we need to consider is the defending zone. This starts right at the back of the court, when your opponent is really pushing you back behind the baseline or moving you from side to side.
In this situation, you have to recognize that you are down in the rally and your opponent will be dictating the play.
That doesn’t mean that all hope is lost and you should give up, but it does mean you should respect the situation you are in and adjust your shot choices accordingly.
From this position on the court, you should be thinking about playing with as much height as possible over the net, not only to try and keep your opponent back, but also to give yourself more time to advance your position in the court.
The ideal shots to play from here are loopy topspin shots that have a lot of margin for error but also have the potential to push your opponent back and neutralise the point.
You will have to be prepared to run a lot if you want to stay back here though, as you actually open up a lot of court space and angles for your opponent to use.
So, unless you are tactically stepping back to give yourself more time to take a longer swing at the ball and hit a heavier shot, you ideally want to spend as little time as possible in the defensive zone, unless you like running!
How to Improve in this Zone
The key to improving your defensive skills is to give yourself time, hit towards big targets and improve your anticipation. Use your vision and your brain to try and take an educated guess at what your opponent is going to do next.
If you see them coiling up their body to hit a forehand, expect a fast shot. If you see them move all the way around the outside of the ball, they will probably be looking to generate an angle by going inside out.
If you can try to move up the court after your next ball that is ideal, but if not, at least give yourself enough time to hit a high quality shot if you can.
Also, a top tip is to try and focus on hitting with your hands rather than worrying about using your feet or legs to generate power.
You’ll be running so fast that you’ll be generating momentum anyway, plus you just need to try and get the ball back as deep as you can, so technique can sometimes go out the window!
Attack – Inside the Baseline
The attacking zone is between the baseline and the service line and is where you should look to move your opponent around and gain the upper hand in the point.
The idea here is not necessarily to win the point outright, but to put your opponent under pressure and use speed, spin or both to unsettle your opponent and get them off balance.
In the attacking zone, you really want to take the ball a bit earlier and try to take time away from your opponent.
You don’t necessarily need to hit the ball harder, but if you can hit the ball at the top of its bounce this will improve your timing and the pace at which the ball gets down the other end of the court without you having to add any more power to your shot generation.
You can either try to hit through the court to take time away from your opponent by hitting the ball deeper, flatter and a little lower over the net to rush them and push them back, or take the pace off and move them from side to side with angles and spin.
Either way, the idea here is to produce a weaker, softer reply from your opponent that you can finish off the point with.
How to Improve in this Zone
There are a number of drills that you can do to improve in this zone, but sometimes it is best to keep it simple.
Having a hitting partner or coach hand feed you balls in this zone with no pace on them so you can decide whether to hit a short angle or a deeper, flatter ball is a great way to practice both techniques and use them interchangeably.
Another idea is to get a hitting partner or coach to purposefully drop the ball short, with either a low slice or a softer, higher topspin shot so you can practice hitting different types of attacking shots off different oncoming balls.
You may find it easier to opt for the flatter ball with more pace when receiving the topspin shot, and the shorter angle with a lot of spin when receiving the short, low slice.
Finish – At the Net
This is where the points are really won or lost, in the kill zone! Here, you really want to be bossing the point with authority as this is your chance to finish things off and hit winners.
However, this is not the time to be too casual, as you’ll have worked hard constructing the point to get here.
Being in the kill zone can also give your opponent opportunities to win the point too, as this is their do or die chance so they may well go for broke and slap a winner past you.
Look to close down the net as quickly as possible as you enter the kill zone. You really want to be taking advantage of your court position and finish your opponent off.
The easiest way to do this is to get close to the net, so you have a very small chance of hitting the ball below it, since you are up so close.
This also gives you all the angles to work with and means you can hit the ball more in a downwards motion, adding to the power you can generate.
You may need to hit a deeper ball first to set up a kill shot, especially if you are entering the kill zone and hitting a ball around the service line.
But, if you keep your cool and work your way up to the net, you’ll be able to put the ball away easily and win the point on your terms.
How to Improve in this Zone
The key to improving your net game in the kill zone is to practice your movement into the net. The most common error we see is players who don’t close the net down and try to play a drop shot or acute angle that falls short.
Therefore, getting your feet moving and really closing down the net is the key to making finishing the point off in the kill zone a success. Watch out for the lob though!
Overall, understanding the different tennis court zones is a great way to improve your tactical awareness and understanding of tennis in general.
Also, knowing how to approach each zone mentally and what types of shots you should be playing in each will improve your consistency and ultimately make you a better match player!
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