What Are The Different Tennis Shot Types?

Table of Contents

Looking to improve your tennis game?

The fastest way to see significant improvements is to build out and master the repertoire of shots that you have at your disposal.

When you can confidently perform a variety of shots, it can help you become far better at adapting to different opponents, different playing surfaces, and the different circumstances you might find yourself in during a match.

Knowing you have a wide range of shots at your disposal can make you more confident that you can handle whatever your opponent throws at you and make you better at spotting point-winning opportunities.

Types of Serves

Serving is one of the most important aspects of tennis, and many professional players say that the service is the most critical stroke in the game.

It’s crucial to master a variety of different serves so your opponent can less predict what is coming.

Flat Serve

This is probably the most straightforward of all the serves and is the serve that most beginners start with.

But it shouldn’t be underestimated.

If you get your technique right, you deliver the flat serve with minimal spin, which means it can achieve high speeds and low bounce. This can make the flat serve complex for your opponent to return.

But be careful – with the power and speed of the flat serve, it can be challenging to retain accuracy.

Slice Serve

Perfect the slice serve, and you’ll have a significant weapon in your serving arsenal that can catch your opponent off guard.

It’s more difficult to perfect than the flat serve, but by hitting the outer edge of the ball on your swing, it applies side spin.

This side spin can adjust the ball’s bounce on the serve, making it difficult for your opponent to anticipate.

The effectiveness of the slice serve varies by playing surface, with it being most powerful on fast surfaces such as grass.

Kick Serve

The kick serve (or topspin serve) is another more complex service to master.

This serve generates topspin on the ball, which produces a high bounce. This makes it great for pushing opponents back and is a good choice of serve for opponents that struggle returning high balls.

The high degree of accuracy of the kick serve is a significant advantage and makes it less likely that you generate an unforced error. So it’s often an excellent choice as a second serve.

However, the increased accuracy comes at the expense of power and speed. Just bear that in mind, as it allows the serve to be countered by your opponent more easily.

Types of Forehands

Forehand shots are played on your dominant side.

Except for your serve, forehand shots are possibly the strongest shots in your arsenal.
It’s most common to play forehand shots with one hand as it’s the best way to achieve greater reach, flexibility, and swing.

Forehand Flat

This is where you hit the ball with a direct, horizontal swing that doesn’t generate much spin.

The lack of spin means the ball doesn’t bounce very high – so the major advantage of the flat forehand is that it doesn’t allow your opponent much time to react.

One disadvantage of the flat forehand is the lack of control and accuracy. It can be difficult to keep powerful flat shots accurate without adding spin.

Forehand Topspin

A topspin forehand is probably one of the most common shots in tennis and one of the first that many beginners learn.

You can generate topspin by allowing your racket to brush the top of the tennis ball as you return it to your opponent. This makes the ball rotate towards your opponent.

One of the main benefits of adding topspin to the ball is that you get higher net clearance compared to flat shots, with the spin on the ball helping it land comfortably inside the court.

However, one thing to remember with topspin is that if you don’t get the placement right, you will gift your opponent a high bouncing ball.

Forehand Slice

It’s probably best to view the slice as the opposite of a topspin shot.

To deliver a slice shot, you need to allow your racket to brush the bottom of the ball as you return it to your opponent. This makes the ball rotate backward, away from your opponent.

Slice shots are best used defensively to try and change the pace of a point and give yourself time to reposition yourself on the court. They can also be used to surprise your opponent.

You might also use a slice shot on your opponent’s serve before ‘charging’ at the net for their return. This technique is called ‘chip and charge.’

You’ll want to bear in mind that because the ball is slower in the air, if not placed correctly, a slice shot might give your opponent time to react and position themselves for a powerful return.

Moon Ball

If you’re looking for another way to slow down the pace of a game, you might consider the ‘moon ball.’

This shot is essentially a shot with heavy topspin, where the ball has a high, arching trajectory and lands close to your opponent’s baseline.

This shot is best used to slow down the game of powerful hitting opponents, but it can be challenging to master.

Types of Backhands

It’s common for your backhand shots to lack the power and consistency of your forehand shots. For this reason, many opponents will force you onto your backhand.

So, if you can master your backhand shots, you can give yourself the best chance of delivering solid returns.

Backhand shots can be played with either one hand or two hands. There’s a lot of debate over whether one-handed or two-handed approaches are best.

As a generalization, one-handed backhands can generate more power and spin, whereas two-handed backhands can help give you more control.

Ultimately, your decision depends on what is most comfortable for you – although it’s possibly best to begin with a two-handed approach to help deliver greater control.

Backhand Flat shot

Similar to the forehand flat, the backhand flat shot doesn’t add much spin.

It can be quite a challenging shot to master on your non-dominant side, but if you can master it, you can surprise your opponent with a quick shot that has a low bounce.

Backhand Topspin

This is another tough shot to master on your non-dominant side, but if you can get to grips with the technique, it can be great to push your opponent back.

The backhand topspin is slightly different from the forehand, as you must swing up on the ball to get it to rotate. This can be tough to do when you’re not used to it, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to put some serious spin on the ball.

Backhand Slice

This is an easier shot to deliver on your non-dominant side and is excellent to be used defensively if your opponent has forced you onto your backhand and you’re keen to slow the game down.

Other Shots

Approach Shot

This transition shot allows you to move from the baseline to the net. It’s an important shot to help set you up for a point-winning smash or volley.

When you hit an approach shot, your primary aim is to get the ball over the net and deep into your opponent’s court. This will give you time to move up to the net for the next shot – potentially a volley or a smash.

Forehand Volley

The forehand volley is one of the most common shots to play when you are up at the net and can hit the ball before it bounces.

It’s important to master this shot if you’re going to have an aggressive element to your play and be able to win points from all over the court.

A forehand volley is hit on your dominant side, requiring fast reflexes, steady arms, and precision to deliver this shot accurately.

Remember to ‌keep your elbow and wrist straight when you make contact with the ball. A common mistake is to pivot your wrist or elbow when making contact, which can impact the accuracy of your shot.

Backhand Volley

This is a tough shot to get to grips with but can be powerful if you’re able to master it.

The backhand volley can be used to play balls at the net that are on your non-dominant side.

For both backhand and forehand volleys. It’s sometimes best to think of the shot as a ‘punch’, using the ball’s momentum as your source of power rather than your swing.

Overhead Smash

The overhead smash involves hitting the ball when it’s over your head and ‘smashing’ it down into your opponent’s side of the court.

If you can this shot, you’ll be adding a point-winning shot to your arsenal.

To deliver a great overhead smash, the most important thing is positioning. When the ball comes towards you, back up a few steps so you have room to swing your racket.

As the ball gets closer, bring your racket up above your head. Once the ball hits your racket, swing down hard and follow through with your shot.

The goal of the overhead smash is to hit the ball as hard as possible so that it lands on your opponent’s side of the court, and they are unable to return it.

Lob Shot

This is a versatile shot that can be used either defensively or offensively.

This shot aims to hit the ball over your opponent while they are at the net, leaving their baseline open.

Played correctly, it can help slow things down, get you out of trouble, and even be a point-winning shot!

But one thing to be careful of is playing your lob too short. If you do this, you leave yourself open to a smash from your opponent.


It’s helpful to see this as the opposite of a lob.

The dropshot is often best played when your opponent is on their baseline and you think they might struggle to make it to the net.

For a dropshot, you aim to hit the ball, so it just goes right over the net – trying to get a bit of underspin on the ball, so it has minimal bounce.

If you get the timing right, your drop shot can be lethal!

So, which tennis shots do you need to work on the most?

We’ve gone through a lot of different shots in this guide.

It’s not going to be feasible for you to master them all at once.

We’d recommend starting with the shots you think will deliver the most significant advantage to your game and practicing them until they become second nature. Then aim to master a few more.

If you gradually build up the repertoire of shots in your arsenal, your game will improve in no time!

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Brenton Barker
Brenton Barker
Brenton holds a Degree in Sports Coaching from the University of Delaware and was the former Head Advisor for the Japanese Government's Sports Science Institute. He has held Managerial and Head Coaching roles with Australia's National Governing Body, Tennis Australia, and served on the Dunlop International Sports Advisory Board for eight years. Brenton currently consults with several professional athletes and clients in the areas of Self-Accountability, Health, and Goal Orientation.