What Are The Physical Demands Of Tennis? (10 Needed Traits)

To be a good and complete tennis player, you need to have many traits and skills. Both physically and mentally. But what are the physical demands of tennis?

In order to be a good tennis player, you must have the following physical traits:

  • Agility
  • Coordination
  • Speed
  • Power
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Muscular endurance
  • Balance
  • Reaction time
  • Cardiovascular endurance

In this article, I will clearly explain why these traits are important for a tennis player to have.

10 Physical Demands of Tennis

Just like most sports, tennis demands quite a bit from your body. You need to be able to play long matches and hopefully win a few.

If you want to become a great tennis player, it can be helpful to know what this sport asks of your body.

Below you will find ten physical demands which help you become the best tennis player you can be.

1. Agility

Rafael Nadal

The first physical demand of tennis to be discussed is agility. Everyone can move around on the court, but in order to make it big, a tennis player needs to be very agile.

Tennis is a sport in which you need to change directions a lot. This is exactly what agility is all about.

During a match, you need to run from the left side of the court to the right side of the court and from the baseline to the net.

Each ball can bounce somewhere else, and you want to get to that ball in time to hit it. 

Some factors in tennis can make the ball change direction mid-air, such as the ball hitting the net or a big gust of wind. This means you need to be able to change directions even if you are already running in the opposite direction.

You might need to change your direction from running to the left side of the court to running to the right side, but a ball hitting the net can lose a lot of its length.

Therefore you also need to be able to switch up running forwards to the net and running to the baseline.

Being agile allows you to get to the ball just a bit quicker, but this split second can be crucial to whether you have enough time to get into position or not.

The more agile you are, the quicker you get to the ball. This allows better technique and gives you more time to think about your shot.

2. Coordination

Tennis player hitting a ball

Coordination is all about how your different body parts and functions work together.

This makes coordination a crucial physical demand for pretty much any activity in life, even small things like getting yourself a cup of tea. Tennis is no exception.

There are several kinds of coordination, but the most important form of coordination in tennis is hand-eye coordination.

Hand-eye coordination is used in tennis with every single shot.

When you need to hit a ball, you look at it. You have a racket with which you want to hit the ball, and your brain needs to estimate how far away the ball is from you and how to swing the racket so that the ball hits the sweet spot.

Hitting the ball with the frame or even completely missing the ball surely is not desirable. Therefore your eyes and your hands need to work together flawlessly.

As mentioned before, good coordination is important in all shots. However, some shots require better hand-eye coordination than others.

For example, with a volley, you have less time to watch the ball and react than when you get a deeper ball. This means your eyes and hand have to work together quicker.

The serve is also a challenge for hand-eye coordination, as you need to look at the ball you threw above your head.

There are several ways to improve your coordination, but coordination is a practice that makes perfect.

3. Speed

Tennis player running

Tennis might not be about who can run the fastest, but speed is still needed in tennis.

That the ball is not allowed to bounce twice is probably the best-known rule of tennis. This tennis rule means that you need to get to the ball quickly.

We already discussed agility having an impact on this, but obviously, speed is needed for this as well.

If you change directions quickly and then proceed to run to the ball in a relatively slow fashion, you still won’t get there in time.

In general, your running speed becomes more and more important as you become a better player. This is because your opponents get better as well.

They might start to hit faster, more powerful shots instead of higher balls. This means you will have less time to run to the ball and get into position.

Running speed does not only apply to the obvious running forwards. Sometimes you need to run back to the baseline as well.

Another thing that happens a lot in tennis is running to the sides. Lateral movement is important and needs speed as well.

Besides your running speed, the speed of your arms is important as well.

If you want to make your balls more difficult for your opponent, adding speed is a good way. If your swing has some speed to it, this will transfer to the ball.

4. Power

Tennis player hits a power shot

Adding a lot of power to shots can be a really successful way of winning points in tennis.

Power allows you to make your shots a lot more difficult to hit back, as it requires great reaction time and speed from your opponent.

Therefore, power is definitely needed in tennis.

Power is important in several different shots as well. The most obvious shot in which power is needed is the serve. A powerful serve can mean a big advantage in the rally.

The return might be relatively easy, and you get to lead the rally. Besides that, an ace is always welcome.

Another shot in which power is useful is when you get a ball about halfway on the court. This is a great opportunity to attack and hit the ball into one of the corners.

Power is not fully reliant on strength. Many aspects can influence power, such as technique.

In general, relaxed swings create more power than when you’re forcefully holding onto the racket and cramping your hands.

Power can also be a great way to add some variation to your game.

There will always be certain shots that better suit you. Some players use a lot of spin, while others are more about the flat shots.

Especially defensive players should keep in mind that some powerful attack-style balls can really throw off their opponent and help them win a match.

5. Strength

Muscular tennis player

Tennis players often aren’t the most ripped athletes. This does not mean they are not strong, though.

Strength is very important for tennis players. A stronger player often has an advantage over a weaker player.

The first and most obvious benefit they have is that they can add more power to their balls. Even though technique and balance can influence the amount of power a lot, strong players are able to hit the ball pretty hard. 

Strong muscles are also important for injury reduction.

Stronger muscles can handle more, and therefore they are less injury-prone. It also helps with muscular endurance, which is a physical demand you will find on this list as well.

When it comes to the different shots, power is important to a lot of them.

A powerful ball from the baseline is always a good idea, but you also need power to hit a winner closer to the net.

The serve also really benefits from some power. It allows you to set the tone of the rally immediately, and powerful serves are more difficult to return than serves that don’t have any power behind them.

Tennis players need to be strong in terms of maximum strength.

Because of the explosive nature of the sport, it’s not as much about how long they can be strong as it is about how strong they can be in a short moment.

6. Flexibility

Tennis player at the net

Flexibility might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the physical demands of tennis. Tennis players surely aren’t as flexible as dancers, for example.

Flexibility is important in tennis, though, in more ways than one. 

When playing tennis, you have to reach for the ball during a rally. If you have a good opponent, it’s impossible to always get to the ball in time to get into position properly.

You might need some flexibility to keep standing when reaching for a ball. You may need to stretch your back muscles, or you may even end up in a splint-like position.

Range of motion is another important factor. This allows a tennis player to rotate their body along before and while hitting the ball.

This rotation is crucial for a proper technique, and it can also help create power. Therefore some flexibility in the upper body is needed.

Tennis is a sport that gets played primarily outside.

Weather conditions are not always ideal, which is another reason flexibility is needed. The court can get slippery, and flexible players will be able to keep themselves from falling more gracefully.

This is why flexibility also helps prevent injuries.

Muscles used to being stretched will have fewer problems with slipping on the court than muscles that never got any flexibility training.

No one wants to end up with a sprained ankle due to a humid court.

7. Muscular endurance

Rafael Nadal at the Olympic Games

Muscular endurance is another physical demand in tennis that has earned a place on this list.

Tennis matches can be pretty long, and they may last several hours if the opponents are evenly matched.

This means your body needs to be able to perform for a long time, with little time to recover.

The first group of muscles that needs endurance is the leg muscles. You will be running across the court a lot, from the baseline to the net and from left to right.

You may run back and forth several times in just one rally, and a game consists of several rallies.

Your legs also need to be strong enough for you to squat in order to hit a lower bouncing ball, and you might need to jump a few times for a serve.

Your arm muscles are also important in tennis. During a match, you will hit the ball a lot. On average, a rally is four shots.

This might not seem like a lot, but just think about how many rallies you have to play during a match.

A game can also last quite some time if you keep setting the score at deuce, and neither of you manages to finish the game.

You need to be able to keep swinging your racket the right way this whole time, without your muscles cramping.

Besides decreasing the chances of cramping, muscular endurance also prevents injury. The more your muscles can handle, the less quickly they will get hurt.

8. Balance

Female tennis player in perfect balance

Physical balance is a crucial factor in tennis. It becomes almost impossible to be a successful tennis player without good balance.

You need balance to properly execute different techniques, from a forehand full of spin to a powerful serve.

Balance will help you rotate your body, facilitating more control over your shots.

If you lose your balance, your whole body will be focused on regaining your balance and making sure you don’t fall. This means you can’t focus on other things, such as hitting a ball.

You also can’t properly rotate your body if you are imbalanced because doing so will most likely result in falling.

Besides physical balance, it’s also smart to balance out your shots.

You could play forehands only, but this makes you predictable and thus creates a weakness.

Balancing which shots you use helps with tactics and making sure all of your muscles get used, which can help prevent muscular imbalance and, therefore, injuries.

Muscular imbalance is when, for example, the muscles on one side of your body are more developed than the muscles on the other side of your body.

This can be due to using one arm more in shots than the other or playing a lot of forehands and single-handed backhands.

9. Reaction time

Tennis player close to the net

When you think about physical demands for tennis, you’re likely to think about muscle-related and stamina-related factors.

Reaction time might not cross your mind as quickly, but it can mean the difference between winning or losing a match. Reaction time allows you to anticipate better, which is extremely important.

Proper reaction time essentially makes tennis easier for you.

If you see your opponent hit the ball and you react quickly, you will be able to get to the ball faster. Getting to the ball faster helps you with both technique and tactics.

Reaction time helps you with technique because a good shot requires the right stance and swing, which is only achievable if you have time to hit the ball in a relaxed way.

Rushing won’t help your technique, which you will be doing if you don’t get to the ball quickly enough.

Reaction time helps with tactics because the sooner you know where a ball will land, the sooner you can start thinking about where your own ball will land.

This gives you enough time to actually hit the shot you want, as a drop shot might call for a different approach than a flat shot from the baseline.

It also makes it more difficult for your opponent to hit a winner. They will have to play even more powerful shots or place their balls even more tactically smart.

10. Cardiovascular endurance

Tennis players training their cardiovascular endurance

As mentioned before, tennis matches can last a long time, as there is no time limit in tennis.

Several situations extend the length of a match, such as long deuce games and tiebreaks. This means you need to be able to perform for a long time, with little time for breaks.

Cardiovascular endurance is all about how your body creates energy. The energy you need to get through a long match.

The faster your heart beats, the more oxygen you need. If the amount of oxygen that gets into your body complements your heart rate, you feel fit and energized.

If you don’t have enough oxygen for how hard your heart works, you will feel tired.

A tennis player needs to have good cardiovascular endurance because tiredness leads to mistakes.

You might be too tired to get to the ball in time, resulting in you missing the ball altogether.

If you do get to the ball in time to hit it, you might not have time or the energy to prosecute a proper swing. This will lead to sloppy attempts, which can cause mistakes.

If your opponent is still feeling energized while you’re not, they will have a significant advantage over you.

Ideally, you want to be able to hit the same powerful shot at the end of a match as you did at the beginning.

Conclusion

Thanks to this article, you know what a tennis player needs in order to be good. As you have read, there is much more to it than having a good technique or being muscular as a tennis player.

Suppose you want to improve any of these ten traits. Read the related article, which explains the best way to go about it.

Brian Henderson

I am what you might call a true tennis fanatic. When I am not on the tennis court teaching or playing myself, I am probably writing an informative article about tennis. My goal is to get as many people as possible excited and informed about tennis.
Published: 
March 22, 2022

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Published: March 22, 2022