According to ESPN’s degree of difficulty rankings, tennis is the 7th hardest sport to learn. Despite the challenges, tennis is also a very popular sport to play. In 2019, the ITF Global Tennis Report estimated there are around 87 million global players while a recent report shows that tennis participation in the US increased by 22% in 2020 (to almost 22 million people). If you want to learn to play tennis, how long will it take?
Because tennis is difficult, becoming a good player can take many years. Beginners can expect to consistently get the ball into play within a year if they’re practicing 3x a week. It can take around 5 years to start playing matches with a variety of strokes, good control, and better court coverage. Getting to a competitive level can take 5-10 years of regular practice.
A brief history of tennis
Tennis originated from a sport called jeu de paume, an 11th-century French ball-and-court game. According to The Olympic Committee, England was the one to adapt it and create tennis in the 1870s. The first lawn tennis tournament at Wimbledon took place in 1887. By 1913, tennis was becoming popular worldwide.
What are the rules of tennis today? They vary depending on whether you’re playing single matches or double matches, but there are general rules that apply to both. First, the ball has to land within bounds for the players to keep playing. Players can’t touch the net, posts, or go to their opponent’s side of the net. They can’t hit the ball twice, catch it with their racket, or reach over the net to hit the ball. The ball doesn’t have to bounce on your side before you can return it, but it can’t bounce more than once. The exception is when you’re returning a serve – the ball bounce must once in the service box.
How long until you can have good hand-eye coordination, a handle on strokes, and good ball exchanges
Tennis is a challenging sport, so it takes a lot of practice before you’re ready to play. If you’re practicing at least three times a week, it can take around a year before your ball exchanges are decent. Most people find hand-eye coordination to be the most challenging thing to learn. Don’t be discouraged if you’re swinging and missing a lot. There are five basic strokes: the serve, forehand, backhand, volley, and overhead. Once your hand-eye coordination gets better, using different strokes and exchanging the ball back and forth will get much easier. Beginners will also be mastering their understanding of the rules and comfort with the racket.
To improve your game, increase your fitness through strength training exercises, speed training, and cardio for endurance. Be careful not to overdo it! To improve, practice three times a week for an hour at a time. You can practice more times in a week if you want, although you may want to try shorter sessions (30-45 minutes) to avoid injuries.
How long until you can play matches with more confidence and consistency
It can take a while to start confidently playing matches, maintaining rallies, and staying in control. According to Learn With Hammad, it can take around five years to become a good intermediate-level player. Others may need less time since improvement depends on how much you practice and whether you’re receiving instruction. People with teachers nearly always improve faster than those practicing on their own.
The National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) has a ranking system for levels of competition with the USTA League Program. The system was designed for grouping players by their ability level and is the only source for a player’s true NTRP rating. The ratings are used for USTA competition (USTA generally offers programs for 2.5-5.0 levels), but they can also provide a good guide for people unsure of what they need to work on. As an example, becoming a 3.5 player requires “improved stroke dependability with directional control on moderate shots.” They also have better court coverage and teamwork when playing doubles.
How long until you can compete
You don’t need to be a seasoned professional to compete in local club tournaments, but you need more developed skills. It can take another 5 years to get there after you’ve reached an intermediate level. For some, it may end up taking around 10 years before they reach a competitive level.
The NTRP ranking system starts to talk about competitiveness at level 5.5, saying, “This player can vary strategies and styles of play in a competitive situation.” 6.0-7.0 players are players with the most skill and experience; these are the highest rankings. Most people won’t reach this level, but you can still expect to compete well at lower levels. If you want to compete in USTA leagues, you’ll need your NTRP confirmed by an official verifier.
Why should you learn tennis?
It takes many years of practice to get good at tennis, so what are the benefits? Even if you don’t reach a high-ranking level, your physical and mental health will thank you for playing tennis. Here are three reasons why:
#1. It’s good for your heart
Tennis is an aerobic activity (like running, fast walking, or cycling) which means your heart rate increases as you play. An increased heart rate affects your breathing; you start breathing deeper and faster. This increases the flow of oxygen through your body, which strengthens your heart. Tennis is also part anaerobic since it often involves sprinting and quick bursts of energy. This improves your heart health, too.
#2. It’s good for your mental health
The positive impact of exercise on mental health is well-documented. Research shows working out can relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. The social aspect of tennis can also help your mental health. It’s not a sport you can play by yourself, so it’s a good opportunity to meet friends and make new ones.
#3. It can improve bone health
Many people struggle with bone issues later in life. Osteoporosis is a common problem, especially among women. Thankfully, it’s preventable with lifestyle changes like getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Exercise is also important, especially weight-bearing exercises like tennis. If you want to protect your future bone density, start playing tennis.
What skills do you need to play tennis?
Tennis engages both the mind and the body, so there are many skills you’ll use. Here are three of the most essential:
Skill #1: Endurance
You’re constantly moving in tennis. There’s sprinting, stretching, jumping, swinging, and more. Playing a 3-set match can take 90 minutes, but when you’re starting, even just a few minutes of intense exercise can make you winded and tired. To play, you’ll need to build up your endurance. Speed drills, strength training, and interval running can all help.
Skill #2: Flexibility
You need endurance to move around in tennis, but moving also requires flexibility. If you lack flexibility, it’s very easy to strain, pull, or even tear something. Different kinds of stretching can improve your flexibility, such as static stretching (stretching till you feel a pull, then holding the stretch for a little while) and dynamic stretching (like arm swings). Stretching should never hurt, so use caution and listen to your body.
Skill #3: Mental strength
Tennis players frequently talk about how mental strength is as important as physical strength. The game requires a lot of quick thinking, dealing with stress, and staying calm and present. When you’re starting to play, you’ll also likely deal with a lot of frustration because tennis is hard. Learning any challenging skill can take an emotional toll, so remember the importance of your mental state when you get on the court.
What tools do tennis players use?
Tennis players don’t use a lot of tools, but the quality matters. Here’s what to know:
Tool #1: A good racket
Rackets aren’t one-size-fits-all. Your size and strength factor into what racket works best for you. If you want more power and play aggressively, you’ll need a wider frame. If you play more defensively, a narrower racket is better. The weight of the racket is important, too. Heavier ones give more power, but holding a lot of weight will tire you out. You’ll want to consider grip size and stiffness, as well. Before buying, have a good idea of your playing style.
Tool #2: A good ball
Like rackets, balls aren’t made the same. There are a variety of types based on courts and materials. If you’re playing on a hard surface like an outdoor hard court or concrete, extra-duty balls are more durable and last longer, though they don’t move as fast as regular-duty balls. If you’re on a softer court (like clay) or an indoor court, a regular-duty ball will work fine. For beginners, pressureless balls are often a good choice because they keep their bounce for longer, though they are heavier.
Tool #3: The right shoes
When choosing shoes, think about the court you’re playing on. If your shoe doesn’t match the court, it will affect your footwork. You can find tennis shoes specifically made for hard courts, clay courts, and grass courts. For fit, you want shoes that fit snugly, but aren’t so tight they’re squishing any part of your foot, like your toes. You should be able to move comfortably and smoothly. In general, regular running shoes won’t work for tennis.
How to learn tennis
Because tennis is one of the most challenging sports to learn, it’s important to receive some instruction. That can include individual lessons, a group class, or – if you don’t have other options – an online video that demonstrates proper technique. You ideally want someone who can correct your mistakes, but not everyone has the budget or time for lessons. The vast majority of people who reach a professional level start playing tennis very young, but if you want to learn tennis for fun or to compete in some casual matches, it’s never too late. Commit to practicing at least three times a week if you want to improve. Watch how others play – including professionals – and find people to practice with. Depending on how fit you are when you start, it may not take too long to start seeing progress.