The AD-INbox: Answering your tennis questions

Welcome to the AD-INbox, the USTA's monthly mailbag exclusively for The Grip, the player's newsletter. 


Each month, The Grip offers some of the latest tips, tricks, news and instruction to help subscribers improve their tennis games, but in addition, we want to hear what you have to say. 


Are you looking for some specific advice to help you take your game to the next level? Want to learn what to do off court to help you feel your best on court? The USTA's team of experts and affiliates can help. Have a hint that's helped you and could help someone else? We want to hear those, too.


On this page, you will find archived questions from previous mailbags answered by a corresponding USTA professional or adviser, or other pointers submitted by our readers from around the country.


Have a great tip to share or a game improvement question for an upcoming newsletter? Email us at (Submissions may be edited for length and/or clarity.)

If my doubles partner calls the ball out before a shot lands, and I declare it good and play it, does my shot count or is it too late because she hindered the opponent? - username: sk53209

As essential part of calling the ball, is to always give your opponents the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, if one partner calls the ball out, and the other calls it good, the ball is good. - Cristina Brace (Senior Manager, Community Pathway, Officiating)


Are you allowed to use gloves while playing in USTA League matches and tournaments? - Robert M.

There are no regulations that prohibit wearing gloves while playing in USTA League matches or tournaments so, yes, a player is allowed to wear gloves. - Adam Hutchinson (Senior Manager, Adult Competition)


I've been playing tennis for several years. However, the backhand continue to be a challenge for me to hit consistently, nor do I have a great deal of confidence in it. What can you suggest that would help me improve my backhand? - Mcolston

I have two suggestions: 1. Find a local pro to help you improve your backhand. Even a monthly "touch-up" with a certified professional can help you get over this hurdle. 2. Seek out opponents that are a level below you so that you can play in a competitive environment that will be less stressful for your backhand. While competing, try to use your backhand as often as possible; don't hide it. Embrace it, think about it, and find success with it. Your successes in this environment will carry over to a tougher environment down the road, and your challenges can be worked on in your next lesson. -  J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


I play USTA League singles, mixed doubles and Tri-Level (women's team), as well as USTA singles tournaments. Which three are included in my rating calculation? - Jan N. 

For NTRP, singles matches from Adult 18 & Over and Adult 40 & Over Leagues are included in the year-end rating calculations. Mixed doubles will only be included if you exclusively play mixed doubles and no other NTRP matches. For Tri-Level, each section can opt-in or out of including these in the calculations. Most sections include Tri-Level, but you should check with your Section League Coordinator to confirm this. For more information on NTRP, click here. For the new ITF World Tennis Number (WTN), all singles, mixed doubles and Tri-Level matches will count in the WTN rating calculation. For more information on WTN, click here. - Adam Hutchinson (Senior Manager, Adult Competition)


During a friendly doubles match, a ball was hit cross-court to our opponents. The net player attempted to poach the ball but missed (never making contact with the ball) and their racquet hit the net. The ball was returned by the baseline player and play continued. Should play have stopped when the net player struck the net? - Christopher Walker

If a player, or the player's racquet, touches the net while the ball is still in play, they lose the point. That player would need to make that call and concede the point. - Cristina Brace (Senior Manager, Community Pathway, Officiating)

View prior editions of the Ad-Inbox below.

This month, we're all about USTA League. Learn more about the largest adult competitive tennis league in the country with these reader questions, all answered by Adam Hutchinson, Senior Manager, Adult Competition.

What is the best way to appeal a rating? I was a 4.0 for decades and moved down to 3.5 when I had an injury. I just joined the USTA again last summer and won half of my matches, but was moved down to 3.0 when new ratings came out.

A player can click on the Appeal Rating Level link at TennisLink. If the appeal meets the national appeal criteria, then it will automatically be approved. If not, this simply means you are too far out of range to have an appeal granted and need to continue to play at your assigned NTRP level. For more information, check out NTRP FAQs by clicking here.

I am a 42-year-old strong player and have a 12 year-old strong player. Neither of us has participated in tournaments before. How do we get started with tournaments? 

For adults: If your USTA membership is current, you can start looking for a tournament. (Click here for USTA membership details.) The best place to look is at Adult players can participate in NTRP events, where players are selected based on their NTRP rating; age division events, where players are selected based on their age at any NTRP level (usually higher-level players); or Open tournaments, which are open to any USTA adult or junior member, but usually higher-level players. For more information on the USTA adult tournaments, please click here.


For juniors: The structure of the USTA junior tournaments utilizes seven levels of ranked tournaments, ranging from L7 (intermediate) up to L1 (advanced).  We would recommend starting out at a local L7 event first, and a universal principle is that a player should not move up a level unless they are winning more matches than they are losing. For more information on the USTA junior tournament structure, please click here.

Can non-professional league tennis players receive advice from anyone during a league match? 

When the scoring method is the best-of-three tiebreak sets and a 10-minute rest period is taken between the second and third sets, coaching is permitted only during this rest period (USTA National Regulation 2.01D). Coaching is not permitted during any other time. 


How can I improve my NTRP rating if I missed the deadline to play in leagues for this year? 

All USTA-sanctioned NTRP tournaments count towards the player's year-end rating. If you have missed all possible league deadlines, you could register for a USTA-sanctioned NTRP tournament. Contact your section's adult competition staff to find out if your section opts in for USTA-sanctioned NTRP tournaments. 

Must a player use every hole when stringing a racquet in order for the racquet to be legal? - Doug Stursma

According to the ITF Rules of Tennis, the hitting surface shall be flat and consist of a pattern of crossed strings, which shall be alternately interlaced or bonded where they cross. The stringing pattern must be generally uniform and, in particular, not less dense in the center than in any other area. The racquet shall be designed and strung such that the playing characteristics are identical on both faces. So as long as the stringing follows the guidelines, you do not have to use every hole when stringing a racquet. - Cristina Brace (Senior Manager, Community Pathway, Officiating)


In our recent doubles match, my opponent served the point and after the ball was returned, her partner said that the served ball hit the net. I told them they cannot call let on serve, and that it’s only the receiving team can call it. What’s the official rule? - Grace Fung

In an unofficiated match, a service let may be called by any of the players on court. The call must be made before the return of serve goes out of play or is hit by the server or the server’s partner. If the serve is an apparent or near ace, any let must be called promptly. - Cristina Brace (Senior Manager, Community Pathway, Officiating)


If a player is serving and moves his back right foot up to serve and actually moves it past the front left foot, is this a fault or not? If so, why? - R.G.

By your description, this does not constitute a foot fault as slight movements of the feet are permitted. The server is allowed to do this so long as during the service motion they do not touch the baseline or court with either foot, touch the area outside the imaginary extension of the sidelines with either foot, or touch the imaginary extension of the center mark with either foot. - Cristina Brace (Senior Manager, Community Pathway, Officiating)


Why do people use different strings between the mains and crosses? Is it mainly to save money? My vertical string, which is more expensive, always breaks first. - Ian Shing

Using different strings in your mains and crosses is very popular these days! It's called a hybrid, and the main reason players do it is simply because they like the performance and feel. Usually, this is done with a polyester and a soft string, so each string provides different benefits and drawbacks. Hybrid stringing really offers a nice balance when it comes to the characteristics players usually like from their racquets and strings. It can be used to save money as well, but that's rarely the reason. - Sean Prokes (Operations Manager, Racquet Bar and USTA National Campus Pro Shop)


During a singles match, one of the match balls is left just outside the doubles sideline (out of bounds). If your opponent hits that ball with their shot and the ball in play bounces back into the court, is that ball playable or is it deemed out because the errant ball was out of bounds? - Rebecca Laughton

If a ball is left inside or outside the court boundaries of the court when the point begins, the ball becomes part of the court. This means that in your situation, if the ball was left outside the court boundaries, the ball that struck it would be considered out. - Cristina Brace (Senior Manager, Community Pathway, Officiating)

On a court where the net posts are set up for doubles, and singles sticks are installed, the singles sticks effectively become the net post for singles play, and everything on the alley side of the singles sticks becomes permanent fixtures. If singles sticks are not installed but the posts are installed outside the doubles lines (this describes every public court I've ever seen), are the posts and net cord over the doubles alleys still considered to be permanent fixtures? In other words, are we supposed to try to estimate where the missing singles sticks should be? - James Takhashi

In a singles match played with a doubles net and singles sticks, the net posts and the part of the net outside the singles sticks are permanent fixtures and are not considered as net posts or part of the net. If a tournament or event does not provide singles sticks, you should not guess or estimate where the singles sticks should be placed and make calls accordingly. Instead, the entire net would be considered in play. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


I am a 3.5 club doubles player who enjoys playing at the net. Most of my matches at 3.5-4.0 level, I encounter players who lob regularly, effectively and deeply to the base line. Over time, I've developed more patience playing opponents with that type of game but rather than getting into lob to lob games, I would like to be more effective as the net player and be able to put the ball away. What is the best approach to counter these lobs and put the ball away? - Gloria Hughes

Playing against good lobbers is frustrating no matter what level you play at. One of the best ways to counter a lobber is to not play so close to the net. Standing a little further back in the box helps neutralize the lob effectively. The other option is to improve your overhead so that when you get lobbed you’re able to step back, scissor-step and then hit the overhead effectively. Another option when switching is to take the lob out of the air before it bounces so that you’re still able to maintain positioning. - David Hernandez (Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


I have a Garmin watch with a built-in heart rate monitor. How can I use that to improve that feedback and statistics to improve my tennis game and practice? Also, the heart rate monitor's effort and calorie measurements are calibrates for continuous activities like running and jogging. How accuarte are they for the stop/go, or even HIIT training, that tennis provides? - Ron Rangel

Heart rate (HR) monitor watches have improved a lot and give you consistent HR information. Most of the watches come with or communicate with fitness apps and it gives you more information and options. There are many different ways to use your HR information. Probably the most useful information for your tennis will be your recovery HR. In tennis, you have to play the next point in 25 seconds, so you need to bring your HR down as much as possible in 25 seconds. How many HR beats can you bring down after a tough point or hard drills? 10 beats, 20 beats or 30 beats? It depends on your aerobic conditioning level. Using your watch to monitor recovery HR will help you to understand your fitness level. One of the best ways to improve your aerobic conditioning for tennis is interval training. You can do interval training based on your recovery HR. For example, perform an exercise for 30 seconds and monitor your recovery HR. As soon as you can bring your HR down by 20 beats, perform the next interval. Repeat this 6 to 8 or more times. As you are getting in better shape, you will notice that you will need less time to recover and bring your HR down. You can also utilize and practice your mental skills and breathing technique to effectively bring your HR down during the recovery time and your watch will help you to monitor this process.


As I mentioned previously, the HR monitor watch has improved a lot. However, there are some limitations, and as you are questioning here, it may not be very accurate, especially in a sport like tennis. Some watches and apps have "tennis" mode and it may give you some ideas of your workload, etc. If you can monitor your HR and how long you have been in the particular HR zones, it will give you a better idea of how hard the session was and total workload. Some watches and apps give you this information as TRIMP score. This still requires accurate and consistent measurement of HR and wrist watches may not be the best option. The chest strap HR monitor is known for better accuracy over wrist watches, especially during exercises. Some watches you can use with a chest strap. Adding a chest strap HR monitor to your training may be a good upgrade for your HR monitoring. - Satoshi Ochi (USTA Head Strength & Conditioning Coach)


If I hit the receiver’s partner with my serve, do I have to claim the point? Especially in social tennis, is there another option?  - Betsy Nelson

If the server hits the receiver or receiver’s partner the server wins the point, unless it is a service let. For example, if the server hits a first serve that touches the net and then hits the receiver or receiver’s partner prior to bouncing, the server is entitled to two serves. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)

I know doubles partners can switch who serves at the start of a new set. When can the partners switch who will recieve serve, or are they allowed to switch? What if it is discovered that the partners switched recievers during the set compared to how they started the set? - Roy Malac

Doubles partners can switch the receiving order at the start of every new set, just like they can switch the serving order. During a standard game or a tiebreak game in doubles, if there is an error in the order of receiving, this shall remain as altered until the end of the game in which the error is discovered. For the next game in which they are the receivers in that set, the partners shall then resume the original order of receiving. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


What is the call when playing doubles and you are serving and hit your partner? I've had this happen once in a while and if it was a first serve, the server played a second serve. Recently, someone said that it was a ball in play and when hitting an opponent, the person hit loses the point. It made sense so I have asked several pros and each started out believing that you would get a second serve until I questioned whether it was a ball in play and the serving team loses the point. Then about half changed their mind. I could not find a official ruling. - Joe Arsenault

According to the ITF Rules of Tennis, if the ball served touches the server or server’s partner, or anything the server or server’s partner is wearing or carrying, it is considered a service fault. More information on what is considered a service fault can be found in the Friend at Court Rule 19. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


I broke my ankle in October. Once I can walk again, what would be the best way for me to practice so I can return to the game? - Mary Benson

Before progressing to sport-specific movements and returning to tennis, it is essential that your foot, ankle and lower leg regain full range of motion (ROM), muscular strength and endurance and proprioception. All of the following progressions may be performed on the tennis court. Once you have full ROM and muscle function, begin with slow running, straight ahead, up and back on the tennis court. Progress to slow running backward followed by repetitive jumpinng (take-off & landing with two feet) in place for five consecutive jumps. The next progression is to jump five times forward for distance. After successfully accomplishing distance jumps, you may begin to hop: a take-off & landing on the same foot. The goal is five consecutive hops. When you can achieve hopping on your affected foot and/or ankle, you may begin change of direction running slowly and increase the speed. You may begin running figure-of-eight patterns within the “No Man’s Land” box and progress to the same patter in the “Ad or Deuce” box.


At every stage, you should only progress if you can accomplish the task without pain or swelling. Your signs and symptoms should be monitored for 24 hours following each stage progression. You may consider the use of an ankle brace for extra support as you progress through your return to tennis. The use of compression and elevation are useful if swelling develops. The use of ice for 20 minutes every hour helps to manage discomfort and pain. - Edward J. Ryan III, ATC, LAT (Director – Athletic Medicine, The Andrews Institute/USTA National Campus)


How do you respond to a shot landing near the service line (half-court) with serious top spin that once it bounces it gains height to about the height of your head? - Jose Reyna

Advanced players should Immediately move forward utilizing the hop, skip method to take the ball early and drive through it, going for a winner. If you're out of position when you received the short topspin ball, then you should position yourself to hit an aggressive heavy topspin groundstroke to one of the corners in order to start building the point. An intermediate player should also take it early but perhaps not go for a winner; instead, go for placement. Another option for the intermediate player is to slice through the ball and turn it into an approach shot. I would have a beginner stay at the baseline, let the ball come to you and send it back as a high groundstroke. - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)

When playing a recent USTA League match, my opponent hit her partner with a first serve before the ball hit the ground, the net, or any permanent fixture. Does that result in a service fault or a loss of point? - Art Staden

If the server hits a first serve and the ball hits their partner, the net, the ground on their side of the net, or any permanent fixture, this results in a service fault. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


During a rally in a singles match my hat blew off and landed on my side of the court while the point was still in progress. Is this considered a hindrance? Should play stop and the point immediately go to my opponent? - Anne

If a player’s hat falls off during a point, an opponent may immediately call a let due to unintentional hindrance. In this case, your opponent could have called a let if they were hindered, however, you are not entitled to call a let. Any subsequent times that the hat falls off and the opponent is hindered is considered an intentional hindrance and would result in a loss of point. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


After a point, I am walking back to the baseline preparing to receive the next serve.  The opponent serves the ball and hits me in the back.  What are my responsibilities for being prepared to receive a serve?  What are the server’s responsibilities to see that everyone is ready to continue play? - Art Lieberman

The server should not be serving until the receiver is ready for play. It is also important to keep in mind that although 25 seconds are allowed between points, the receiver should be playing at the reasonable pace of the server. However, if you are not ready as the receiver and did not attempt to return the ball, the service is not considered a fault. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


Which stringing has greater tension, crosses or mains?

There is no clear answer to this question, as either the mains or crosses can have a higher tension. I will outline a few common scenarios that we see at the Racquet Bar. If you use the same string for mains and crosses, the tension is almost always the same for both. We occasionally see changes based on preference, but no trend in either direction. We would recommend using the same tension throughout. If you have polyester on the mains and a soft string on the crosses, usually the mains (polyester) are about 2-3 pounds (lbs) lower than the crosses. If you have a soft string on the mains and polyester on the crosses, usually the mains (soft string like gut or multifilament) are about 2-3 pounds (lbs) tighter than the crosses (polyester). - Sean Prokes (Operational Manager, The Racquet Bar at the USTA National Campus)


In doubles, I was receiving the serve and made a good return across the net. My partner initially called the serve long and then changed her call to the serve being good. She said the point went to our opponents. I thought since I had made a good return that we replay the point beginning with a first serve. Had I hit the serve into the net or out, I would agree that we lost the point. What is the rule? 0 Cathy Wiliams (Canton, Ohio)

The most important element to making calls is to give the benefit of doubt to your opponents. If you or your opponent call a ball or out and become uncertain or realize it is good, you must reverse your call. Your partner was correct in that the point goes to the opponent and is not replayed. However, the only time this is different is when a receiver reverses a fault call on a serve that hits the net, the server is entitled to two serves. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


Recently, my opponent told me I was not allowed to change the score on the scoreboard until it was time to change sides of the court. Is that correct? - Cindy Stevens (Florida)

Changing the score on the scoreboard is primarily done on the change of ends. There are 90 seconds allowed during the change of ends and players are already walking up to the net, where the scorecards are primarily placed. It is not to say that it cannot be done after every game but it is important to realize that there is less time allowed if you decide to change the score at any other time other than the changeover or set break. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


I realize that a player may contact a ball on the other side of the net once it has bounced on his side and the wind or spin takes it to the opponent's side. The player may not touch the net or the opponent's court. However, the wind and spin on the ball has also taken it very wide and the opponent has stepped across the extension of the net in out of bounds territory to return it. Since he did not step on the opponents' court as defined by the lines, is the shot legal? - Glen Mayberry (Portland, Maine)

If the wind and spin takes the ball back to the original side, a player may either reach over the net or step around the net so long as they do not touch the opponent’s court. For example, if it is a doubles match, the player may not step within the doubles lines of the court. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


It seems like my hand slips either or isn’t holding the racket tight enough. Stickier grip and/or strengthening exercises help? Advice? Grip size? - Ron Ritsema (Allegan, Mich.)

If your issues are related to sweat, the simple addition of a wrist band on your dominant side can go a long way to curbing the slippery grip. Most "sweaty hands" are actually a result of the sweat dripping down off of your arms. A sweat band will make a difference. If your issues are not sweat-related, grip issues are often a result of too tight of a grip rather than too loose. Strength is not a pre-requirement for tennis. Too tight of a grip before impact can result in you unconsciously loosening up at contact where the opposite is true for a loose grip. Rather than channeling your inner bodybuilder, try channeling your inner zen. You'll be finding your target rather than searching for your racket in the bushes. - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


I’m struggling with a sore right elbow. I am right-handed. Any tips on treatment at home and strengthening exercises? I have to ice it after every time I play and am unable to play two days in a row. - Jeffrey LaFlamme (Zephyrhills, Fla.)

Elbow problems in tennis usually are located on the inside (medial) or the outside (lateral) of the elbow.  The medial aspect of the elbow is the origination point for the muscles that flex your fingers & wrist, allowing you to grip and make a fist. The lateral side is where the muscles that extend your wrist & fingers begin. Both flexion and extension of the wrist and hand are important in tennis.


Icing your elbow following play is helpful to relieve pain.  Focusing on the strength and flexibility of hand, wrist, forearm, and elbow muscles will help address your problem. Sometimes the painful tissues become tight and restricted to the point of needing some specific treatment, such as soft tissue mobilization. This treatment is common in therapy, however, a new device is available for home use: the Sta-Active device.


Additional exercises include stretching into flexion and extension. With your right elbow straight and your fingers extended, use your left hand to flex your wrist, bringing your palm towards your forearm, hold for 10-15 seconds; repeat in the opposite direction. Repeat each stretch 5-8 times. Perform daily. For strengthening: with your right elbow, straight flex your fingers into a tight fist (isometric contraction). Holding a tight fist (as tight as you can hold it, but still allowing your wrist to flex & extend), move your wrist/hand into flexion and extension and return to your starting position. That counts as one (1) repetition; perform 15 repetitions for one (1) set. Perform two (2) sets daily with one (1) minute rest between sets. - Edward J. Ryan III, ATC, LAT (Director – Athletic Medicine, The Andrews Institute / USTA National Campus)

Can you catch the ball with your racket after throwing the ball up to serve during a foul toss? - Cindy Jenista

If the server decides not to hit the ball, they are allowed to catch the ball with their hand or racquet, or let the ball bounce. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


During a 10-point tiebreak, Player A is serving. As Player A hits the serve, the receiver yells, “Wait, wait, your partner is the server." All four players agreed that it was the server’s partner's turn to serve. How should we correct this situation? Does it make a difference that the server hit the serve? 

Since the receiver yelled “wait” as Player A was serving, play should stop and the point should be replayed. The serving order error should be corrected immediately since it is still his partner’s turn to serve in the tiebreak, and that point should have been replayed with the correct partner serving. Additionally, if a fault was served by the partner of the team that served out of turn, the fault stands. Further information about correcting errors can be found in the Friend at Court - ITF Rules of Tennis #27. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


Due to a shoulder injury, I can no longer play right-handed. I am now trying to learn to play left-handed. I would love to get any tips\advice you might have on learning left-handed as well as strengthening grip, arm and shoulder.

Sometimes an injury to your non-dominant side can help you discover a new love for the game in learning to play with your non-dominant side. Your "tennis IQ" may be high but your ability to execute needs a little work. I have two suggestions for you: green balls and Cardio Tennis.


Find a friend who likes to drill, or better yet, a friend who is newer to the game. Pick up some "green" balls (they often have a green dot on them) from your local tennis equipment store. These balls are roughly 75% the compression of the "yellow" balls you are used to playing with. Using the lower-compression green ball will slow the ball down, reduce the intensity of the bounce and increase your margin for error on your non-dominant side. This will increase your learning curve while affording you easy access to time on the court with friends! You will quickly find yourself having fun exchanging balls and will be better able to make small adjustments to find success. Cardio Tennis is a great format to get hundreds of reps, an amazing workout, meet great people and listen to some great music all while you work out the kinks on your non-dominant side. Most Cardio Tennis programs use lower compression balls to equalize levels and promote longer rallies so you'll fit right in no matter your skill level!  - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


Does the back leg on the forehand and backhand groundstroke swing across to the front in line with the front leg at or after the swing, or kick up behind the player? I see videos online and find some players being trained where the back leg swings across and others where they don't. Some players are also trained where the back leg kicks up behind them. What does the current sports science say about how players are to be trained to hit more with their body transfer into the stroke?

The main goal of the back leg is to maintain dynamic balance throughout the stroke. This can happen in both scenarios, where the back leg pivots as the knee drops while maintaining contact with the ground and where the back leg kicks and propels the body forward. Both enable good weight transfer through the kinetic chain and are dependent on the preference of the player and the contact height of the ball. In regards to where that leg goes after the shot, it depends primarily on momentum. Sometimes, the weight transfer is manageable on the front leg and so the back leg stays back. Other times, the weight transfer drives the body more forward through the ball and then the back leg carries through in front of the body and the player pushes back.  - Sean Bleau (Associate Pro, USTA National Campus)


I’m 61 years old, have been playing tennis on and off since a child and I’m an old school flat swing pusher and slicer at approximately a 3.5 NTRP level. I’ve changed my grip and swing to hit topspin forehand and backhand one-handed. What’s the best way to make the change, is it worth it and how do I not completely screw up my current game? 

I think you are asking the right question here: is this change worth it for me? This is a question only you and maybe your personal coach can help you answer. When we decide to make technical changes in our yennis game, it does take time, and we need to start with a patient mindset as there  is no quick fix to really making those changes in a couple of lessons. But the joy of tennis is that it is an open skill sport that allows the player to experiment with different grips, stances and swing paths which bring different results. I believe anyone can make changes to their game, but I do think it takes a different amount of time for each player. I think you should take time away from open play for some weeks, as you get out there with a coach or ball machine to really get some repetitions under your belt. The challenge with grip changes and major stroke changes with the weekend warriors is that they do not allow enough "closed" practice, just feeling the change they are working on. They tend to start competing too quickly after an adjustment has been made and they will automatically just go back to their original form.


From a USTA perspective, we talk about how we should go about doing this with players from all stages and ages, and it is simply to remember the "3 Ps" which are patience, progressions and practice. Patience with yourself as you make this change to your game, allowing yourself to give up some reliability as you make this change part of how you play. Progressions meaning start with simple skills, maybe close to the net, maybe hitting with some green dot balls, to keep feeling that change in a controlled environment. Practice more than competing, get a with a coach that you can plan to work on this specific change, have a friend feed some balls or use a backboard or ball machine. - Dave Colby  (Associate Head Pro, USTA National Campus)

I hit a short cross-court ball, forcing the opponent way out of the court to return it. My opponent was unable to return the ball and hit the ball into the net. After the ball had already hit the net, she called my shot out. I disputed that call since the point was over. Who is right? 

It is important for players to understand that calls need to be made promptly. A call must be made either before the player’s return shot has gone out of play or before an opponent has had an opportunity to play the return shot. In this scenario, the player had already hit the ball into the net when she made the call so the point should go to the opponent. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


If a ball bounces on my side of the net but spins back over to my opponent's side before I can make contact, can I still hit the ball or is it my opponent’s point? - Mary Mekkers (Daphne, Alabama)

In this situation, you can reach over the net, without touching the net or your opponent’s side of the court, and hit the ball. If the ball bounces on your opponent's side or goes into the net before you have a chance to make contact, your opponent wins the point. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


Are there any tennis specific drills that I can do indoors and solo on those rainy days? - Jennifer Yurcus (Tampa, Florida)

There’s something I like to call shadowboxing. Basically, you take a three-pound dumbbell or a can of beans, if you don’t have a dumbbell. If that feels too heavy, you can always just swing your arm and slowly go through all your swings in slow motion. That includes your serve, your volleys and all of your groundstrokes. Doing so in for the mirror ensures that you’re doing it with the correct technique. In terms of conditioning, jumping rope, jumping jacks, Burpees and other such exercises can help maintain or increase your conditioning when the weather doesn’t allow you to be outdoors. - David Hernandez (Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


That's the spirit! Just because it is raining outside doesn't mean we cannot improve our game. Shadow swings in front of a mirror. Foam ball against an interior wall. Watching more pro tennis. Rather than try to emulate their swing, think about the patterns they play, watch them rather than the ball and observe the match statistics.  How does this compare to your last match? - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


I played with a player who doesn't like to use pockets so she serves with both balls in her hand.  If the first serve goes in - she hangs onto the other ball and plays with a ball in her hand. Is this legal?  - Stacy Ludwig (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

A player is allowed to play with a ball in their hand so long as they are not hindering their opponent by dropping it during the point. If that occurs, the receiver may ask the server to stop discarding the second ball. Any further discarding would be considered a deliberate hindrance and the server would lose the point. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


My opponent dropped her racquet as it fell out of her hand when she attempted to return my ball. In fact, her return did clear the net and came back over. I tried to hit it back, but with the disruption of the racquet falling and the unusual situation, I hit my shot into the net. Should I have called a hindrance and taken the point? - Carmen Flores

When a player’s racket comes out of their hand, a let cannot be called by the player or their opponents. You were correct in continuing to play the point and returning the ball back. A similar situation is if a player’s shoe comes off. Neither player or team can call a let for this scenario. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


While the ball was in play, the ball rolled on to our court from the one next to us.  We kept playing the point as it wasn't hindering anyone. Only after my partner hit an overhead winner, then the opponent called Ball-on.  The opponent said we should replay the point, claiming that it was because the players on the next court were yelling. What's the call on this situation? - Risa Chung

When a ball from another court enters the playing area, any player on the court affected may call a let as soon as the player becomes aware of the ball. However, the player loses the right to call a let if the player unreasonably delays in making the call. Additionally, a player or team cannot call a let after the point has ended. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


Our club plays outdoors for six months and often in windy, gusty conditions. What are tips for playing well in the wind? - Joy Conrad-Rice (Kamloops Tennis Centre; Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada)

Playing in the wind is like driving in the rain. You wouldn't test your cars top speed in a storm. You'd make safe choices, proceed with caution and give yourself more margin for error. Sure, the forehand down the line may be a staple of your game on a normal day, but with the wind, your margin for error drops. Focus on the little things like watching the ball, moving your feet and keeping your body balanced. Hit a little higher over the net, add a little more spin and be a little more patient. You may not like playing in the wind, but if you make smart choices, there's a good chance your opponent will like it less. And that's a win every day of the week.  - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


What is the difference between grip and overgrip? And when do you need to replace either or both?

Grip, often called base grip or replacement grip, is what comes on the racquet when you purchase it. It's usually a thick, cushion grip which is the only layer between your hand and the handle. It can also be leather, which is used less often than cushion. The handle of a racquet is completely solid, so these cushion grips provide some softness and usually do enough to prevent blisters or discomfort. Overgrips are thin wraps that you put over the base or replacement grip. Grips tend to become slippery when you sweat, so overgrips are used to absorb sweat and prevent your hand from slipping while playing. Since they are so thin, they need to be replaced far more often than base grips. Overgrips are essentially disposable. 


Telling someone how often they should replace their grips is very challenging because it really depends on how often they play and how much they sweat. Different grips also have different characteristics, which might make them more or less durable. 

Some easy rules:

  • If your [base] grip is leaving any marks on your hands or even falling apart slightly, definitely time to change it. 

  • If your white overgrip is gray or black, time to change it. 

  • Your black overgrip gets just as dirty as your white overgrip! Make sure you change it even though it doesn't look as dirty. Do you wear your black socks 3 times longer than your white socks?

  • Most people don't change their overgrip nearly often enough. If you play once a week for an hour, I would probably change it once a month. If you play several times a week, I would recommend changing it every week or two. 
  • Players in warmer climates will generally have to change more frequently than players in colder climates. 

Sean Prokes (Operations Manager, Fromuth Tennis)

I have been playing tennis for many years. I always have trouble finding a proper overgrip that won’t slip and is comfortable as well since my hands are really sweaty. Any suggestions? - Gianfranco Lira (Boca Raton, Fla.)

This answer is fortunately and unfortunately straightforward: players simply have to change their overgrips way more often. Almost all tennis players change them way too infrequently. These overgrips are thin, and basically, should be treated as disposables. Most people who play multiple times a week try to keep an overgrip for months, but really, it should only be for about a week. It really depends on how much you sweat. Some players can go through an overgrip in two hours of play, and others could make it last a month. Climate usually plays a big role, too, so players in Florida will likely replace their grips way more often than players in New York. 


Some products that help with grip are rosin, tacky towels, or topical applications that dry your hands (ex: Carpe). These will help with grip and sweat, but don't necessarily extend the life of overgrips. - Sean Prokes (Operations Manager, Fromuth Tennis)


When I'm on the run, I try to take a hand off my backhand and hit a slice, but it always seems to go in the net. Do you have any tips on how to get my slice over the net? - Colleen Percival (Aiken, S.C.)

The reason for the ball going into the net could be one of two things: either the racquet is not open enough to create the loft necessary to clear the net, or the player’s wrist is breaking at the last second causing the racquet to hit down on the ball. - David Hernandez (USTA National Campus Professional)


In doubles, can either partner return the serve if they are both standing at the baseline? - Mary Jo Wright (Boardman, Ohio)

The receiving order is a rotation and, therefore, only the partner who was due to receive can return the serve. To determine the order of receiving in doubles, the team that is due to receive in the first game of a set shall decide which player shall receive the first point in the game. Similarly, before the second game starts, their opponents shall decide which player shall receive the first point of that game. The player who was the receiver’s partner for the first point of the game shall receive the second point, and this rotation shall continue until the end of the game and the set.  - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


Can a server call his or her first serve out? If I hit a winner, my opponent usually calls their own first serve out and negates my shot. What is the correct call? - Bob Long (Coconut Creek, Fla.)

The serving team cannot make a fault call on the first serve, even if they think the ball was out. The receiving team may be giving their opponents the benefit of the doubt by playing their serve. The only exception is if the receiver plays a first serve that is a fault and does not put the return in play. In this case, the server/serving team may make the fault call and hit a second serve. The server and the server’s partner must call 'out' any second serve that either clearly sees out.  - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)

Whenever I get to a short ball, I have a tendency to hit my shot in the net. What are some tips to getting the ball over the net? - Nathan Knepper (Lakewood, Colo.)

The short "candy ball" that you have worked so hard to earn is often one of the hardest balls to deal with. This can often be attributed to two factors:


1) Your expectations for the outcome of the point go up. "This is an easy ball, I should be ending the point," causes you to over-hit. With a typical rally ball, a player is likely to be simply building the point or hitting for a target.  

2) The geometry changes. You are closer to the net so you'll need to hit up more to clear it.  You're also closer to the opponent's side of the court so you'll need the ball to come back down sooner. This means that you'll likely need to send the ball through the air a little more slowly than you would if you were behind the baseline.


Think of that short ball as an opportunity to build for a putaway volley.  Execute a higher arcing ball with more spin than speed and follow it forward. - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


How can I hit a deep shot without hitting a lob? - Joel (Location Unknown)

There's a reason why topspin is so important in tennis.  It builds in margin for error and helps us get the ball up and over the net and then pulls the ball back down on the other side.  Flattening your stroke a little is one way of keeping the trajectory of the ball lower and get the ball landing deeper. Your margin for error will be reduced, so just beware of hitting it too hard. - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


We play against an opponent each season who refuses to play if there is a ball anywhere on our side of the court. If I double fault and my partner sweeps the ball to the side, the opponent demands that the ball is retrieved before I can hit my second serve. This can take quite a while. I have reminded her that the rules suggest that I should be able to hit my second serve at my pace and readiness. What do I do? - Betsy Nelson (Sarasota, Fla.)

Each player is responsible for removing stray balls and other objects from the player’s end of the court. Whenever a ball is not in play, a player must honor an opponent’s request to remove a ball from the court or from an area outside the court that is reasonably close to the lines. The time it takes to clear a ball between first and second serve is generally not long enough to justify giving the server a first serve. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)


What constitutes a foot fault? What is the best way to let an opponent know they are foot faulting in a recreational match? - Mindi Weaver (Woodstock, Fla.)

 It is a foot fault if the server does any of the following during the service motion:

  • Change position by walking or running, although slight movements of the feet are permitted; or 

  • Touch the baseline or the court with either foot; or 

  • Touch the area outside the imaginary extension of the sideline with either foot; or 

  • Touch the imaginary extension of the centre mark with either foot.

It is a foot fault when a foot touches the line during the service motion, even when the player does not follow the serve to the net. The receiver or the receiver’s partner may call foot faults only after all reasonable efforts, such as warning the server and attempting to get an official to the court, have failed and the foot fault is so flagrant as to be clearly perceptible from the receiver’s side. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & ITF White Badge Chair Umpire)

I have a one-handed backhand. My best shot from that side is the slice. When I want to hit the flat backhand, how much should I change my grip from a regular (continental) grip? - Mike Hicks (Raleigh, N.C.)

A good slice can be a great change of pace, but the ability to drive the ball (especially in doubles) becomes more critical as your opponents get stronger.  The change you are looking for is a small one. From a continental forehand (index finger knuckle at bevel 2), you just need to rotate back to bevel 1 for an eastern backhand grip. Keeping your non-dominant hand on the throat between shots can help you quickly make this change. As with most things in life, there is always nuance and personal preference. The location of the pinky knuckle or angle of your hand on the grip is more in this category. During your next practice session, play around with your grip and make subtle adjustments to see what feels best for you!  - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


My opponent has a habit of shouting after they hit a ball they consider a poor shot, effectively giving me an easy winner. However, this very often disrupts my execution causing an error instead. I explained once the ball is traveling in my direction, this is considered a hindrance. What are my rights in this situation? What is the best way to handle this matter without causing tension? - Joan Macderment (Lake Winola, Pa.)

Your opponent’s bad habit constitutes a deliberate hindrance under Section 34 of the Code, which clearly states: “Any talking that interferes with an opponent’s ability to play a ball is a hindrance.” If your opponent commits a deliberate hindrance, then you are entitled to stop play and claim the point so long as you do so promptly. You do not play a let in this situation. So the next time your opponent shouts during a point as the ball is moving toward you and you are distracted by the noise, you should immediately stop play, before attempting a return shot, and claim the point. Politely explain the rule to your opponent and I suspect the unsportsmanlike shouting will soon come to a stop. - Eric Perkins (USTA Chair, Sportsmanship Committee)


My string-breaks always occur on the crosses, never on the mains. Is this typical? In a related question, do stringers strive for the mains and crosses to be equal tension? Or is it typical for the crosses to be about 15% lower for a given tension specification? If my crosses typically run 15% lower for a given spec, would that be the cause of the crosses fraying and breaking before the mains? - Richard Wood (Charleston, S.C.)

In general, it's a little bit more common for the main strings to break, but it really depends on the kind of strings that the player is using. In a hybrid setup with the polyester in the mains, for example, it is more common for the soft string in the crosses to break sooner. We generally recommend stringing the mains and crosses at the same tension if the player is using one string throughout the entire racquet. Players who do have different tensions for the mains and crosses (any setup) usually only have a difference in tension of about 2-3 pounds. 15 percent is a huge difference. I don't think the 15 percent difference is what's causing the crosses to break sooner, but it's possible that they move more at a lower tension which creates more friction. - Sean Prokes (Operational Manager, The Racquet Bar at the USTA National Campus)


What is the correct rotation for a tiebreak in doubles? What is the serving order and when do doubles players change ends? - Brian Lloyd (Adelaide, South Australia, Australia)

In doubles, the order of service continues in the same order as it was established for that set. The player whose turn it is to serve shall serve the first point of the tiebreak game. The following two points shall be served by the opponent(s) (in doubles, the player of the opposing team due to serve next). After this, each player/team shall serve alternately for two consecutive points until the end of the tie-break game. In a traditional 7-Point Tiebreak, players change ends every six points. If using a Coman Tiebreak, players change ends after the first point and thereafter after every fourth point. This keeps doubles players serving on the same end of the court that they have been in the set. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & ITF White Badge Chair Umpire)


Can you follow through over the net with the racquet? When does reaching over the net result in a loss of point? Who makes that call?  - Kay Hutson (Garland, Texas)

A player is allowed to follow through over the net as long as the ball has crossed his/her side of the court first. If a player reaches over the net and hits the ball before it crosses the net, the player loses the point. The player who hits the ball before it crosses the net must concede the point. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & ITF White Badge Chair Umpire)

I am experiencing finger pain on my dominant hand. Could I be doing something wrong with my grip? - Jacob & Anne (Adamstown and Frederick, Maryland)

A tense grip of the racquet could be the issue.  Try loosening your grip as if you were cradling and bird. Overuse of the wrist and fingers could also be the issue.  Picture hitting or rallying a ball with your hand.  Your interaction would be entirely about what the palm of your hand was doing.  The same is true for your strokes. Rotation of the forearm is important in tennis, but the wrist should be kept in check. - Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)


What are some stretches and strengthening exercises or weight lifting I can do to help prevent injuries? Are there programs for younger players I could follow? - Jacob & Anne (Adamstown and Frederick, Maryland)

It is very hard to make recommendations or suggestions without knowing players. However, this injury prevention exercises video library on the USTA Player Development website should give you a good idea of what tennis players should be doing. I recommend consulting with your local certified professionals, preferably someone who is familiar with tennis players and/or young athletes, for assessments and more specific exercise recommendations. - Satoshi Ochi, MA, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, RSCC*D, CTPS, MTPS (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, USTA)


What are some of the best nutrition tips I can follow as a competitive tennis player? Should I be eating more fruits and veggies? - Jacob & Anne (Adamstown and Frederick, Maryland)

A balanced diet is the best fueling strategy for competitive tennis. Here are some tips. - Ed Ryan, ATC, LAT (Director, Athletic Medicine, The Andrews Institute/USTA National Campus)


For players up north who have long and cold winters like here in Minnesota, what are the three biggest things you can work on right away as soon as the weather is warm enough to get back to playing tennis?  - Hayley (Bloomington, Minn.)

Take the time during the winter to prepare to play tennis. a total body program to improve mobility/flexibility, strength, cardiovascular and muscular endurance, and movement and stability will provide the foundation to return to the court. Ensure that shoulder, trunk, and leg warm-up programs are thorough. Begin by moving around the court as in a match, without having to hit a ball and gradually add strokes.  - Ed Ryan, ATC, LAT (Director, Athletic Medicine, The Andrews Institute/USTA National Campus)


A Player-to-Player Tip

With COVID-19 and the closing of indoor tennis facilities here in the Midwest, we've had to continue our outdoor summer season into playing outdoors even in winter or not play at all. What our group has learned: air temperature of low-to-mid 30s and up are playable, if you dress properly. Wear layers. Lightweight, breathable, skin-tight compression pants under heavier-weight sweatpants for the bottom half is about right. For the top, same deal: lightweight long-sleeved compression top under a sweatshirt and add some sort of vest with pockets for easy ball access. If wind is 10+ mph, a vest is important. Finally, gloves and a gaiters for neck that can be pulled up over face. A slouchy beanie or stocking cap to cover ears. If sun is shining, you'll want a visor that fits over headgear. Keep your equipment and balls indoors, not in your car. Cold balls don't bounce well. You'll be a little cold at first but as you get active, it's surprisingly comfortable. - Ed, Midwest Section

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