Develop your Tennis IQ

Welcome to the Develop your Tennis IQ Page

This page has been designed to help players develop their tennis IQ off-court & at home to support their on-court tennis development. We will tap into resources from the Vida Team as well as industry experts. The areas we will focus on will be game analysis, tactical awareness, movements, decision making, patterns of play, doubles tactics, and more.

If there are any topics or themes you would like covered, please email your ideas to us and we will create an article to help you develop your game!

Always looking to improve!

Rafael Nadal – King of the Clay and what rally length?

What is the average rally length of Rafa Nadal?

a) 1 shot

b) 3 shots

c) 5 shots

d) 7 shots

a) 1 SHOT

  • ONE Shot rallies = 139 (21.4%)
  • 15+ Shots rallies = 16 (2.5%)

Nadal’s success comes from being successful on the first strike!

Often when we ask the kids we coach what the most common rally length is in tennis, the answers we get from players are things like “8”, “12” or “15”. It makes sense because those are the rallies we remember. We remember when Nadal or Djokovic had that epic 22 shot rally which finished with a blinding down the line winner. We know these players as having amazing defense on court, which is why they’re so successful. These players are so successful because they win all those long rallies, right?

Well… wrong.

An article written by Craig O’Shannessy, www.braingametennis.com, highlights that in fact players like Nadal are so successful because they win the majority of rallies that are only… ONE shot.

Wait what? You read that correctly.

If you are looking for success like Nadal on the court, you must understand that the volume is in the short rallies. There is so much power in the early shots, that players hurt each other as EARLY as they can.

Be like Rafa, work on your serve and your return, and win the point early.

You can read a more detailed account from Craig O’Shannessy breakdown here: https://www.braingametennis.com/rafael-nadal-the-king-of-the-one-shot-rally/?mc_cid=4e29038dcd&mc_eid=568b5ac708

What is the main difference between forehand groundstroke and forehand return?

A) swing size

B) split step

C) contact point

D) facial expression

Answer: A) Swing size

As tennis players we all understand how important returns are. It’s a shot we are guaranteed to hit, quite often in fact. But compared to serves, they are practiced a lot less.

So what do we need to work on?

The main differences between a forehand groundstroke and the forehand return? Time!
We have less time! Therefore we need to alter the swing in a way where we can still effectively hit the ball into the court. Which means shorter and more compact swing size.

What is the best position to return to?

The court is cut into 4 like the image below. Which zone do most returns go to?

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D

Answer – C. Most returns go to the opponent’s backhand side to C, but not pushing it too wide and risking an error to D. Overall ⅓ of ALL returns end up on the Ad court side, that is zone C and D.

It seems professional players want servers to hit a backhand after the serve!

Is this the most effective, however…? Which zone has the highest win percentage?

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D

Answer – A.

  • Position A = 62% (58/94)
  • Position D = 48% (132/275)
  • Position B = 47% (112/237)
  • Position C = 43% (171/397)

Can you see the pattern? A is not the zone players rally to, it’s the zone players hit to when looking for a knockout punch. If you are looking to get into the rally off the return, the pro’s are hitting to C. But when they are looking to win the point, the return goes to A.

Where do servers make most of the errors from when hitting their first shot (after the serve)?

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D

Answer? B.

  • Position B = 15.2% (36/237)
  • Position A = 14.9% (14/94)
  • Position C = 11.6% (46/397)
  • Position D = 10.2% (28/275)

Both B and A, the forehand side, have a lot more errors. It is important to recognise that the backswing of the forehand is much bigger than the backhand, so it takes more time to prepare. If the return is deep then it will increase the errors the server makes as the swing is pressured by time!

Want to play it safe?

Return to Position C.

Want to force a Serve +1 error? Return to Position B.

Feeling aggressive? Aim at Position A.

Want to mix in a surprise to keep the server off balance? You still have Position D for that as well.

You can read more on this in an article written by ATP analyst Craig O’Shannessy here – https://www.atptour.com/en/news/thiem-djokovic-beyond-the-numbers-april-2020

What is the most missed shot in tennis?

a) 1st Serve

b) Overhead smash

c) Return of serve

d) Backhand

The shot you miss the most is the shot you practice the least. Yes, it’s © the return of serve.

Look at these numbers from the 2019 Wimbledon Championships.

2019 Wimbledon: Unreturned Serves


  • Unreturned 1st Serves = 39% (6983/18020)
  • Unreturned 2nd Serves = 20% (1897/9502)
  • Combined = 32% (8880/27522)


  • Unreturned 1st Serves = 28% (3183/11364)
  • Unreturned 2nd Serves = 17% (1009/5836)
  • Combined = 24% (4192/17200)

Key Points Technically/Tactically:

Q: Stance – Do we want to be (tall & narrow) or (low & wide) while waiting for the serve?

A: A low & wide base will help to absorb the power from the serve also will help generate power on the return. It also helps to explode out to ball’s that are out of our reach.

Q: Should we have a “normal” backswing like a groundstrokes when returning or a more “compact” swing?

A: Compact swing this will allow us to save time when returning to find the contact point more consistently, therefore landing more returns back in court.

Check out these freakish returns below

For More info head to https://www.braingametennis.com/you-miss-too-many-returns/?mc_cid=5f5131091d&mc_eid=568b5ac708

What direction do most passing shots go?

a) Down the line

b) Crosscourt

c) Body

d) Lob

Crosscourt! Forehand is the dominant shot for most players, but more importantly, out wide and under pressure, we still have some control of the racquet head.

If we hit down the line on the passing shot we give our opponent a cross court angle volley into the open court, not ideal!

If we can hit cross court, the net is lower, so you can dip it down low (as a bonus), and the open court for our opponent is now down the line, THERE IS NO ANGLE, and over the HIGH part of the net! The chance of receiving a second shot now is a lot higher.

Have a look at this highlight video – 4 out of the first 5 passing shots go crosscourt!

You can read more on the link below, where ATP analyst Craig O’Shannessy talks about where to hit passing shots, serves and returns! – https://www.braingametennis.com/2019-wimbledon-countdown-andersons-epic-semi-final-victory/?mc_cid=6b01051ab0&mc_eid=3d5120419b

Is it important to focus on breathing on court?

a) Yes

b) No

Of course it is, and here is why

Learning to breathe at optimal levels during practice and play is critical for;

  • Recovery (between points and sets)
  • Energy production (Aerobic energy system relies on oxygen absorption)
  • Added boost in force expression (Increased power output)
  • Endurance (having the ability to recover quicker on court, leads to a slower fatigue rate)
  • Concentration (using breathing techniques to “reset” is important for staying focused or we call it tennis meditation)

Breathing is what we call an involuntary action, which means we do it without having to think about it or worry about it until it is compromised, then we freak out and so we should!

This is the problem around breathing for tennis because we do not need to think or worry about it, it just happens, we do not put enough emphasis on trying to enhance it.

This is partly due to the fact we have so much to worry about (moving, hitting the ball, watching your opponent, etc)

Here is a link below to learn some Tennis Breathing Exercises by Tennis Fitness Training

Tennis Breathing Exercises Tips

This short video will help get you started with 3 basic breathing techniques.

Apply them daily for the next 30 days and you will start to understand what I am talking about.

Night Time Breathing – 4:6:4 x 2-5min

Pre-match or morning Breathing – Squat swing breathing x 10-20reps

Between Points Breathing – Reset breathing 3:3:6 x 1-3reps

What percentage of points finish at the net in doubles?

a) 50%

b) 60%

c) 70%

d) 80%


Answer? c) 70% (well it’s 68% but you get the picture!)

2 out of every 3 points at the professional level finish at the net.

What does this mean?

Do we still hit from the baseline? Of course! You will need to win some points from the back!
But it is clear that the net is king. The baseliner needs to take advantage of short balls and come to the net as often as possible, and the volleyer needs to take advantage of a good serve or good shot by their partner and look to intercept a shot and volley!

This data is taken from ATP analyst Craig O’Shannessy from his website https://www.braingametennis.com – if you are interested in a more in depth breakdown of numbers in doubles follow the link and find Doubles Numbers!

Check out some great doubles points below

What is the most important rally length?

A) 0-4

B) 5-8

C) 9-12

D) 12+

If you answered A, you’d be correct!

Here is a breakdown of how often each rally was played by the 8 quarter finalists of 2019 Roland Garros.

  • 0-4 Shots = 64%
  • 5-8 Shots = 25%
  • 9+ Shots = 11%

64%, that’s almost 2 out of every 3 points played, were 0-4 shots! Clay court tennis is historically seen as tennis with long, slow and gruelling rallies. But the top players, Simona Halep, Ash Barty and Madison Keys are all winning their rallies as early as possible.

These women are creating a bigger advantage over the short rallies, and not the long ones.

Again looking at the combined point distribution of the 8 quarter finalists, the stats show that the longer the rally goes, the more even it becomes!

  • 0-4 Shots: 1381 won / 1034 lost = +347
  • 5-8 Shots: 533 won / 409 lost = +124
  • 9+ Shots: 229 won / 201 lost = +28

Would you rather focus on an area of the game that helps you produce a 347 point advantage or a 28 point advantage?

Shorter rallies in the 0-4 shot range is where winning really happens – at all levels of our sport.

You can read more on the link below, where ATP analyst Craig O’Shannessy talks about the importance of winning the 0-4 shot rally length – www.braingametennis.com

Your best strategy Serving at 30-30

The following articles was written by Craig O’Shannessy and can be found on the following link


Win the point and the percentages are overwhelmingly in your favor to hold serve. Lose the point, and the odds now say you are more likely to get broken.

So… how much risk should you take on board when serving at 30-30? Is it a good time to go for an ace and to play big, or is it better to play the percentages and make a first serve and look for a Serve +1 forehand? I recently wrote an ATP analysis on this topic with a focus on the pro tour, but I want to broaden that analysis here for junior and adult recreational players.

When you find yourself serving at 30-30, there are a number of elements that come into play.

  • Do you have a specific serve direction you know you can make?
  • Doe the opponent have a significantly weaker return side?
  • Is it a good time for a surprise serve location?
  • Is your opponent stepping in and attacking your serve?
  • Where should you serve to bring the ball back where you want it?
  • All factors to consider…

When you arrive at 30-30, think of the outcome of the point like a fork in the road, where one pathway gives you an excellent chance of holding serve, while the other road is basically a coin flip to decide if you are going to hold serve. The following metrics are a Top 10 average from the 2019 season.

  • Top 10 Players in 2019
  • Holding from 30-30 = 80%
  • Holding from 40-30 = 93%
  • Holding from 30-40 = 49%

The gap difference between holding from 40-30 (93%) and 30-40 (49%) = 44 percentage points = A MASSIVE DIFFERENCE!

At 30-30, you may feel comfortable with an 80% chance of holding. That’s not the metric that matters the most. I want your focus and understanding to be on the “gap” between the two possible outcomes, which is 44 percentage points. 30-30 represents a point score that has a huge swing in fortunes if you either win the point or lose the point.

So here’s your goal with you first two shots…

  • Make your first serve.
  • Hit a Serve +1 forehand, and typically direct it to deep down the middle to the opponent’s backhand.

Pro players can serve much more at the corners at 30-30, because they have the proficiency to do so. I want you to serve more at the body at 30-30, which will improve the percentages that you will make the serve. Going jam forehand or jam backhand both work, so you will need to figure out which direction makes the opponent more uncomfortable.

If the return is made, your opponent will probably be aiming towards the middle of the court to your backhand side. I want you to run around this backhand and upgrade to a forehand and then go deep to your opponent’s backhand to push them back where they can’t hurt you. Win the court position battle first, and then you can start to focus on forcing an error or hitting a winner.

Read the full article on the link above.

Where should you hit your return of serve?

One of the most influential shots in the game is the Return of Serve deep down the middle.

With the speed and placement of the serve getting better each year, the importance of a great return increases.

Arguably two of the greatest returners to play the game Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi have won a total of 31-32% of return games in their respective careers, one big strategy they have used is the return down the middle of the court.

The old strategy of making your opponent move laterally off the return may still be true, however, is it the best strategy? Paul Annacone, the former coach of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer states “If you don’t hit a perfect return going for the angle, then it becomes a track meet in lateral tennis, and the server usually has the advantage.”

59 time Grand Slam Champion Martina Navratilova mentioned “The deep middle return is so effective because the server is still off-balance — hit it deep enough and they have to backpedal — and it is difficult for them to hit their first shot with pace or depth. It’s gold,”


  • Aiming for a big target down the middle is safer than aiming for a corner or a line when under pressure or off-balance
  • It is a way to neutralize the point
  • It gives the server less reaction time to play the next ball
  • Gives the server less angle to hit the next ball
  • If the player is tall, it is very effective to hit deep and quick at their feet

In the women’s game, the return of serve is seen as a huge weapon, Wimbledon Champion Simona Halep has a winning percentage of return games as high as 44% and newly crowned US Open Champion Bianca Andreescu at 40% showing the dominance of the return in the women’s game.

To even get the point started you must make the return, with all of the above points it’s clear that hitting down the middle is a ‘safe’ option and can actually be the strategy that wins you points.

Next time you step onto the court, think about returning down the middle to neutralize the point and watch the pressure build on your opponent.


Many will think there are two options, a forehand and a backhand. But there is another option, the off-forhand. One of these three options produces far better results than the other two.

Which one do you think it is?

  • Forehand
  • Off Forehand
  • Backhand

If you picked the off forehand, you are spot on. This produces;

  • More winners
  • More force errors
  • Makes fewer errors than regular forehands.

So what is the off-forhand?

If you are right-handed, you will naturally be hitting forehands in baseline positions A and B (see the diagram below). But C is where most balls go in tennis, so that’s your best place to hit a forehand from. This location gets the most traffic and you get to take advantage of using your off forehand to control the points.

You can read more on the link below, where ATP analyist Craig O’Shannessy talks about his “Upgrade, Double & Freeze”

When is a backhand slice used?

A – Defense

B – Offense

C – Both

Correct answer is C- Both, a slice backhand can be used for defense & offense

Here is why


  • Out of reach
  • Ball is too low

The long hang time of a slice should give you more than enough opportunity to recover and get ready to react. It may not have the pace of a topspin shot, but sometimes pace can work against you.

A good slice can be just as effective as a sweeping backhand and much easier to hit on the run. Basically, the quicker you hit the ball, the faster it’s back on top of you. So, sometimes, slowing it down is the best possible option.


  • Approach
  • The “plus 1” after a slice

The low skid of a good slice shot can be tough for most players to handle. It’s hard for most players to return such a low bouncing ball and nearly impossible to attack off of it as well.

A “plus 1” after a good slice is the shot you’re looking for after you play a slice. When playing a slice you intention is to keep the ball as low as you can on your opponent side of the net, therefore trying to make them hit it “up” as soon as they give you some “air time” to run around and use your F/H to hit a off F/H or inside out F/H you will be the one dictating the point.

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