It is all about the reaction

Tennis is a complex sport. To be a good player you need to possess skills like proper footwork, strokes’ technique, coordination and smart decision-making to name just a few. The good thing is that you can play tennis at different levels but whether you are recreational player or professional athlete you will definitely need one skill that is crucial. It is reaction.


Reaction is a complex process. It is even more difficult in sport like tennis because our time for response is really short. For example, 120mph serve gives you 0.454 seconds to react. On the other hand, 60mph serve gives us 0.909 seconds to react. Even with slow serve around 60mph, we still have under 1 second to see the ball, move, make decision, take backswing and hit precisely. This data shows us that tennis is really complex game and without quality practice and conscious preparation it is impossible to play well against more advanced opponents. Simply improving reaction will have positive impact on your preparation and the more time you have to prepare your shot the better the stroke’s quality you will produce. So what does reaction include?


  • Watching the ball
  • Quick racket preparation
  • Moving to the ball
  • Quick decision making on the run


Why do we need all these factors? As I said earlier, reaction is a complex process. It is like chain so every part must work the same to work correctly as a whole unit. If one part is weaker than the other it is going to have negative impact on the whole action. For example, we can take our racket back really fast but if we dont have explosive first steps, our reaction will not be enough to hit the ball in the best possible way. It must go smoothly from one part to another like an electric signal in a cable.


Here are the areas that you should work on to improve your reaction:



During the rally with your partner/coach, try to say loudly word which describes incoming ball. It can be short/deep/left/right/spin/slice/flat/frame etc. The most important thing in this drill is to say the word before the ball gets on your side. Good reaction is when you can describe a ball when it is still on your opponent side.



Coach stands in front of you and feeds you balls by hand. Your only focus must be on running with racket ready to hit. What does it mean? When you see the ball, you have to take a backswing and run in this position. It gives you good preparation so you will rarely hit the ball late.



The best drill to improve this aspect is playing in defense. Feed short ball to your partner, she/he has to play aggressively and come to the net. You dont know where the ball goes so you have to react in milliseconds. This drill is even more effective on fast surfaces and it builds your reaction in the real environment of competition.



Put multi-colored cones on the other side. Coach feeds you a ball and says one color. You have to hit designated cone so you must make a decision while you are running. The harder the feed, the quicker decision you have to make.   



To sum it up, reaction can be practiced both on-court and off-court. We have to remember that if we want to improve response to the incoming ball, we have to train this aspect from different perspectives. Closed drills are good to work on technical aspects while open drills will be better to see if you are ready to react quickly under the time pressure.