Depending on where you live, finding a regular practice partner for tennis isn't always straightforward. That's especially true if your job means you can only play at different times to most others who work the standard nine to five.
Now and again, you might run into someone who wants to play as often as possible. But what if you want to improve your game yet can't find an opponent to hit against?
The answer is a solo tennis practice, and there are several different drills you can do alone to help improve your game.
Tennis is also a sport where lots of little things come together to produce good shots. So by practising things in isolation like footwork, ball toss etc., you can piece them together and see significant improvements when you play against an opponent.
Let's take a look at some of the options you have at your disposal.
My Favourite Solo Tennis Practice Drills
Here are my favourite ways to practice tennis alone. Some of them require the use of a court, but most of them don't.
They're in no particular order, and you can combine them into one session if you'd like variety, but my favourite is by far the wall. It's all action and fewer stoppages due to having to collect balls!
Hit Against The Wall
One of the most underutilised practice tennis tools is a wall, and it's a great way to improve reflexes, fitness, footwork and consistency.
Many professional players credit playing against a wall as a junior for building their love of the game and their consistency.
Even Roger Federer still has a tennis wall at his house in the Swiss Alps to practice on, which he used while rehabbing from his two knee surgeries in 2020.
On a personal level, some of my best practice sessions have come against the tennis wall. Why? Because the wall never misses, it's high intensity, and you don't get much time to react until you have to hit the next shot. You get that pedal to the metal feeling and can find a great rhythm.
Often after a session against the wall, my legs feel it way more than after a match because you are constantly moving, and it's quite a goal-driven practice as you want to make as many balls above the line as possible.
My favourite drill is where you hit several forehands down the line, then fire one crosscourt. You have to make up a lot of ground and get there in time to hit a backhand down the line. You then hit several more backhands down the line before going crosscourt and repeating the drill with more forehands. This one is a real killer on the legs.
Any downsides? You're not replicating match conditions as the ball comes back at you on a flat trajectory. You can practice facing shoulder high balls by first hitting the ball into the floor, so it rears up against the wall and bounces much higher. You then backpedal and take the ball around shoulder height which is an excellent drill for putting away short balls.
The wall isn't just for groundstrokes either; you can use it for volleys, approach shots with volley finishes, chip charges, touch play, overheads and serves.
Many courts worldwide have a wall or backboard as part of their facilities, but if you're not lucky enough to have that, any smooth wall with enough width and a flat enough surface in front of it works fine. Just remember to pick one with decent height to it, as it's not fun having to go collect balls every 10 minutes.
How To Use a Tennis Wall Effectively
- Use masking tape to create some targets to hit
- Remember to split step and use proper footwork
- If the wall has no line for the net, use tape or chalk to mark one
- Mix up the session with volleys, touch shots, overheads, as well as just going for raw powered groundstrokes
Example Wall Drills
Work on Stroke Mechanics
All high-level tennis players have one thing in common – the correct fundamentals for stroke production.
Yes, there are quirks and some players who have funky styles. However, most top guys do the same things even though their techniques and results appear vastly different.
You can practice stroke production without stepping onto the court, practice swings in a mirror or the garden, and get a feeling for the correct swing path.
I'd recommend watching some slow-motion videos on Youtube and some coaching channels that give pointers on the fundamentals such as early preparation, racquet lag, shoulder rotation, contact point etc. You can then mimic this with shadow swings.
However, one far better way to practice stroke production is by using a training aid. The best one out there is the Topspin Pro.
One of the essential skills in the modern game is the correct stroke mechanics to produce topspin, and the problem is that it's not the most straightforward technique to learn.
Some players struggle for years to master topspin; however, the Topspin Pro guides the racquet through the contact point, speeding up the muscle memory. You can make dramatic improvements in no time at all on both the forehand and backhand.
The beauty of the Top Spin Pro is that you can use it anywhere, as long as there's enough space to swing a racquet without fear of knocking something over or clattering the racquet into a hard surface.
That means if you're not lucky enough to live near free to use courts, you can set this up in a garden, balcony, patio, garage, driveway or even your living room, providing there is enough space.
How to use the Topspin Pro
At the recreational level, and maybe even the professional level, the serve is one of the least practised strokes.
That makes little sense, seeing as though it's one of the most important for winning matches, but for one reason or another, players tend to remove that from practice and instead feed from the hand to rally from the baseline.
A solo practice session allows you to hit 100's of serves, all you need is a basket of balls, and you can hit one serve after another.
To mix it up, you can bring in targets (use a tube of balls), aim for them, and try to hit different serves at different times.
Rather than trying to empty the basket as quickly as possible, I recommend hitting your serves as you would in a match, so take your time, go through your full-service routine and try to imagine match situations. E.g. Ok, I'm down breakpoint here, 2nd serve, let's kick this one into his backhand side.
Tennis Serve Drills
Watch any tennis match on TV, and you'll hear the words ‘great footwork' at least once, especially when the likes of Federer and Nadal are playing.
Footwork is another area of your game that you can practice alone, and you can do it anywhere – on the court, in the gym, at the park or in your garden.
I like doing drills with the racquet in my hand and shadow swinging.
My favourite is an exercise, whereas a left-hander, I hop sideways onto my left leg, then jump forward onto my right leg and swing a closed stance type forehand. I then hop back onto my left leg, hop sideways onto my right leg, then hop forward onto my left leg to swing a backhand. Repeat.
Sample Footwork Drills
Ball Toss Practice
A consistent ball toss is one of the key's to a good serve, and you don't even need a court to practice it.
My favourite drill is the ball toss target drill. You take up the serving position as usual and then throw the ball in the air. However, rather than hitting it, you instead let it drop onto a target in front of you inside the baseline.
I usually use masking tape to create a small square target and get as many in a row as possible. It's trickier than you think, but you quickly learn to release the ball more consistently and let go of it as late as possible rather than throwing it into the air.
You can see the drill in action below, where Nick from Intuitive Tennis uses a trash can as his target.
Serve Toss Practice
Suppose two players of equal tennis ability and game style face each other in a match. In that case, it's often the fitter guy that comes out on top, so if you want to compete, it's imperative to build some muscle and work on some cardio so you can go the distance when matches get physical.
Tennis players rarely have bulging biceps, so it's essential to work on explosive type training. I often do HIIT style workouts where you work for 40 seconds, rest for 20, then move on to the next exercise.
Exercises I recommend:
- Jumping lunges
- Jumping jacks
- Mountain climbers
- Calf raises
- Dumbbell Step Up
- Resistance band training
Check out Dominic Thiem's regime below for some inspiration.
Dominic Thiem Fitness Training
Ball Machine Training
The last method for practising tennis alone is the only one that has any high $ cost behind it, and that's a ball machine.
This one needs no real explanation, you set the ball machine up one side of the court, and it will feed you balls to practice your game.
Depending on the machine you have, you can alter the speed, spin, trajectory and direction. This can make it into hitting a specific shot repeatedly or more of a cardio type workout.
The only issue with this method is that ball machines start at around $1000, so they're not cheap. Some of the popular options out there include:
|Slinger Bag (~$1000)
|144||Yes||Topspin||Battery (~3 hours)|
|Siboasi 4015 (~$2000)
|160||Yes||Topspin & Backspin||Battery (~4 hours)|
|Lobster Elite Liberty Portable Ball Machine (~$1000)
|150||Yes||Topspin & Backspin||Battery (~2-4 hours)|
|Sports Tutor Tennis Tutor ProLite (~$899)
|125||Yes||No||Battery (~3 hours)|
|Spinfire Pro 2 (~$2000)
|150||Yes||Topspin & Backspin||Battery (~3-8 hours|
Is a ball machine worth the investment? It depends on how often you plan to use it and what sort of disposable income you have.
They're helpful and fun. But I prefer the wall as there's zero setup time, no faffing around to get the balls fired out in the right place, and it is cheaper.
Ball Machine Drills
Hopefully, the ideas above give you some ideas of practising alone and not despairing if you can't find a practice partner!
My favourite is the tennis wall, and if you can find the time to hit against it once a week, you'll improve your consistency, footwork and intensity without fail.
What solo tennis drills do you use? Any I've missed? Let me know in the comments.