Clear Intent

By Mary Hill


The 5th Fundamental Principle of Tennis is having Clear Intent, having a Purpose for Every Shot.

A phrase I learned years ago at a USPTA conference seems very appropriate: “Plan your play and play your plan.” In other words, be proactive…with intent and purpose.


When you first learn tennis, you learn a skill, a “how”. Then you learn “where”, and finally you learn “when”. You need to put this progression together to have a “plan”. I often start a lesson by using a skill the student already knows. For example, I will give her the tennis ball and say “throw this ball”. She usually responds “where”. If you don’t know your target, then you cannot perform your skill accurately. You cannot organize your feet to help you, and you cannot follow through. You want to use a basic principle of movement “step in the direction you want the object to go”. If you are using an open stance, then you want your energy and follow through going in that direction.


I often think that players are too vague about where their targets are. Years ago I took a lesson from a pro in Houston when I was playing the National Clay Courts. I told him I was aiming “cross court”. He said, “where exactly is cross court”. He made me be very exact, not just aim for an area that is 10’ by 10’ or 5’ by 5’. I now use the donut hole targets I got from oncourt/offcourt with all my students and have found that their footwork and accuracy is much, much better.


When you watch a match on TV, pay attention to the patterns and accuracy of the players. A pattern good for seniors, like lob to the backhand and go to the net, will not be used by the pros, but some pros do charge the net when they make the two-hander let go and use a slice. The pros also use common patterns like “deep/short” and “hit wide and then to the open court”.


It’s important that you develop patterns that fit your game so that when you go to the court, you can be proactive. With precise clear intent and purpose, you can make those patterns happen more often.