• Photo for Tennis, anyone?
    Photo Credit: Getty Images

Tennis, anyone?

By Mitch Rustad

That casual old line goes back decades, but tennis certainly isn't defined by all-white attire, a country club demeanor, and wooden racquets anymore. Today, it's an all-out jock sport, requiring skill, stamina, and sweat. It's also a great social outlet—whether your name is Roger Federer or Joe Blow.

If it's flat abs, chiseled legs, and a hard body you're after, striving to keep that fuzzy ball between the white lines will help you get them, because tennis engages your abdominal muscles and legs constantly—whether you're serving and volleying or running after a pesky drop shot. Want to burn calories? For the average person, an hour of tennis will burn 493 of them (by contrast, an hour on a stationary bike will burn 387, and may bore you to death).

"Playing tennis at a moderate to vigorous intensity on a regular basis is a good way to get your aerobic exercise," says Cleveland Clinic Heart Center exercise physiologist and avid tennis player Gordon Blackburn, Ph.D. "You'll exercise your muscles and burn calories. Tennis can even help lower your blood pressure."

Getting Started
Convinced yet? If not, here's the clincher: It's easier than ever to start playing, whether you're a beginner or a lapsed player who hasn't touched a racquet in years. In an effort to reignite the tennis boom of the 1970s, the United States Tennis Association has established "Tennis Welcome Centers" throughout America to help you "learn to play!"

There are almost 3,000 of these centers throughout the U.S., places where you can find free or very affordable programs, courts, people to play with, and lessons. Just go to the Tennis Welcome Centers web site and enter your zip code to get started.

And tennis is the ultimate contact sport—social contact, that is. Many cities offer gay tennis leagues, and there's no easier way to get to know someone—socially or for business—than to trade forehands or match strategic wits on the court. Who knows, you may even find love between the little white lines.

Your Serve
Whether you're a beginner or leading your club's singles ladder, here's a tip sure to help improve your game.

What's the only shot in tennis that you completely control? Your serve. No point can get started without a serve, and when you're serving, it's your chance to smoke your competition. That said, if your delivery wouldn't crack an egg, your whole game can suffer the consequences (Russian player Elena Dementieva is a famous example of someone who suffers from this particular woe).

So how do you add muscle to your serve? Follow these two suggestions:

  • Start loose: If you tense up at the mere idea of stepping to the baseline to serve, you probably grip your racquet too tightly from the start as well. This causes your whole arm to tense up, and power on the serve comes from a loose, spaghetti-like wrist and elbow (where the snap! comes from). Before your begin your delivery, make sure your grip is firm yet relaxed. Shake your wrist and forearm out to make sure. If you're still tense, try cradling the butt of your racquet in your palm (rather than the whole grip); this will encourage a looser grip and more relaxed arm.
  • Think Sampras: If you feel defensive on your serve, a good mental trick is to picture Pete Sampras and his serve and volley game. As your step to the line, envision yourself primed to follow your serve quickly into the net. This mental image will propel your body weight and racquet speed forward as you serve—adding some extra juice—even if you decide to stay on the baseline.
Mitch Rustad is a freelance writer who has written for numerous fitness and health publications, including Men's Fitness, Tennis, and Shape. A former tennis professional, he resides in Manhattan.