Through-The-Legs Tennis Shot: A Completed Guide

By Lin
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through the legs tennis shot federer
Credit: Andrew Ong/

Figuring out the basics of a tweener tennis shot can be tricky. Suppose you run to return a ball only to have no time to turn: is a between-the-legs shot the best way to go? What is considered a tennis tweener?

A tweener in tennis is a between-the-legs shot typically played when a person runs down a lob and has no time to turn. You want to treat tweeners as a last resort, as they’re tricky to master. Even pro tennis players fumble when trying tweener shots, so use these sparsely.

Are you still curious as to what makes a tweener shot in tennis? We’ve got plenty more to explain, so keep on reading!

What Does Tweener Mean In Tennis?

When you hear the phrase “tweener” in tennis, this means a shot through or in between the legs. You typically only hit these as an experienced player when running down a lob.

This is deemed one of the most challenging tennis shots one can use on the court, with many players avoiding it altogether. Although fun-sounding, Tweeners can be pretty difficult and could lose you the point.

If you tried to hit a ball using the tweener method, you’d need to rely on proper leg spacing, posture, and follow-through.

There are many tennis shots to master, with the tweener not usually being a common practice.

Who Invented The Tweener Tennis Shot?

Photo Credit: WIKI

Although the tweener’s history is murky, it’s believed that tennis player Guillermo Vilas originated this shot in the sport. He had been inspired by an advertisement where Juan Carlos Harriot (a famous polo player) hit a backward shot on his horse’s hind legs.

That translated to him in tennis, and the tweener was born. However, some people aren’t sure Vilas was the FIRST to do this, but he certainly made it the icon it is presently.

From there, Guillermo Vilas hit the shot on a professional court during a match between himself and French player Wanaro N’Godrella in 1974. The tweener made its first ATP debut the following year when Vilas hit this shot in the Indianapolis Championship against the Spaniard player Manuel Orantes.

How To Hit A Tweener Shot In Tennis

For those wanting to attempt the tweener shot in tennis, this will require some training. After all, you have to maneuver the racket through your legs while creating enough force to get the ball back over the net.

Here are the steps for hitting a tweener shot:

  1. Space out your legs (more than shoulder distance).
  2. As the ball drops, get to the other side of it.
  3. Bend down slightly, swinging your racket between your legs.
  4. Return to the front-facing position (if hitting a back-facing tweener).

You want to remember this shot does require your back to the other side of the court. Typically, you want to keep an eye on your opponent at all times, so a tweener will blind you to them for a few seconds.

Return to the front-facing position after hitting your tweener, and resume the game as you had been playing. Tweeners tend to be trick shots in tennis, so you want to use them sparingly. Let the tweener shock the person playing against you.

Here is a video showing you how to do this:

When To Hit A Through-The-Legs Tennis Shot

Regarding the best time to hit a through-the-legs shot or tweener in tennis, this is typically reserved for returning a lob. When your opponent hits the ball high and deep, and you have little time to hit it before a second bounce, a tweener becomes a lifeline.

Most often, lobs get the opposing tennis player in a sticky situation, which is when mastering the tweener can return that energy across the court. You would only have to meet the ball, swing through your legs, and return to the correct direction afterward.

You will also find that lobs tend to happen while in a volley stance. Pushers will even try to throw in lobs during match play, sending you running down the court. Watch for signs of a lob shot, and initiate your tweener when the opponent least expects it.

Why Is It Called A Tweener Shot?

The term tweener became a shortened version of ‘between-the-legs’ for everyday tennis players. You might also hear the tennis tweener referred to as a hotdog shot, so that’s another phrase to jot down. Between the legs shots in tennis will always be synonymous with Guillermo Vilas.

Some players even call this shot the ‘Willy’ after Vilas, who also had that nickname.

He has become the creator and legacy of the tweener technique, which we’re sure he appreciates after all these years. Therefore, feel free to hit a hotdog, tweener, or between-the-legs shot; this will rile up a crowd and your opponent.

Our post on who invented tennis is perfect for history buffs.

Who Popularized The Tweener Shot?

Pro players have heavily popularized the tweener shot in tennis since its inception in the 1970s. Of course, Guillermo Vilas will always be the “creator” of the tweener, or willy shot, but other pro athletes have also adopted it.

For example, Yannick Noah and Roger Federer became frequent users of the between-leg shot, with many audiences thinking they had created it. Roger Federer is often deemed one of the ATP players responsible for bringing the tweener to mass attention, but that’s subjective.

Yannick Noah also used the tweener in competitive matches, often winning points by using it. Therefore, these three players are the most to thank for the shot’s popularity in present times.

Here’s a video of Yannick Noah hitting a tweener:

Did Federer Invent The Tweener? Does He Use It Often?

No. Although Roger Federer is to thank for many viral tweener moments, he did not create the tweener or between-the-legs shot in tennis. This is thanks to Guillermo Vilas, who had started using the trick shot in the ’70s.

However, Roger Federer has been deemed a tweener king in his own right, with endless compilations of the icon using this shot during events circulating the internet.

Roger Federer has always been a trendsetter in tennis, so he became related to the shot by using the once-obscure tweener at championship events.

For those who remember, in a match against Novak Djokovic at the 2009 US Open, Roger Federer hit a jaw-dropping tweener, dubbing it the “greatest shot he ever hit in his life.”

Here’s that video:

The Best Tennis Tweener Shots Of All Time

Over the years, many tennis players have attempted tweeners during matches, often scoring with them. Regarding the “best tweeners ever,” there are a few that make our list:

  • Roger Federer: US Open 2009.
  • Roger Federer: US Open 2010.
  • Rafael Nadal: Madrid Masters 2011.
  • Novak Djokovic: Shanghai Masters 2012.
  • Nick Kyrgios: Wimbledon 2014.
  • Yannick Noah: US Open 1983.
  • Guillermo Vilas: Australian Open 1977.

This video also showcases some great tweener moments across professional matches through the decades:

What Are The Different Types Of Tenner Tweeners?

When it comes to the different ‘types’ of tweeners, you can hit these two ways: front-facing and back-facing. Although the back-facing tweener is more widely used, front-facing between-leg shots are done.

The Front-Facing Tweener

This is easier to pull off, although it requires perfect timing. For a front-facing tweener, a player must space out their legs like they would for a back-facing tweener and hit the ball with enough force to send it over the net.

Front-facing tweeners are also great trick shots, as the opposing player often only notices you doing them once it’s too late. It might be helpful to keep your feet more than shoulder length apart. You’d also use a front-facing tweener for low balls that are close by, making them easy targets.

The Back-Facing Tweener

The back-facing tweener is how this shot came to fame, being the more jaw-dropping way of hitting one. Typically, a tennis player will turn to run after the ball, wait until it hits the ground, and swing through their legs to return it across the net.

As we mentioned, lobs pair nicely with the classic back-facing tweener, having this be a saving grace when they occur. For this version, you want to ensure enough power in your swing and that your legs are spread far apart.

Final Thoughts

This article covered the meaning of a tweener tennis shot, how to hit one, who created it, and why it has become so popular. Guillermo Vilas is often regarded as the father of the tweener, with other players like Roger Federer and Yannick Noah being frequent users and popularizers of the shot.

If you encounter a lob in your next match, try using the tweener!

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Editor of All Points Tennis and a huge Roger Federer fan, I've spent countless hours studying his moves, especially his forehand and one-handed backhand. I also love writing about all the technical stuff like rackets and strings. I'm super pumped to share my insights with fellow tennis lovers here.