There has rarely been a successful tennis player who doesn’t have good footwork. Good footwork will help you cover more court, more effectively, recover well after shots and of paramount importance, it will enable you to be perfectly set up for your next shot.
The alignment of your body with the path of the ball is vastly underrated. Misalignment is probably the root cause of 75% of stroking errors. Lining up well with the ball is relatively easy if the ball is hit right to your stroke path or “comfort zone”. Any ball out of your stroke path creates a challenge.
Where is your stroke path? Shadow your ideal stroke noting the distance from your body, your stance and the contact point within the stroke. Your job is to replicate that ideal no matter where the ball is in relation to you on the court and in relation to where you want to hit the ball. That’s where footwork comes in. Few players have natural footwork so a player should pay as much attention to footwork as they do to stroking the ball.
When the ball is hit to you the first movement should be a reaction. In modern tennis the split step prepares you for movement toward the incoming shot. To perform a split step lightly spring one or two inches off the ground as the opponent strikes the ball. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent as you land on the balls of your feet. Two things have now prepared you, you are already moving and your weight is balanced at your center of gravity. Habitually using the split step will tangibly quicken your movement to the ball.
During the process of a point you will need to employ lots of running, stopping, changing direction, sidestepping back into the center of the court, little steps, medium steps, sometimes a desperate lunge for the ball. If your feet are in constant motion you will have a split second advantage on take-off. Practice the sidestep shuffle, pushing off to change direction and running to a new target. Observe whether you stay on the baseline or, more effectively, move to a space in relation to where the ball bounces. That will usually require diagonally moving into the court.
Practice running forward and backward as you would need to move if an opponent was constantly lobbing you. Practice short sprints, the length or width of one side of the court. To increase your endurance and leg stamina run the stairs or uphill.
Note whether you sound like an elephant moving around the court or are virtually silent. Are you flat footed or lightly floating over the court? Are you arriving at the ball in your optimum stroke space? Never presume you can’t reach a ball – go for it, your new speed and agility combined with focus makes all things possible! As the great Harry Hopman used to say, “Just stick that racquet out – 9 times out of 10 you will save the point.” Watch professional tennis players – some move better than others, can you pick who? Most of all, enjoy your new skills.
Originally published in the Laguna News Post