Make Footwork “Your Thing” Part Two

Here are ten areas of focus and suggestions to improve your footwork and your ability to cover the court.

  1. Learn how to walk before you run.  Focus on hitting with balance starting with hand feeds (which requires a cooperative partner) and manageable, slower-pace rallies. Work on developing a quiet upper body, a clean line with your head centered above your hips (fulcrum) and a still head position.
  2. Start from the short court (forecourt) with mini-tennis patterns where the requirement is to take quick, short and multiple adjustment steps. It is one of the best ways to establish active feet.
  3. With the intent of developing more active feet and to emulate the footwork patterns of the pros (who on average take 12 steps per shot versus the average club player who takes an average two steps per shot), establish a requirement to move around a cone (or marker) after (and prior) to hitting each shot.
  4. Practice hitting (with a partner or tennis professional) live-ball rally sequences that require specific and predictable footwork patterns. An example would be a cross-court/down-the-line pattern in which your partner hits cross court and you hit down-the-line (or you hit cross court and your partner hits down-the-line).
  5. Identify and isolate with practice the basic patterns of movement or court coverage (up, back, left and right with vertical, horizontal and diagonal cross reference). Most players work predominantly on lateral coverage and not as much on moving up and back or cutting across the court in a diagonal pattern. The “Yo Yo” drill (a four-corner, X pattern, short and deep coverage drill) is a great way to establish confidence and skill in multi-directional coverage of the entire court.
  6. Practice deceleration as well as acceleration. Tennis is not just a matter of getting to the ball. Proper execution for most shots requires deceleration to the ball to get in an ideal position hitting position. Deceleration is accomplished with adjustments steps (including at times adjustment skip steps), a low center of gravity and a centered, balanced posture.
  7. Identify, isolate, practice and master the key step patterns. Examples of key step patterns include the gravity step (which facilitates your first movement to the ball), skip step (a process to align your feet in coordination with the bounce), double-skip step (a pattern used when attacking a short ball), carioca step (a pattern utilized when hitting a backhand, slice/sidespin approach), corkscrew step (a pattern used when kicking back to hit a heavy and high shot from deep in the court), crossover step, shuffle step, split step, and scissor kick (a pattern used to jump up and back to hit an overhead).
  8. Learn how to hit from with open stance particularly in going wide to hit a forehand groundstroke. My suggested progression to learn how to hit from an open stance is as follows. First, start hitting from a wider stance with no step (which emphasis on a low center of gravity, trunk rotation and coil). Next, take one big step out wide with the lead foot and a full transfer of weight back across your body to the back foot. With time, progress by taking two or more steps to the ball again emphasizing a wide stance, low center of gravity and full transfer of weigh back across your body to the back foot. Finally, take two or more steps to the ball, hit from an open stance, and transfer your weight back across your body in recovery with two or more crossover or shuffle steps back into the court.
  9. Learn how to slide on clay and hard (advanced players only) playing surfaces. Use an open stance when sliding to the ball with your forehand groundstroke. Use an open or closed stance when sliding to the ball with your backhand groundstroke. Plant your lead (or front) foot earlier than you would on a hard court so you slide into and not past the shot. Set the toes of your lead (or front) foot in the direction of your path to the ball. It is easy to catch your foot and fall if your toes are turned inward or not leading into the slide. Apply equal pressure on the ball and heel of your lead (or front) foot. Be careful not to dig in with your toes or heel. Approach the slide with a lower center of gravity and wider stance. Make sure your lead (or front) foot is bent in starting the slide. Flex and relax your back leg and drag the toes of your back leg with the slide. Apply pressure and load your weight onto your lead (or front) foot to bring your body to a stop. Remember to turn and coil with your upper body and set your racquet in preparation to hit the ball with the slide. In executing the shot, transfer your weight back across your body from your lead (or front) foot to your secondary (or back) foot to complete the stroke and better recover for the next shot.
  10. Get in great playing shape. Establish a tennis-specific fitness conditioning program focusing on developing complex coordination and movement, liner/multi-directional speed, strength, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and power.

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