Firstly, there’s the split step. The split step should be your initial reaction to every ball that you must return; it’s that jump of a few inches onto the toes that you should make as your opponent is about to make contact with the ball.
This tennis footwork manoeuvre allows you to stay off your heels, and to be prepared to quickly assume any position on the court. It should be the tennis footwork of choice when you are returning serves, volleys, and ground strokes. To achieve the split step, feet should be shoulder-width apart. And knees should be only slightly bent upon landing after the jump. Remember, and this is true for all tennis footwork, to remain on your toes, never on your heels.
One of the most important tennis footwork movements to practice is the shuffle. To hit ground strokes competitively, it’s essential that you’re adept at this tennis footwork — practice! You need to use your tennis footwork to return to the middle of the baseline after each stroke; but you do not — after each stroke — want to turn from the front of the court and run back to the center of the baseline. Instead, you want to assume the shuffle. Facing your opponent’s side of the court face-on, return to the middle of the baseline by shuffling your feet. This ensures you remain focused upon your opponent while he or she is returning the ball.
This tennis footwork also enables you to push off to your right foot or left foot quickly to return your opponent’s next shot. And, this tennis footwork allows you to suddenly stop and alter directions, if necessary, to retrieve a ball that’s not going in the direction you had anticipated. Practice this movement by sliding, or side-stepping, like a sideways gallop; your feet should meet each other, then one foot steps sideways until your feet are widely separated, then move the other foot to meet the previously moved.
At times, effective tennis footwork involves small steps, not fast, long strides. This tennis footwork will help you adjust to the ball’s spin and bounce once you are near enough to make contact. You’ll be adequately balanced. If you take large steps, you’ll be stretching and thus off balance when you go to make the shot. Often, when the ball is aimed directly at a player, he or she does not take small steps; but you should try to achieve the tennis footwork, small steps moving you to the side of the ball and into position. Errors are made without this proper tennis footwork. In essence, small steps produce small adjustments and enable you to stay balanced and hit superior shots.
Efficient Tennis footwork is especially crucial when you want to set up for a shot quickly, making it easier to take control of the point. When you recognize that your opponent has struck a short shot, for instance, you want to use your tennis footwork to move up to it early, this move helping you make contact with the ball when it is closer to the net — and, when it is higher in the air, making for a better attack.
Ideally, you should aim to step into your shots with your weight behind your stroke in order to hit harder and earlier. And, by stepping inside the baseline to make contact with the ball, you are reducing your opponent’s reaction time and recovery time — and, setting yourself up, hopefully, for another offensive strike.
Good tennis footwork is crucial to your defense as well. You must quickly move yourself into the right court position. You might consider moving a few steps backwards when you are on the defensive end of a point, those steps providing you with more time to reach the ball. For instance, if your opponent is coming back with an overhead shot, you need to back up as far as possible to give yourself adequate time to reach the ball.
In general, should you apply your tennis footwork movement patterns before or after your opponent hits the ball?
Usually, it’s satisfactory to wait until after he or she makes contact with the ball. However, if you’re on the defensive, and your opponent is in good position, you may not have adequate time to move to the ball if you wait. In such a situation, you’ll need to try to anticipate on which side the ball will land, and move accordingly — in other words, guess.
As mentioned, even if you are lacking speed, you can be effective on the court given the right tennis footwork. However, with the proper tennis footwork and speed and agility, you’ll be an even better player; you’re sure to be a contender! Tennis is comprised of quick, sudden movements; you need to train accordingly.
Jogging conditions the body for endurance, but sprinting conditions for speed. Practice sprinting short distances in various directions — as you would sprint while playing a match on the tennis court. Sprint for fifteen seconds; rest for fifteen seconds; and repeat. You’re not training to run a long race, but rather hundreds of short ones. Incorporate hops and jumps to increase the agility of your tennis footwork.
One of the best ways to improve your tennis footwork is simply to play. Keep your feet moving between points; shuffle, and jump up and down — just keep on your toes. A player who is moving their feet is poised to run in an instance. The more you practice your footwork in tennis, the more your tennis footwork becomes an intrinsic part of your game. Good tennis footwork will truly become automatic.
The sooner you begin concentrating upon the essential components of good tennis footwork, the sooner you’ll develop fast and agile feet.
Finally, watch the tennis footwork of professional players, their movements before, during, and after each stroke. You’ll notice, for one, that they never stand flat on their feet as they wait for a serve; they crouch down, balancing their weight on the front of their feet, preparing to push off as soon as they anticipate where the ball will land.
Notice that the tennis footwork of professional players frequently involves springing forward the moment their opponent makes contact with the ball. They are setting up their return shot even before the ball is on their side of the court; this is demonstrated in the frequency with which professional players will jump forward even when their opponents’ serves hit the net.
Correct tennis footwork supports anticipation; by staying on your toes, you’ll be able to start moving almost instantly and reach the ball sooner. Professional tennis players don’t stop moving after they hit the ball. Their feet are constantly in motion.