One of the most overlooked skills in tennis is footwork. It can often be the difference between two players. And it’s easy to see why. Footwork is the difference between being in the correct position for your next shot and being one crucial step behind.
We can all make improvements in this area. Even minor adjustments can have a big impact on your game. Effective footwork revolves around speed of thought, not just foot speed and agility. It’s vital for players of all styles and abilities.
We have all seen the likes of Murray and Nadal come up with winners from incredible positions, right? It’s their footwork that allows them to be in those positions and hit such shots in the first place. Want to learn how to move like the pros? Here are a few skills and drills to help you perfect your footwork...
The Split Step
The whole point of working on your footwork is so you can get to where you need to be in time to hit the right shot. Your feet need to work quickly if you want to reach the right position and steady yourself before taking a swing.
This sequence of events begins as soon as your opponent lines up to hit the ball, with the split step. The split step is basically a quick hop that pushes your legs apart and gets you in the position to adjust quickly. But this common skill in tennis is often misinterpreted. The key is to perform your split step at the right time. If you wait until your opponent has hit the ball, it could be too late. You need to ensure that you are already pushing off the ground with your feet as your opponent makes contact with the ball.
Despite the split step being familiar with the majority of us, it's often neglected. By lowering your centre of gravity, the split step allows you to quickly react to your opponent’s shots. Your legs will act like springs in order to help you push off in the direction in which the shot has been hit. Whether this is in a vertical or lateral motion, you will soon see yourself having far more time on the court with this simple skill.
Want to improve your spring on the split step? Try practising with a jump-rope.
The Shuffle Step
Another of the most important movements in the game is the shuffle.
The modern game is generally dominated by ground strokes from the baseline. Because of that, an important aspect of footwork is quick lateral movements. Shuffle movements enable you to quickly return to the centre of the court after playing each stroke, while still concentrating on what your opponent is doing.
This type of motion also allows you to push off on either your right or left foot or suddenly alter your direction. You can easily practice this movement by sidestepping from tramline to tramline.
Two Footwork Drills for You to Try
The best players ensure that their movement is relaxed, fluid and rhythmical.There are a number of drills that can help you improve in this area. They may not be the most enjoyable, but they will have a positive impact on your game in the long run!
1. Figure of 8
This drill will improve both vertical and lateral movement, as well as agility and footwork. Perform this drill facing into the court, moving in a forward and backward figure of 8 pattern around the cones. Ensure that you complete the drill with your racket in hand, mimicking game situations.
2. The Agility Ladder
The main purpose of this drill is to improve your foot speed and body control. You can either perform single leg runs through the ladder or double side steps, double leg runs and side shuffles. Ensure that you keep your legs shoulder width apart at all times, as well as landing on the balls of your feet, rather than just your toes.