The Role of Footwork in the Effortless
We all know there is no one right or correct way to hit a
tennis ball because if that were the case then when we watched
say Federer versus Nadal both players would look the same!
But they don't! And this is true even for the same player
in different situations.
However there are common denominators many of the tour players
share regardless of their individual styles or how they look.
A frequent question I hear from my students goes something
like this, The pros always seem to make their strokes
look so effortless. Is it just their swings or does footwork
play a role too?
One reason professionals make the game look effortless is
because they practice doing so, over and over and over again!
So, lets not minimize the importance and value of repetitive
hitting. To groove their strokes, pros literally hit
tens of thousands of balls both in practice and competitive
play. Regardless of how much tennis you watch or read about,
there is no substitute for being on a tennis court and hitting.
Second, the contact point is more important than the swing!
This is one of those common denominators
The pros, like
all of you, have a wide range of preparations and follow-throughs
but what is remarkably consistent is their contact area
that moment when the ball meets the strings.
I have seen people with a all kinds of odd looking swings,
some no more than a couple of feet from start to finish, yet
they almost never mishit the ball while others with the classic
take the racquet back and follow-through long
swings, mishit half their shots! The difference between the
two is what is happening in the contact zone.
So, what role does footwork have in effortless
As with any sport, the most important aspect with feet in
general is balance! If you are off-balance whether, throwing
a football, shooting a basketball or hitting a tennis ball,
the upper body mechanics will become more difficult to control
and you will be more likely to make mistakes or errors. Likewise
if you are balanced as you swing a tennis racquet the odds
increase dramatically for more positive results.
In my teaching experiences, one of the single greatest contributing
factors to inconsistent hitting (being off-balance) is when
people try to do exactly the same thing for each shot with
their feet!?! It is like they have a checklist in their brain
of what they have to do.
When this happens it is going to cause problems with the
swing of the racquet. Trying to do the same movements with
the feet on a ball coming to you at 70 mph versus 10 mph is
more often than not going to put you out of position which
will then translate into a change in the swing path, speed,
and comfort level!
So the obvious question then becomes how should tennis players
achieve balance when they swing?
If you are balanced (Which most people are) the majority
of the time
then forget about the feet in terms of their
needing to be in a specific location to hit a certain shot.
As the videos in this article show, sometimes shots are hit
closed stance or open stance or with the lower body open but
the upper body closed, or even stretched wide like Federer,
the pros seem to get themselves in the optimal position to
strike the ball. And that is the key when you can get
to the ball in a position where you are balanced and it is
in your strike zone, the chances of making good contact are
All the professionals are trying to do is make sure they
are set up well before they start their racquet
swing. And as you can see, being set up well is
when you are balanced. But as the videos show, their feet
are in a wide variety of positions and locations.
Connecting the Feet with the Racquet Swing
Even if you "forget about the feet," obviously,
the lower body and upper body are not completely independent
of each other as we play tennis. There are two aspects of
"effortless" hitting which the professionals do
on a consistent basis.
- Unless they are in an extreme emergency situation, as
they get closer to the point of where they will make contact
with the ball the steps and movement of the feet become
more compact and smaller. Initially when they recognize
what shot they will be hitting, either a forehand or backhand,
the first step or two may be bigger or longer in order to
get moving in the right direction then gradually becoming
shorter as they make the small adjusting steps to get themselves
in to an optimal hitting position.
- The desired hitting motion if you will is
for the feet and hands / racquet to move around the same
speed. We have all experienced a rushed swing
when the feet are relatively still, but the ball comes to
us at a much higher rate of speed than we anticipated so,
to catch up to it, we swing fast!
If you are in a little bit of trouble and have to move your
feet quickly or even turn and run, think, "fast feet
and slow arm." This will help you maintain control of
the ball and remain balanced! Too often players swing as fast
as they are moving their feet and the ball is quickly out
Get Comforable Playing Neutral Tennis
If you are playing someone in singles and both of you are
at an equal level, then 70% of the time you will be in neutral."
This means neither player has an advantage. Watch Federer
versus Nadal, the majority of time they are in neutral.
At least until one player finds a ball he can go on the offensive
At the professional level the best players are patient and
are content when they are in neutral. This in
part contributes to the consistentancy of their strokes.
But, like us mere mortals, even at the pro level players
sometimes become impatient with neutral tennis. Say the ball
has been hit 7-8 times back and forth across the net, players
start to think they need to do something because
the point is lasting too long. Often they take
a neutral situation and try to go on the offense. In part
this usually means changes in their footwork, racquet swing,
ball speed and / or direction! Then they wonder why the shot
and their tactics did not go as planned!? Too many changes
Instead, it is okay to be in neutral tennis and this can
also mean staying in control with your footwork as well as