Step 1 shows that moving into a ball angling away from you means moving
forward on an angle less than 90 degrees to the ball's
flight line (2A). You don't move literally on a straight line as indicated
in diagram 2A, but the idea is not to move beyond the 90 degree
mark. Basically, the movement pattern is an arc (2B).
should the feet move, which one first? There are different ways and
directions in which to move the feet, but two things come to mind. First,
you start by standing still at point A, the ready position, and will move
forward to the contact spot at point B without compulsory steps,
restrictions, or avoiding obstacles on the court.
human beings are bipedal. That means human locomotion, our gait, works in
two's, in pairs.
development literature explains the progression of motor skills involved
when learning how to kick a soccer ball. First, a child stands still and
swings 1 foot to kick the ball. Some time later, the child takes 1 step
and kicks. This skill is considered fully developed when the child takes 2
steps and kicks the ball. This 2-step method prior to execution forms the
basis of natural human rhythm method prior to execution forms the basis of
natural human rhythm.
you're familiar with other sports that involve movement, such as
basketball, soccer, or when fielding a baseball, you know you take a
minimum of 2 steps before shooting, kicking, or throwing the ball. No
matter how many steps are taken in the approach, the feet do a final 1-2
before executing the act: 1-2 throw, 1-2 shoot, 1-2 kick. An exception is
shooting foul shots in basketball, where you stand still.
2 feet complement each other in everything you do, whether you're standing
still and one foot moves to shift your weight (the other follows), or
walking. When running the feet work in pairs: 1-2, 1-2, 1-2. That is steps
1 and 2 are taken, then 3-4, 5-6, and so on.
is a game of movement. Bipedal rhythm indicates there should be 2 steps
prior to execution, which means you take step number 1, step number 2, and
then hit the ball, not pivot, step and hit.
STEPS PRIOR TO CONTACT, 1-2 AND HIT
one foot pivots, and the other one steps before the hit, that's only 1
step prior to contact and not 2. The same if one foot drags, or slides
while the other steps. This is like taking 1 step before kicking a soccer
ball, it's both arrhythmic and underdeveloped.
STEP OR NOT TO STEP INTO THE BALL
IS THE QUESTION
debate is whether there's more power when you hit with an open stance, or
when you step into the ball with the front foot. As a teacher and player I
feel there is more power when stepping into the ball with the front foot,
that is with the left foot on the right side, and the right foot on the
left side, than by choosing an open stance. Into the ball is key here.
This is detailed further in Steps 3 and 4, and is not to be confused with
the "standard method," a flawed representation of footwork
right. What do we know? We need to move forward, both feet step before
contact, 1-2, and we want to step into the ball with the front foot. What
we don't know is which foot will move first on which side. Luckily, our
2-step pattern of human locomotion can answer this.
hitting a ball on your right side, your left foot will be the front foot
that steps into the ball prior to contact. As such, your left foot is the
2, or the second step, of a 1-2 pattern that occurs prior to contact. This
means your right foot is the 1, or the first step. Together they
complement each other and form a 1-2 (and hit). On this right side, your
right foot is called the back foot, the left your front foot.
is the mirror image when hitting a ball on your left side. Here the right
foot will be the front foot that steps into the ball prior to contact,
making the left foot the 1, or the first step, on that side.
everyday life you move your right foot first when moving to the right,
your left first when moving to the left, and your feet work in pairs. It's
natural. Why not do this in your tennis?
SHOULD BE SYMMETRICALLY EQUIVALENT FROM FOREHAND TO BACKHAND
FOOT FIRST / FRONT FOOT LAST
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, INTO THE BALL
from the ready position, then, the right foot moves first when moving to
the right, the left when moving to the left. And in what direction?
Forward (2A, 2B), not to the side or backward, not in-place by pivoting
(1E). If you want to go backwards and hit the ball, then by all means step
back with your first step. But if you want to move into the ball, then
your first step must be in the same direction.
right. This is what we know. Move forward, back foot first, a 1-2 before
hitting. However, you can't hit groundstrokes well by taking only 2 steps.
Either you'll stretch to reach the ball, or your rhythm will be off
because while you're ready to hit, the ball won't be there yet. Rhythm is
1-2 and hit, not 1-2 and wait, and wait, and hit.
STEPS 4 STEPS 4 STEPS 4 STEPS
found that 4 steps reaches most groundstroke situations. More steps and
you're hitting on-the-run.
moving to the right, it's right foot first, followed by the left, then
right, then left, and contact. When moving to the left, it's left foot
first, then right, left, right, and contact. In other words you take 2
sets of a 1-2 movement pattern, 1-2, 3-4. 4 steps (2C). Contact follows
the even numbered step, the front foot. Click on the footwork image on the
right to see the back foot move first and forward into the ball, to your
left or to your right, and to see 4 steps.. Click to stop it as well. This
is not to scale, simply representative of the movement, both forward and
start with large steps, not small ones, because you need to get moving.
Step #1 out of the ready position is the most important because it gets
you headed INTO the ball from the get-go. Without it chances are good you
won't reach the ball on time.
literature talks about footwork as small, adjusting steps, but you can't
build a footwork model based on adjustment steps. Perhaps the confusion
lies in the fact that it is the last 2 steps (of this 4 step model) that
adjust their stride as needed, and the last one is completely on its own
depending on the efficiency of your movement angle into the ball. You need
to MOVE, and INTO the ball, and it has to be done efficiently. More
with me, I know you're thinking, "4 steps, way too many." Let me
don't take 4 steps like you're casually walking across the room, just 4
steps within the amount of distance you have between your ready position
and the contact spot. Sometimes they'll be 4 small, quick steps; sometimes
the last step will be a stutter step, sometimes it will be a long step.
Furthermore, one foot moves past the other and you don't sidestep, as if
you were limping.
your amusement, I'm juxtaposing modern day footwork as prescribed by the
United States Professional Tennis Association in their book, USPTA
Professional Guide, Official Handbook, which teachers have to study to
earn certification, and a convoluted footwork pattern from 1926, The
Mechanics of the Game, by J. Parmly Paret, as part of the Lawn Tennis
Library of instructional books. Though the placement of the feet in the
ready position has changed in 60 years, the idea of moving backwards first
while moving forward is an inefficient movement pattern because one foot
fails to cover distance while the other one does. The front foot takes an
actual step, but the back foot doesn't, it drags behind the front foot
without taking a step past it (2D). Your aim is to move forward with as
little effort as possible, which means the feet move past one another in
the same pattern as if you were walking..
a recovery step to your footwork during your contact makes it harder to
get ready, costs you time, reduces your body's support, and inconsistent
results follow. Diagram 2E shows the extra distance involved to get ready
after the hit when taking a recovery step during contact instead of
holding the anchor foot down as best as possible. It doesn't matter if you
backpedal or turn and run back to get ready. This extra distance costs you
time, of which there's never enough, and the ensuing lack of support from
body rotation that naturally accompanies the recovery step is responsible
for mishits, as outlined in Step 3 and 4.
recovery step helps change directions and recovers balance, it is not a
part of a footwork model designed to end in contact. Your feet need to
maintain their position when you swing to increase the swing's speed, to
support your contact spot, to produce more power, and to eliminate
upper/lower body movement during contact, the culprit behind stroke
happens when you do move correctly into the ball but place your anchor
foot sideways prior to contact? Not only are you short-changing your court
coverage when your penultimate step works inefficiently (2D above), but
your momentum gets re-directed away from the ball, 2F.
returns and volleys you only take the minimum of 2 steps because there's
both less distance between you and your opponent's contact, and the ball's
never as wide away from you as it could be in the backcourt (1A).
ABOUT THE GRAVITY STEP?
gravity step, or drop step, finds the back foot moving first, followed by
the front foot. In this sense it adheres to the idea that the foot nearest
the ball, the back foot, moves first.
the mouse over the image to see the step in action.
the gravity step finds the back foot moving in the direction opposite the
ball's. The back foot moves backwards, beneath the body toward the other
foot, leaving the body imbalanced, almost falling over. It is argued that
you move faster by imbalancing the body and having to catch up with it, so
I mentioned earlier, there are many ways we move our feet to get from
point A to point B. Our experiences have a lot to do with the way we move.
I feel the gravity step has developed as a result of turning sideways
first, as a result of turning the shoulders, hips, or feet first instead
of simply moving (hopefully forward) to the ball.
the body turns in place your body weight is placed on the foot closest to
the ball, that is the back foot. At this point it is impossible to move
that foot toward the ball. The result is either the other foot crosses
over for the first step, or the back foot drops back under the body,
creating imbalance to jump start the body.
have been taught to turn first, then move. The gravity step developed as a
compensatory technique to both turn and move, much like the open stance
compensates for the fact that stepping sideways doesn't allow the body to
empower the stroke (Step 3). But you'll avoid having to compensate if you
first move forward to the ball because you turn automatically by moving
(Step 4 ). Less is more.
BEFORE YOU TAKE THAT 1ST STEP..... SPLIT-STEP
you take that first step you have to hop in-place, sometimes called a
split step. You lift both feet off the ground, you unweight the body, and
when you touch down you move more quickly to the ball because your body is
in motion to begin with. Your response is much slower if you stand dead
still, notice where the ball's going, and then begin to move.
you split step at the baseline or up close to the net try not to land with
your feet too far apart or you won't be able to push off well to get going
into the ball. A wide stance means you're holding ground, a narrow one
means you're moving. Try to keep the feet closer
rather than farther away, a difficult task but one well worth trying.
a split step you're likely to land and start leaning over to move into the
ball, your torso wants to get going before your feet. Moving too
aggressively promotes imbalance, which lessens the body's ability to act
as a strong foundation for your stroke, Step 5. Your first step won't get
you to the ball, it simply gets you going. More importantly, your first
step establishes whatever vertical balance you will have throughout the
routine, Step 5. Be balanced first, and then make up the distance to the
ball with the next step(s).
AGAINST BALLS HIT DEEP INTO THE CORNERS
back 5 feet from the baseline in order to keep the ball in front of
you/defend against the hard shots into the corner or deep to the baseline.
If you take 4 steps on balls really deep and hard into the corners, your
body will be too turned to the side to effectively deliver its momentum
into the ball (instead, it goes into the side fence). There is a limit on
taking 4 steps into the ball while keeping the body structured well to
support the contact, but this limit can be overcome fairly easily.
limit is roughly halfway to your singles sideline corner, and it can be
overcome by translating the ready position farther over to the corner
before breaking into the 4 step pattern into the ball. You do this by
side-stepping, or shuffling to the side for one two-step pattern, then
taking 4 steps. This is the only time a shuffle is needed, it's an
exception. Conventional tennis wants you to shuffle all the time and then
take but one step, which is arrhythmic, causes you to lose your balance,
promotes an open stance, and sends you and your momentum off to the side
instead of into the ball.
the bane of all tennis players. It's easy to go and hit the ball, but you
can't stay where you are on the court because you'll be strategically out
of position. You need to reposition. That means for groundstrokes you need
to get back behind the baseline in order to face the center of your
opponent's angle of shot-making possibilities.
you can always draw a straight line between you and your opponent's
contact spot. This line forms a zero degree baseline, away from which the
ball angles either to your right or left, no matter how slight or your
position on the court, 2G right. It's as if your ready position is at the
6 o'clock spot on a clock face, the opponent's contact spot is at 12, and
the ball goes either to 5 or 7 o'clock. It's rare the ball comes directly
at you, more often you move incorrectly and the ball goes right into your
singles you reposition three to five feet behind the baseline AND slightly
to the right or left of the center hashmark, not dead-center (2H). Your
opponent's contact spot isn't literally in the middle of his/her court as
in diagram 1A, it's always off to one side. If you remain dead-center
behind your baseline you won't be facing the center of the angle of
possibilities against you, you'll be off too much to one side.
2H shows this repositioning effect. You are on the side opposite your
opponent's contact spot. In doubles you simply reposition behind the
singles sideline corner behind the baseline.
you're up at the net for singles you're on the same side as your
opponent's contact spot. I know it's a bit confusing, but it's part of the
same family. In diagram 2H I have simply drawn a line from the ready
position in the back court to the opponent's contact spot (the zero degree
baseline). If you walk from the back court along this line up to the net,
you cross over the middle of the court and wind up on the same side as
your opponent's contact spot. For doubles you remain in the middle of your
service box and reposition laterally either toward your alley if the ball
is hit into your opponent's alley on your same side, or toward the middle
if it's hit into the alley on the side opposite you.
FIRST STEP TO EMPOWERING YOUR BACKHAND
TO IMPROVE THE USE OF YOUR
reason why your forehand is stronger than your backhand is because the
foot that moves first, the back foot, happens to be your dominant
foot/leg. You easily move this foot first, and if not, at least it manages
to keep the contact spot ahead of you, in the direction of the net, and
not off in the direction of the side fence. On backhands, though, your
non-dominant foot/leg fails on both accounts, and it drags behind as the
dominant foot tries to take over.
everyday life there is no problem moving to your right or to your left,
your feet move easily and unencumbered. You don't make the distinction,
"this is my backhand side, it's weaker, I should go around and
approach it from my forehand side." The first step to empowering your
backhand is to move your back foot first and forward and train it to keep
you moving into the ball. It's awkward at first, but you will get to the
ball faster, your momentum will be directed into the ball, and when
combined with other elements to come, you will be establishing a strong
foundation with the body from which to empower your stroke. I used a ball
machine to train my non-dominant leg/foot. I held my left foot in the air
and moved it forward when the ball appeared. And I took 4 steps, making
sure my left foot moved forward on that third step.
is hitting open stance popular with the pros? Conventional tennis teaches
the front foot to step first by doing a crossover step. Here the back foot
pivots against the ground (1E) and the front foot takes a step as step #1.
The back foot becomes step #2 and contact is made in an open stance.
open stance is rhythmically sound when the first step is a crossover step
(step #2 leaves you on the back foot). Furthermore, pros starting with a
crossover step avoid stepping into the ball with the front foot because
one more step throws the 1-2 and hit rhythm off into 1-2, 3, and hit. And
they've experienced that stepping sideways with the front foot doesn't
empower the stroke, as explained in Step 3.
watching Roger Federer has undoubtedly noticed he sidesteps once, or
twice, then steps to the ball with the front foot (or remains in an open
stance), yet he also moves in the more conventional 1-2 manner as
described in this Step. He is not alone in this. Is this sidestepping
footwork pattern something to emulate?
wrote earlier in the "Sidestepping" portion above:
"Conventional tennis wants you to shuffle all the time and then take
but one step, which is arrhythmic, causes you to lose your balance,
promotes an open stance, and sends you and your momentum off to the side
instead of into the ball." I still believe this, especially when
teaching how to play. And evidence for me remains clear in both student
and pro of the extra challenges created by a sidestepping movement
why does Federer do it? The sidestep pattern is used when, ironically, the
ball is coming fast. Why? Keeping the ball ahead or in front of you
increases the chances of hitting on time because it opens the hitting
window (visually, physically). Using the 1-2 pattern to move fast to a
fast ball can turn the body away from the ball, which also turns your head
and momentum to the side, whereas using the 1-2 pattern to move fast to a
ball that is not so fast doesn't turn the body so dramatically.
sidestepping pattern on a forehand keeps you, or Federer, in an open
stance, from which you choose either to remain that way and hit open with
the weight on the back foot or step the front foot in-place (Open Forward
Stance), or choose to take a more forward step with the front foot forward
into the ball (Forward Stance). A one-handed backhand leaves little choice
but to step with the front foot (open stance is done better using the 1-2
movement pattern), whereas a two hander has the same choices as with a
of pros use the sidestep pattern, but when we do it something's amiss
because it doesn't work like with Federer. Why? The first drawback of this
sidestep pattern is you don't cover distance as you would using in a
normal, 1-2 pattern, and pros attempt to overcome by being top athletes.
And though the sidestep pattern seems simpler there are other prices to
pay besides getting into shape like a pro athlete to help make up for this
inefficient movement pattern.
the sidestep movement pattern you to have to prepare the swing not only
sooner but the adjustments at the end are made more demanding; you have to
fight harder to keep your balance before and during the swing since your
momentum's sideward direction is at odds with the stroke's more forward
direction into the ball; and with only one step before the hit the whole
thing is arrhythmic. This is all very difficult to do, it is far too easy
to lose the prep work, the balance, the momentum redirection, or the
overall rhythm using one step, let alone getting close enough to the ball
to begin with so you don't have to adjust/make up for distance. This
explains why, even when the pros do it, they don't execute like Federer.
He alone remains well balanced and stabilized during his shot, two
cornerstones to his success his peers try to emulate but can't.
overall composure on the court is the reason he's number one, that is his
talent in many areas (moves well, balances and counter balances,
stabilizes, vision, etc.). You can certainly sidestep and hit the ball
like he does but remember how challenging it really is because it taxes so
many other areas. And if your game is a bit off stop the sidestepping and
work in a 1-2 movement pattern instead to re-ground your rhythm and get
the feet moving again a little better.