A typical tennis match requires you to move all over the tennis court in an incredibly diverse number of ways. You don't just run around the court. You sprint, reach, stretch, lunge, bend, leap, quickly change direction, and explosively start and stop. You charge forward to the net. You quickly back up when you get lobbed. You run back and forth, diagonally, and every once in a while you jump up in hopes of stopping a lob. So, yeah, your footwork is super important.
And I'll bet you already knew that. To say footwork is important to your game is a pretty obvious statement. But what exactly does good footwork look like and how can we, us everyday recreational players, improve our footwork?
Roger Federer's Footwork
Well, if you want to know what good, actually incredible, tennis footwork looks like, think of Roger Federer. He looks like he's floating out there on the court. He's so calm and serene. Yet he's fast. He's all over the court. Very few balls get by him and he's almost never wrong footed. How does he do it?
Have you heard that great tennis one-liner – “fast feet, slow hands”? That's Roger Federer. His footwork is impeccable, yet he keeps his upper body calm and relaxed. That's what we all need to strive for – the fast feet and slow hands of Roger Federer.
So here's the part where you say, “What? All I have to do is move like Roger Federer? That's never gonna happen!” But don't worry. You don't have to move exactly like Roger Federer. Because guess what? You don't play against the players that he plays against. You just need to have good enough footwork to play against the players you come up against on a regular basis. And I'm guessing that's not Novak Djokovic or Rafa Nadal. But I do want you to have that image of Roger Federer in your mind when thinking about how YOU can improve your footwork.
How Can You Get Better Footwork?
Now, let's talk about what specific steps you can take to improve your tennis footwork. Good tennis footwork is usually made up of many, many small, quick steps and not much lunging. Yes, on occasion, you have to lunge to get to a ball. But most of the time, you want to be taking lots of small, quick steps. That's how you achieve speed, quickness and agility on the court.
And the types of steps I'm talking about are shuffle steps, where you move side to side; grapevine or crossover steps, useful in moving backwards on court; and split steps, helpful in changing direction. All of these are necessary for great tennis footwork but probably aren't a regular part of any workout routine you're doing.
But, to improve your footwork, that's about to change. I want you to start doing a few drills, either at home or on the court before matches, that will help you practice putting these steps into play.
The Shuffle Step Drill
The first drill is shuffling side to side. All you need to do is shuffle to your left for 10 to 15 steps and then shuffle to your right for 10 to 15 steps. You can do this anywhere – out on court obviously, but also in your living room while watching TV, in your kitchen which is what I do, on your driveway, at the gym, anywhere that you have a little room to move. When shuffling, keep your knees soft and slightly bent and keep your weight slightly forward. Practicing shuffle steps with a racquet in your hands is even better and yes, I do this in my kitchen with a racquet in my hands sometimes. At my house, no one even notices these things any more.
The Crossover Step Drill
The second drill is crossover steps. Like the shuffle drill, you are going to take 10 to 15 steps to your left crossing your right foot over in front of your left. Your body will remain mostly forward. In other words, you're not turning all the way and running to your left. Each step you take is a crossover step. Then repeat this, moving with 10 to 15 crossover steps to your right. Again, you can do this one anywhere and again, holding a racquet in your hands while moving is even better.
The Split Step Drill
A third great footwork drill is to practice your split step. You can do this in place, by hopping your feet out and in, like a jumping jack movement without the arms. Practice the split step by remaining in place but also practice by moving slightly forward, 6 to 8 inches, with each split step. I personally used to hate split stepping. It was just not a natural movement for me. But by split stepping all over my house, it became something I was able to finally make a part of my game.
Two Stair Step Drills
My final footwork drills involve using steps or stairs. If you've got stairs at home, you really have no excuse for avoiding incorporating them into your footwork routine. You can also use steps at your gym or out in your neighborhood. In this drill, you're just going to run up and down the steps as quickly as you can. You're not trying to get a hard cardio workout here. Rather, you want to concentrate on picking your feet up as quickly as you can. In a second version of this drill, you can also hop with two feet up the steps. So rather than placing one foot on each step, you're hopping up the steps, and down, with both feet landing on the steps at the same time. Just use caution on these stair drills. They'll help you develop quickness but perform them at a safe speed and hold onto a handrail if necessary.
So those are my tips and drills for improving your tennis footwork and trying to get the “fast feet and slow hands” of Roger Federer. Hey, what kind of drills are you doing at home? Anything crazier than shuffling around your kitchen with a tennis racquet? Let me know in the comments below because I would love to tell my husband there are other crazy people out there doing this kind of stuff.
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