With the distances you cover in a few matches or during training, tennis seems almost like running. You sprint from one corner to the other, run forward and then back again. The next time you change sides, you take a seat on the bench completely exhausted. You wonder why your legs feel as heavy as lead. Your opponent still looks quite fresh and is literally dancing from side to side on the court.
And this is where the footwork comes into play. It is an essential part of tennis and yet it is so rarely trained. At the same time, the footwork offers a great potential for improvement for many players. With a relatively low training effort you will achieve noticeable results after a short time.
In the following article you will find out how to train your footwork for more speed and endurance. In addition, we have put together several exercises so that you can put what you have learned directly into practice.
To be able to improve the footwork at all, we first need a basic understanding of the different types of stances. In general, we distinguish between an open and a closed stance for the groundstrokes.
Depending on the playing situation one of the two stances is more suitable. Good tennis players therefore master both techniques in order to be able to adapt themselves optimally to the playing situation. What are the characteristics of the open and closed stance?
Metaphorically speaking, you are standing rather frontally to the net with your feet open. Just imagine that you connect your feet with a rope. When you touch the ball, this rope would be parallel to the baseline.
In general, the open stance is recommended for defensive situations. In this case, you have less time to get to the ball and prepare for the shot. Especially if your opponent is playing cross court and the ball lands further in the corner. After you have hit the ball, it is also much easier to move back towards the centre of the court.
However, this position makes it difficult to find the right balance. During the backswing, you should be careful not to lift your inner foot off the ground. Otherwise you will lose your balance, which has a negative effect on the control of your shot.
In contrast to the open version, the closed stance allows you to stand to the side of the ball. You put one foot in front of the other and turn your body in advance. The rope between your feet would point perpendicular to the net.
The closed stance is suitable for all shots where you have enough time for preparation. This means that the distance to the ball should not be too far. Ideally, this is the case when your opponent places the ball in the middle of the court.
The great advantage of the closed stance is the increased stability during the stroke movement. In addition, you will find it easier to transfer energy into the ball because you hit it in a forward motion. Therefore, this stance is especially used in offensive situations.
When training the footwork, you should not only think about the lateral movements, but also include the forward and backward movements. Because the balls come into your court at different lengths, you will never stop at the same height. This brings us to the next point.
In footwork, everything revolves around dynamic movements. Unfortunately, many players tend to stop after their own shot and wait for their opponent to respond. However, you lose valuable time to get into an optimal ready position.
Specifically, you should not be the reactive player, but always approach the rallies proactively. This means that you keep moving during the entire rally, even if it is only small jumps on your toes.
Another essential point that you should not neglect in your footwork is the split step. Practically, this is a small step with a big effect. Because the split step puts you in the so-called ready position, from which you can sprint in all directions in a flash.
Make sure that your legs are at least shoulder width apart and that you land on your front feet. Timing plays an important role here. As a rule of thumb, as soon as your opponent hits the ball with the racket, you should already be in the air.
Don’t jump off too soon, otherwise the effect of the split step will disappear. The built-up muscle tension is then lost and you no longer have any use for it. On the other hand, you should not start the split step too late to be able to react to the ball in time.
Side Steps vs. Cross Steps
Now let’s move on to the techniques that will help you move to the ball. Side steps are probably familiar to every player, but what about cross steps? While your feet touch each other in the side steps, you cross your legs in the cross steps.
In principle, you take bigger steps with the cross steps and can therefore move around the court much faster. Of course cross steps are not suitable for every game situation. Side Steps are the better option for smaller distances. With the cross steps, however, you can cover greater distances on the court.
Basically, you should use larger steps first to position yourself roughly on the court as quickly as possible. Then use small steps to adjust your position to the ball more accurately.
In addition to the foot position and running technique, weight transfer plays an equally important role. Usually we want to create a weight transfer to the front in order to hit the shot with the maximum power. Therefore, you should try to shift your body weight to the forefoot.
More precisely, you move on the court mainly on your tiptoes. On the one hand, this improves your acceleration. Your approach is now much more explosive, so that you can cover the distance to the ball in a shorter time. You can also react much more quickly to a change of direction, as you can turn your feet more easily.
As promised, you will find here some exercises to train endurance, reactivity and mobility. The aim of these exercises is to strengthen the leg muscles, especially in the foot and calf area.
The court sprint is the classic among the exercises for footwork. You can do this exercise almost anywhere. You only need some free space and a few points to orientate yourself. On the tennis court, for example, these are the lines.
Court sprinting means that you start at one line and then sprint to the next line. You touch this line with your hand and then run back to the starting point. You repeat this process several times. You can adjust the intensity individually.
As an alternative to the court sprint you can also do this exercise on stairs. You run one step up, then one step back again. In the following you run two steps up and back again. You keep doing this exercise until you have climbed the complete stairs.
Training on the agility ladder is also a very effective exercise for better footwork. Here you can train movements not only in the front or back direction, but you can also include additional lateral elements, such as lunges. There are almost no limits to the training possibilities. If you don’t have an agility ladder, hurdles can also be used as a training aid.
For this exercise you need two cones or markings and a little space. Position the cones on the floor at a distance of about 4 ft. from each other. You now stand exactly in the middle and run around the first cone and return to the middle.
Then circle around the second cone exactly mirror-inverted. Connect these two movements with each other so that you run like in an “8”. You should not turn your upper body, but always look in one direction. If you have more markings available, you can turn the figure of eight into a slalom run.
In general, an even balance is the prerequisite for a stable shot. This is an excellent exercise to train your sense of balance. Now you probably don’t have a balance beam at hand, but there is a simple solution.
In this case, you balance on the lines of a tennis court, so to speak. Start by running along the line at walking pace. At first the exercise seems relatively easy. However, as you increase the pace bit by bit, it becomes more and more difficult to keep your balance.