“Footwork is the adjustment of the feet to place the body in position for activity.” Good footwork in tennis may be thought of as the action of the feet in placing the body in position to stroke the ball most efficiently.
Importance Of Footwork
In tennis the ball never comes in the same direction, at the same height, nor bounces in the same spot twice in succession. The player is never able to “take up his stance” as in golf, knowing that the ball will lie still until he hits it. A tennis player is busy taking up his stance all over the court during the entire game, and mobility is the watchword. The only times the player is motionless is in the waiting-for-service-position, watching to see which direction the ball is to take.
1. Good footwork aids power in a stroke because when the stance is correct, body action can be thrown into the stroke.
2. Good footwork allows the ball to be hit off the forward foot, at racquet’s reach from the body.
3. Good footwork insures perfect timing, so that the stroke is not hurried, and the weight shifts forward with the forward swing, to result in a more accurate direction of ball flight.
a. With a transfer of weight, the racquet swings in a flatter arc and can carry the ball forward in the desired direction for a longer distance than if the racquet swings in small arc.
1′. Without a transfer of weight forward, the flight of the ball is the tangent to a circle of which the racquet swing is a segment.
2′. With a transfer of weight, the ball flight is in continuation of the direction of the swing, the racquet sweeping the ball forward in that direction.
Rules Of Footwork
1. Body weight is carried on the balls of the feet at all times, ready for quick body action.
2. The knees are slightly flexed and never hyperextended or stiff.
3. Use small movements of the feet, for example, many little steps rather than a few large ones.
a. The advantage of taking small steps lies in the fact that small foot adjustments may be made quickly. Long steps may take one too far, whereas if small steps are taken, it is possible to take an extra one just before hitting the ball.
4. Always have the side to the net, and the proper foot forward when hitting the ball.
5. Always have the body weight transferring forward as the ball is hit. An excellent method is “stepping into the shot,” i. e., taking a step toward the net on the proper foot as the forward swing is made.
6. Swing the racquet back as you move into position for the ball, so that there is a definite pause before the forward swing is made.
7. Never move directly at the ball but keep your body position to the side of the ball.
Note – One of the most common footwork faults is trying to get the body rather than the outstretched racquet behind the ball.
Elements Of Footwork
1. Types Of Footwork Made Famous By Champions
a. Mrs. Wightman (who holds more championships than any other woman) uses the slide most frequently.
b. Tilden liked to hit on the run and used a little skip or slide mixed in with his rapid steps to insure the proper foot forward as he hit the ball.
c. Vincent Richards used many elements such as slides, hops, skips intermingled with little steps. Although a heavy man, his excellent footwork made him extremely fast on the court.
d. Suzanne Lenglen (probably the greatest woman player in the history of tennis) invented “The Tennis Dance” with her spectacular leaps and lunges. She used all kinds of footwork in a most graceful manner, and her chief advantage was the efficiency of her movement about the court.
Note – Body rotation is often substituted for a transfer of weight by players who have poor footwork. Most tennis authorities agree, however, that a player will have a more effective stroke if his feet are in the right position for a forward transfer of weight. Kozeluh, the famous professional tennis player, was an example of an effective stroker while facing the net. His success was probably due to the great amount of body twist that accompanied his strokes. However, the majority of the top notch players use definite footwork to maneuver into position with side to the net, so that a transfer of weight can be taken.
2. How To Make Use Of Footwork Elements
a. Use uneven, crablike steps, keeping the left (right) foot in advance of the right (left) foot when moving into position for a forehand (backhand) stroke. Thus the proper shoulder is maintained in a forward position.
b. Use slides into position and a final step forward (as the ball is hit).
c. Use a hop to aid getting the body in a sideways position, followed by a step forward (as the ball is hit).
d. Use a “two step” (slide and step) in order to keep the proper foot and shoulder toward the net. For example, in approaching a backhand ball, slide forward, closing left to right foot, and step forward right as the ball is hit.
e. Jump to reach high balls such as the lob.
f. Skip when a short quick movement toward the ball is needed.
Note – Usually these movements are used to get alongside the ball at racquet reach from it.
3. Various Directions Of Footwork In Relation To The Ball
The conventional “waiting” position on the court is facing the net, body bent forward, knees easy, racquet held lightly with forehand or backhand grip (ready to change to either) in front of the body, the racquet throat supported by fingers of left hand. When the direction of the ball is determined, the proper grip is taken, and the racquet thrown or pulled back into the backswing posi tion while the feet carry the body into the stance needed for the stroke. Elbows should be away from the body in the waiting position to insure free shoulder joint action.
a. Change of body position in place.
1′. To get in position for a forehand, step back on the right foot, pivoting body and swinging the racquet back at the same time. Step toward the net on the left foot as you hit the ball. An alternative method is to pivot on the right foot, swinging the racquet back and step toward the net on the left foot as the ball is hit.
2′. To get in position for a backhand, the same methods may be used, but with opposite foot movements.
b. Change in position laterally.
1′. Movement toward the ball.
a’. Slide to the side while facing the net, then pivot (throwing the racquet back) and step toward the net on the proper foot as the stroke is made.
b’. When the ball is coming a bit too far to the right side, step on right foot, hop (pivoting into side-to-net position) and step toward the net on the left foot as the forward swing is made.
c’. When the ball is slightly too far to the left of the body, the opposite foot movements are made, and a backhand stroke taken.
2′. Movement to the side of the ball.
a’. If a forehand stroke is to be executed, back away from the direction the ball is taking by stepping back right—taking the racquet back as you move. Then step toward the net left as the forward swing is made.
b’. If a backhand stroke is to be executed, move away from the ball, stepping back left, taking the racquet back on your hip as you move. Then step right foot diagonally forward to the left as you hit the ball.
c. Change in position forward and backward.
1′. Movement toward the net.
a’. Move toward the net with the racquet back, keeping the side-to-the-net position by using
(1) several quick slides (closing right to left foot in forehand, and vice versa for backhand)
(2) uneven steps, keeping the left foot in advance of the right foot for a forehand stroke, and vice versa for the backhand.
Note – Don’t run into the ball, keep body three feet to the side of it.
2′. Use the same footwork for moving away from the net for a ball that is bouncing too close to you as for moving toward it, always keeping the left
foot toward the net in the forehand and the right foot toward the net in the backhand.
Note – It is difficult to back away from the net and then get a forward transfer of weight when hitting the ball. Often the player finds himself off balance, and a weak stroke results. Little steps and flexed knees help with the balance, so that a quick shift of weight may be made as the ball is hit