By: Juan Nunez from ProWorld Tennis Academy | Adult and Developmental Program Director
The “footwork” fundamentals that a player must master for a chance to compete at the highest levels are: split-step, shuffling, crossover step, and planting. The player must also develop the ability to use these fundamentals at different speeds and directions. These “footwork” fundamentals have been used by all the great champions of any era. Bill Tilden used this way of moving back then, just as Roger Federer uses it today.
Split-Step: This action must happen as the ball impacts the opponent’s racquet. This movement allows you to get into a well-balanced and neutral position, engaging your whole body to react properly to the direction, spin, and speed of your opponent’s shot.
Shuffling: Moving with rhythm is a key to striking the ball with efficiency; shuffling will give you this rhythm. During a point, a player will shuffle approximately 75% of the time—the difference will be used with sprints and small adjustment steps. This combination is what makes the player’s movement appear effortless, as if gliding on the court.
Crossover Step: The crossover step movement will help you smoothly cover more court on the recovery after hitting a ball on the run, while keeping you well-balanced and facing the opponent. The step is also used to retreat back for a deep shot or to hit an overhead, attack a sitter, runaround the backhand to hit a forehand, or volley.
Planting: This step is probably the most important of all. No matter how fast you are running to the ball, when you commit to strike the ball, you must plant the outside leg (the leg of the side you are hitting from; right leg for right side; left leg for left side) in order to execute an effective shot. The planting step loads the body weight that will enable you to coil and begin the chain reaction of the stroke. Proper planting will improve timing, allow you to transfer the body weight toward impact, add pace, and control the stroke.
The myth of the little steps: Many believe that a tennis player must move around the court with small steps. By doing so, you will be off balance when covering longer distance. The movements will be choppy, and it will be very difficult to plant. Small steps are used to “adjust” the planting, especially if you are playing a ball on the run.