Five Steps to Better Footwork
"Float like a butterfly ... sting like a bee." Muhammad Ali's popular adage wasn't coined for the game of tennis - but the applications are there.
Good footwork is the prerequisite everything else in tennis. If you can't get to the ball, your fancy strokes won't help you at all.
There is a science to footwork that every aspiring player must understand and put into practice. The following five clues will improve your footwork and move you a few rungs up the ladder.
Hitting a tennis ball is analogous to hitting a golf ball. It helps to be on balance. Have you ever mis-hit a ball, shanking it on the throat of the racquet? Of course you have. One of the reasons this happens so frequently is because you are not set comfortably at the point of contact. Your skills improve when you make contact on balance, flat footed, front knee slightly bent, with your head motionless. Your footwork helps you reach this balanced positions.
In between shots ... don't stand around flat-footed. All good players use the bounce step to keep poised and ready to spring into action. The message gets from your head to your feet faster if you get the balls of your feet, flex your knees a little, and bounce rhythmically between shots.
Shuffle step to the ball. Don't walk to the ball - shuffle. Many small steps are preferable to a couple long steps. Unless the ball is wide (in which case you have to pick up your feet and run) good footwork means taking a number of shuffle steps to the ball so you can easily make an adjustment and be on balance.
Stride into the ball. Many players make the mistake of moving sideways or parallel to the baseline to play the ball. Move back to move forward! Shuffle step back so you have room to take a long stride into the ball. Step forward into the court. Collapse your front knee prior to the hit. "Shuffle... step... hit." Your knee acts as a shock absorber for your forward step. Keep your poise.
Slide-step back into position after making the play. If you cross your feet or turn your back as you return to the centre of the court, your opponent may hit the ball behind you. To keep that from occurring, move back with your shoulders and feet parallel to the net. If, however, you find yourself out of the court after hitting the ball, then forget about sliding, put one foot in front of the other and run!