Fit for tennis: The importance of footwork and how to improve it.

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In the words of Maria Kirilenko, everything starts with the feet, with excellent footwork key to being a successful tennis player. You might have strong, grooved groundstrokes, but if you can’t reach the ball, and you’re not balanced when swinging the racket, you’re not going to win many matches. Here’s some insight from a leading coach and former champions on the importance of footwork.

“Footwork is the first part of a player’s game I pay close attention to. It tells me so much about a player right off the bat,” said Rob Steckley, Lucie Safarova’s coach. “Good footwork allows a player to cover more court, strike the ball earlier and can add power which all helps build confidence and shape a young player’s personality. With the right coach this can lead to great success. It’s always fun to work with untapped foot speed. There are no limits when working with someone who has gifted movement and reaction.”

Improving your footwork will reduce the number of unforced errors you make.

“Everything comes from your feet,” said Maria Kirilenko, a former Top 10 player. “If you keep on making errors, it could be because your footwork isn’t good, and could have nothing to do with the rest of your technique. If you can get your feet moving quickly, and into the right position, you will find that you can cut a lot of mistakes from your game. So think about your feet and what you do with them – it’s such an important part of tennis.”

Excellent footwork can allow you to run around your backhand to play an attacking forehand.
“My forehand was my strength and it was the shot I could generate more pace and power from,” Stefanie Graf said. “I attempted to make it difficult for my opponent to find my backhand by working hard with my feet.”

Superb footwork will ensure you’re balanced when you hit the ball.
“Footwork is 50 per cent of the battle when hitting a groundstroke, if not more, and you need to make sure you’re balanced,” said Tracy Austin.

Young players should focus on improving their speed and reactions.
“The good thing about footwork at a young age is it’s typically overlooked and under developed so there is tonnes of room for improvement,” Steckley said. “The idea is to focus on speed and reaction which can be done off court and then to marry it with on-court training using live ball drills and scenarios. Repetition off court will build muscle memory and the on-court drills will continue to develop those skills and introduce the mental coordination and patterns in which they are used in rally situations. This will help stimulate the players’ motor skills and help with their overall development.”

If you’re moving well, you will also avoid the problem of getting too close to the ball, which prevents you from taking a proper swing.
“You don’t want to get too close to the ball – that’s spacing, and making sure that the the distance between you and the ball is right,” said Austin, while Graf suggested: “You need to be a proper position to make a full swing.”

If your feet aren’t moving fast enough during a match, try doing some exercises between points to get them moving.
“The first three steps you take need to be quick, so you can get into position as quickly as possible,” said Kirilenko. “Some days you go on court, and you feel as though your legs are slow and heavy, and that your footwork isn’t good, and you’re not moving well. So you have to do some exercises between points – go to the back of the court, and quickly do lots of little small steps. Don’t do one or two. You have to do about ten. And keep on doing those between points until you feel as though your movement has come back. But once you have got your movement back, you should stop doing these exercises, as you don’t want to use up too much energy and get tired.”

“At the start of the grass-court season, I was like a ballerina, trying to make delicate movements, and trying not to slip over,” said Kirilenko. “It’s different on hard courts – you go on court and you immediately feel safe. And on clay, you can make sharper movements, and you can slide into your shots.”

In windy conditions, with gusts moving the ball around, it helps to make small movements.
“I would suggest using little steps all the way to the moment you hit the ball because the ball’s going to move at the last moment and you’ll need to make adjustments,” said Austin. “You’ll need to make adjustments to almost every shot, so be ready for that.”


Here is an example of few great footwork drills players practice.

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