It’s not at all uncommon to hear club players mumbling to themselves to “get set,” after missing a so-called easy forehand or backhand that’s right in their zone. Dead wrong.
Good players do not get set, or planted, to make their shots. They instead utilize an energized brand of footwork in these instances to create an optimal, right place-right time position by “setting-up.” A major difference in approach and results.
In the adjacent image you can see that I am taking my final ball-striking step right as I’m about to launch the racket — slice backhand — into and through the ball. I like to refer to this footwork management as “step and strike.”
Tennis is a differential relaxation sport requiring the lower body to remain very active, to continually adjust to the ball in order to allow the upper body to then be flowing smoothly and effortlessly. This is exactly why the game, as played by professionals and accomplished club players, can appear to be easy to the uninitiated.
Achieving good footwork consistently is especially challenging with regard to those aforementioned balls coming right to you — so typical of doubles play since you’re hemmed in defending a relatively small area of the court compared to singles. There’s a tendency to become footwork complacent, especially among those who stand around like cigar store Indians, instead of setting the bar by pacing back and forth in between points to keep their feet stimulated.
When on the run to cover wide balls, you’re automatically predisposed to athletically making your shots “on-stride.” Those are the “easy ones.” It’s literally a no-brainer.
However, the lack of physicality that results from planting and standing comparatively motionless while waiting for approaching shots coming to you typically leads to over consciousness (time to think), disrupts rhythm and makes tracking the ball a more difficult task since the eyes and the brain work in concert.
So, when there is little or no running to the ball necessary, the trick is to employ numerous adjustment steps, commonly known as “stutter steps.” The physicality of this “setting-up” for your shot technique will keep you connected (unconscious) and in sync with the ball right up to the moment where you take the last shot-making step.
In the end, British pro and friend Steve Heron had it right all along: “No feet, no game, no future.”
Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Club. He can be reached by email at JB1tennis@comcast.net, by phone at 941-626-0097, or through his website JakBeardsworthTennis.com
Photo courtesy of Shaun Ondak Photography