The single-most important physical attribute one can commit to in tennis is the "split-step."
Its execution not only accounts for a quicker first step to the ball - allowing for decidedly more time to comfortably arrive in a favorable hitting position - but also simultaneously triggers a vital visual connection to the ball.
It takes place right as an opponent is striking the ball. This requires a slight vertical jump off the court immediately before their shot as little as a half-inch will suffice - then landing lightly on the balls of your feet while squared-up to the opponent as they are making contact. (See image at left.)
Jak Beardsworth demonstrates how to engage the split step.
Photo by Shaun Ondak
Ideally, it is especially useful when returning serve, or when at the net in doubles as your partner serves, igniting those otherwise static court positions.
Ever wonder why you didn't poach that perfectly reachable return of serve that you could have hit when at the net? Or why you didn't even bother to go for that get-able wide serve?
It's because you were flat-footed, motionless and not a single muscle was stirring resulting in disconnected eyes as well. By the time you got yourself in gear the ball was gone. So frustrating. So limiting.
If you're watching the Wimbledon matches, or any other professional matches for that matter, you'll see that every single player - unlike so many club players - utilizes the split step 100 percent of the time beginning with the return.
If you want to cover more court, cut off those balls at the net, get to those stretch returns, and read the ball right as it's coming off the opponent's racket - how else could you time the split-step landing, make it an integral part of your game today?
Bodies at static rest are very slow to get moving to the ball. Split-stepping will maximize both your court coverage and your incoming shot recognition at the same time. And that's all good.
Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Club. Lesson information and appointments can be arranged by e-mail at JB1tennis@comcast.net, by calling 941-626-0097 or by visiting JakBeardsworthTennis.com.