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▌ © C. Tom Harton 1991-2011 ▐

Good footwork is a precondition for everything in playing good tennis. If you can’t get to the ball and set up in balance, good strokes won't help you much.

At the beginning of every point except the serve, which has its own starting stances, you need to start in a good, classic ready position.


  • You should be in a preparatory, balanced stance which allows you to react to the oncoming ball in a split second. Split second is not just a handy phrase; it is literal, because you often only have a fraction of a second to move to a desired set-up position just before hitting the ball. Your eyes and brain must be fully “on alert.”

  • Your non-dominant hand should be at the throat of your racket so that you can change your grip instantly if you need to. Some players who use a one-handed grip assume a backhand grip so that they do not have to make an adjustment if they have to hit a backhand stroke. All players should have their racket chest high and out in front of them. (Note that if you are at the net and the ball is hit directly at your torso, you will need to block the ball with a one-handed backhand.)

  • Your feet should be about shoulder width apart, and you should be ON THE BALLS OF YOUR FEET so that you can move as quick as possible. This balls-of-your-feet element is crucial. You cannot instantly jump into action from a flat footed stance because you have to first move your body weight to the balls of your feet before you can launch your body in any direction. Also when you need to pivot your body, which you must do for virtually every shot, it much easier to rotate on the balls of your feet.

  • The ready position is a dynamic, not a static pose. Insider tip: Once the point starts, particularly if you are at the net, YOU SHOULD KEEP YOU FEET MOVING UNTIL THE END OF THE POINT. Beginners, social, and club players almost never do this, but it is a hallmark of better play. When you start doing this regularly you may get sore arches because your foot muscles are not used to doing it. If that happens to you, then that’s a good sign because you are doing it right.

  • Finally, an important element in your ready position is that of having your knees bent. ALMOST ALL SHOTS IN TENNIS REQUIRE THAT YOU START WITH YOUR KNEES BENT. If you stand flat footed just before and/or during your strokes the Angel of Tennis will frown on you, and you wouldn’t want that to happen.

During a point when moving to the ball for a baseline groundstroke, small adjustment steps are better than long steps. Of course if the ball is hit to a spot that if difficult to get to (a “placement”), then you will have to run with longer strides in order to get to the ball. In most cases at the end of your long run you will still need to take a couple of short steps so that you can make adjustments and be in balance when you strike the ball. When learning the basics of footwork, many players tend to under-run or over-run when getting to the ball. If this happens to you, you will be in a momentary emergency, you will be out of balance, and your shot will often go astray. Only mindful practice will correct this situation.


When the approaching ball is not so fast that it overpowers you, TAKE A STEP INTO THE BALL WHEN YOU HIT IT. This forward shift of body weight is free power and is easily controllable when you do it regularly. If you don’t step into the ball you will be hitting with all arm and you will have to swing harder for a given amount of power, and your balance will not be as good. In most cases you will have time to step backwards in order to have room to step into the ball. When possible, you will want to step forward as you swing your racket. Your body weight and your racket swing should be synchronized. Only through attentive practice will you be able to achieve good timing.

The main idea for your footwork is to MOVE QUICKLY, and to SWING SLOWLY. It’s a well know phenomenon that the harder you swing the less control you have. A mnemonic for this combination of moving and hitting is: “Quick, quick, quick… Slooow.” (Where quick is you footwork and slooow is you racket swing speed. Tip of the cap to a fellow named Sam Chang, who taught me this some four decades ago.)

After you have contacted the ball, you will need to get into the best position for hitting the next ball whether it comes to you or not. Unless you are way off court, which will require long steps to get back, use medium-short side steps (shuffle steps) to get to a spot which you estimate to be the best position to play the next ball. [See the instructional What to Do Immediately After You Hit the Ball During a Point.]

Rookie learners and some intermediates often have a tendency after they have hit a ball to stop and admire their handiwork. If this happens to you, you will eventually have to discipline yourself to move immediately to a position most advantageous for returning the next ball. The bottom line here is, “Use your brain and don’t be a snail on the court or you may get “squish-squashed.” (Thanks to Monica for this vivid term.)

Learning tip: One of the best players ever, Andre Agassi, used to make a real effort to learn one new thing during each practice. One word of caution though, try to learn ONLY ONE THING AT A TIME. If you can learn only one thing in every lesson and incorporate it into your game, you will surely be getting a reward as Most Improved Player of the season if you are a student in one of my Tennis Clinics.

Everyone should be prepared to answer the question, “What did you learn today?” If you are able to accurately mention more than one thing, that would splendid.

Students have told me for eons that a sense of accomplishment is one of their greatest motivators. Not to mention other benefits, such as becoming a better tennis player.

See the following companion instructionals for related footwork and court position information:

Angle Of Possible Good Shots & Percentage Tennis
Court Geometry & the Angle of Probable Returns
DRL03 - Footwork Frenzy for Two Players
Footwork – How to Start & Move Quickest

[6A-Ready Position & Some Footwork Basics] [Rev 6-14-11]



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