SPLIT STEP & Quick Movement on Your Forehand Side
Focus: Righthander moving to hit a forehand groundstroke
As happens repeatedly in tennis, an oncoming ball is hit several feet to your right side and you need to get to the ball quickly to hit a forehand. Interestingly there are several ways to start your move.
First, try to always start from a momentary “ready position, which means, among other things, starting with your body weight on the balls of your feet.
Split Step. From the ready position, the split step is recommended to be the first reaction to every shot you must return. The split step is a preparatory maneuver and is necessary when you need to move really quickly. If you are not quite getting to some of you forehand shots, you are likely not doing a split step.
The split step is done by starting with your feet about shoulder width apart, jumping up an inch or less and landing on the balls of your feet, as your opponent is about to hit his shot. Both of your knees should be bent slightly when you land back on the court surface. This maneuver temporarily unloads the weight of your body and keeps you off of your heels. Some players avoid the split step either because 1) they have not been taught it, 2) because it is physically strenuous, 3) because it takes considerable practice to get into your muscle memory, or 4) because your playing level does not require higher-speed footwork. However, if you want to be able to react most quickly to any shot the split step is the best footwork technique.
Here is a D. Hoffer photo of a player’s feet when returning to the court surface:
Notice that both heels are not touching the court.
Almost simultaneously, while rotating your body to your right on the ball of your right foot, with both knees bent, lean your upper torso to your right-hand side and then push off hard with your left foot. Your weight will transfer toward your right shoulder.
(You can compare this with the traditional way of lifting your right foot first and stepping off with your right foot towards your right.)
When your right foot lands on the ball of your right foot, then do a cross-over step, which entails picking up your left foot and crossing it over your right foot. Your body should have rotated toward the spot you anticipate you will need to be to set up for and hit the ball. You are momentarily moving in a straight line towards that spot.
Run on the balls of your feet towards your desired destination.
(You can compare this with the heel-toe or flat-foot type steps which are the slowest possible ways to run.)
Use small adjustment steps to set up just before you swing. These adjustment steps are when you reestablish your balance just before you contact the oncoming ball.
At ball contact your body will have rotated to a closed or semi-closed stance for a “closed” forehand. (An “open” stance forehand is a relative modern adaptation where your feet are more or less parallel to the net, which is the way collegiate and professional players sometimes do it because their time demands are far more extreme due to accelerated ball pace. For the present, forget using an open stance.)
Shuffle steps. If the oncoming ball will arrive near your starting position and you do not need to move far to set up for the ball, then you should use side shuffle steps. They entail stepping to the right (or left) with your outside foot and then bringing your other foot close to your outside foot in a lateral motion. Also, the side shuffle step is a good way to return to a centered position in anticipation of the opponent’s next shot.
Explanatory notes concerning stances used to address the ball:
The phrase “open stance” means starting with your feet parallel to the net as you prepare to hit the ball. If you use an open stance forehand, you must coil and then rapidly uncoil your torso and hips, and this requires extra flexibility found in athletic, younger competitors.
The “:closed stance” forehand, which I recommend for you (and me), means starting with your shoulders and torso approximately 90 degrees to the net. It facilitates moving your body weight forward as you swing and step into the ball – free power without sacrificing control. The closed stance also favors moving quickly forward for net play as well as for retrieving opponent’s short shots because your body weight is already moving forward as you hit the ball.
[4-FOOTWORK – How to Start & Move Quickest] [Rev 6-7-11]