Ever wonder why you’re not getting to the ball in time? Frustrated your opponent hits a ball back that’s just out of reach? Most beginner and intermediate recreational players experience this regularly due to lacking one small but extremely essential ingredient: the split step.
This basic footwork technique is used by all players, from advanced to pro level, in preparing to hit their shots, and it’s very easy to learn and implement into your game.
First, the reason for doing a spilt step: It allows you to be as balanced and prepared to move to the ball as possible at the exact right time. If you think about it, that statement covers a lot of ground (no pun intended).
In order to get to the ball you must be in control of your balance. The “step” starts with a little hop and ends by landing on the balls of your feet, a little more than shoulder width apart, knees bent and heels not touching the ground.
This starts your body in motion, making it easier to move and-or spring toward the oncoming ball.
Second, understanding the timing needed to execute this move is essential. Without this part explained you’ll probably end up hopping around the court, making yourself and your playing partners question your sanity.
The small hop to start your body in motion begins the instant your opponent strikes the ball. Ideally, you should land on the balls of your feet before the tennis ball crosses the net.
By the time the ball bounces (if hitting a ground stroke), your hips are turned, knees are bent and racquet is back, all while you’re moving in to hit the ball.
Try this: Have your hitting partner feed a ball a little away from you and move toward it from a static (flatfooted) stance. Then try the same thing again, but when the ball leaves your partner’s racquet hop, then move or step toward the ball.
I think you’ll be amazed as to how much easier it is to get to the ball. This is also a great technique to work on with a pro, in a clinic, or with a ball machine.
Now that we’re in the midst of the pro tennis season, I encourage you to watch how much the pro players use the split step during their matches. It’s as common and natural to them as breathing.
Perhaps, with some practice, it can be that way for you, too!
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio & Youth Tennis Coach who lives and teaches in the greater Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area.