Balance, as defined by Merriam-Webster, means “physical equilibrium; stability produced by even distribution of weight on each side of the vertical axis.”
Tennis is a sport comprising many components and moving parts, one of the most elusive being the ability to keep yourself balanced. You must be balanced not just when hitting the ball, but getting to it and recovering to get to the next one. (Remember, the most important shot in tennis is the next one. Gee, where did I hear that before?)
Good balance starts with the “ready” position. That is, understanding the difference between your standing height and playing height.
With your feet shoulders’ width apart and knees bent just enough so you can’t see your shoelaces, that’s correct playing height. With your weight slightly forward and on the balls of your feet, not flat-footed, you’ve got control of your balance and are in “ready” position to move to the ball.
Now, think about reaching with your feet, not with your hands. If your racquet is ready (racquet back when the ball leaves your opponent’s strings), reaching with your feet maintains better balance, control and distribution of weight to hit the ball, and the racquet will do the work, rather than just swinging away with all arm.
It’s also important to note the use of small, quick steps, which are better for good timing and balance than taking big strides. Take a tip from the pros when watching them move between hitting balls. It’s not unusual to see them take almost a dozen small steps between groundstrokes.
After completing your shot (i.e., following through) and bringing your outside foot (back foot) forward, incorporate a split step to get back to “ready” position and maintain control of your balance. Now you’re ready and balanced for the next ball.
Although proper footwork is the main factor, two other components add to the mix:
- off hand: pointing at the ball to gauge the distance it needs to be away from your body when hitting forehands, and as a counter balance on the one-handed backhand.
- head: staying completely still with eye on the ball through contact.
All these components working in tandem are keys to help you keep your balance and play better tennis!
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides custom-hybrid racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area. firstname.lastname@example.org