'Dance' your way to better tennis by using the split step

Not long after you read this article, the pro tour will be gearing up for the 2019 clay court tennis season, culminating with the second major tournament of the year, the French Open.

The clay court season is my favorite to watch, simply because the slower court surface makes for longer points.

When you're watching the pros play, observe how many of them move to the ball with grace and timing - like they're dancing.

Much of this is achieved by a 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.

Ever wonder why you might not be getting to the ball in time? Frustrated your opponent hits a ball back that's just out of reach?

Many beginner and intermediate recreational and club players experience this regularly because they don't use the split step to help them get to the ball. It's relatively easy to learn and implement into your game. Here's how:

First, the reason for doing a split 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 slightly 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 might just 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 (flat-footed) stance. Now, try the same thing again, but when the ball leaves your partner's racquet, split step, then move toward the ball.

I think you'll be amazed how much easier it is to get to the ball. This is a great technique to work on with a pro or coach, in a clinic, or with a ball machine.

I encourage you to watch how much the pro players use the split step during their matches. It's as natural to them as dancing was to Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelley or Fred Astaire.

Maybe, with some practice, you can add this little "dance" step to your footwork, too.

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. lwmarino@hotmail.com


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