Tennis Footwork Drills for Speed and Agility

Most tennis players overlook the importance of tennis footwork drills as part of their tennis training routine, and it’s lack of practice shows up in match play.

One of the things that separates great tennis players from average players is movement and effective footwork patterns in reaching the tennis ball.

A tennis footwork drill focuses on increasing speed, agility and sprinting footwork, which is all key to hitting the various types of shots seen during a point.

Why You Need to Practice Tennis Footwork Drills

To become a better tennis player, you can improve your techniques on your strokes and you can work out to improve your fitness. But if you neglect to work on your movement and footwork, you will never reach your true potential as a tennis player.

If you look at all the top players in the game, they all move very well around the court. There are some players who aren’t natural athletes, but through sheer hard work, they improved their footwork and movement in order to get to the top of the sport as well.

Great tennis footwork is closely related but not entirely synonymous with speed and agility. If you have trained yourself to be fast and agile, you can better put to use your footwork skills to arrive at every ball properly and consequently execute better shots.

Basic Tennis Footwork Moves

The most basic footwork mechanisms in tennis are the sprint, split step and shuffle steps, Sprints are used all the time to chase down balls that are far away from you. The best illustration of this is running forward to get to a drop shot.

Footwork drill for tennis
Roger Federer’s Footwork: Notice the split step and the low center of gravity as he goes out wide to hit a forehand shot

The split step is very basic for tennis. It allows you to get in proper balance and be ready to turn one way or the other early as you prepare to hit the ball. The split step is usually done during the fleeting moments when your opponent hits the ball. The shuffle steps are side skipping movements that allow you to recover quickly back to the centre of the court after you have hit a shot.

Keeping on the balls of your feet with knees bent and the body low to the ground is another principle of great footwork because this puts the centre of gravity lower and hence improves stability and balance.

These basic footwork mechanisms determine how you move when attacking, defending or rallying in a neutral situation. To improve on these movement skills, tennis footwork drills have been developed.

Tennis Footwork Drill #1: Direction Drill

The direction drill is a tennis footwork drill that improves lateral movement as well as forward and backward movement. The side skipping or shuffle steps are combined with the forward sprint and backpedalling run in this drill. All of these movements are used in a tennis match so this drill is especially useful.

Direction drill in action
Roger Federer’s Tennis Footwork – A marvel of efficient tennis footwork movement both side to side and up and back

The player begins by standing in centre of the baseline. He or she will side step all the way to the side line or fence and then go all the way back to the other side line or fence. After that, the player will side skip back to the centre of the baseline and then run forward to the net. The player touches the net and shuffles backward all the way to the fence behind the baseline before running forward again to the centre of the baseline.

Alternatively, the player may choose to go back to the fence first before running all the way forward to the net and then backpedalling to the baseline. Once back at the start position, the player jogs in place for 30 seconds. The whole drill is repeated around 3 times.

Tennis Footwork Drill #2: Diagonal Footwork Movement

A modified version of the tennis footwork drill described above requires the player to also move diagonally. He or she begins at the centre T of the service line. The first move is laterally to the left side line and then back the centre. The next move is forward to the net and then backward to the starting point.

The third move is laterally to the right and back to the centre. The fourth move is a backward shuffle to the baseline followed by a sprint forward to the starting point. The fifth to eighth moves are all diagonal runs: forward to the left net post and back; forward to the right net post and back; backward to the right baseline corner and up; and finally, backward to the left baseline corner and up again to the starting point.

Tennis Footwork Drill #3: Recovery Drill

Another great tennis footwork drill is trains the player to always recover back to the centre of the court after every shot. The player starts at the centre of the baseline and is fed a ball to his forehand side such that he or she needs to take a few steps to hit it.

Federer is the expert
Roger Federer’s Tennis Footwork – Perfect Weight Transfer and Completion of the Forehand Shot allowing him to recover back to the correct recovery position

After the player hits the ball, he or she must recover back to the centre of the baseline using side skipping movement. Another ball is fed to the forehand side and the process is repeated.

Up to 5 balls can be fed and the player must never forget to recover back to the centre of the court after every shot. After drilling the forehand, movement over to the backhand and proper recovery back to the centre of the baseline can similarly be trained. The drill is repeated twice for each side.

Tennis Footwork Drill #4: Shuffle and Side Step Drill

Another common tennis footwork drill is called the sidestepping and anticipating drill. This drill also improves lateral movement as well as the ability to prepare early for the next shot. The player stands on the baseline while a coach calls out either forehand or backhand.

The player must accordingly run to the corresponding side called out by the coach and take a practice swing. Immediately after, he or she must side step back to the centre of the court and be ready for the next command.

This means that the racket has to be in front and the body facing forward with good balance. The coach should give the directions quickly to mimic a fast paced rally. It is a simple but useful drill.

Tennis Footwork Drills with Cones and Markers

Some tennis footwork drills make use of markers on the court. Cones, ball cans or balls may be used. In one drill, a coach lines up five or six markers from the baseline to about halfway up the net or just inside the service line. The player will step forward and to the right of the first ball and do a shadow ground stroke.

Immediately after, he or she will step forward and to the left of the second ball and so on. The player must avoid the markers while zigzagging through them. Proper balance and form on the shadow stroke should be maintained. This drill improves lateral and diagonal movement.

Tennis Footwork Drill #5: 55 Ball Drill

The 55 ball drill is a high intensity footwork drill where the player is fed the ball 55 times. Each ball must be run down and hit properly before the player recovers quickly back to the centre of the court. A variation of this drill simulates the way a player must recover quickly to the centre of the court after serving. He or she hits a serve then gets fed a few balls. Again, the player must return back the centre of the court after every ball. Because it is a long and continuous drill, stamina is also developed.

Federer footwork drills
Federer’s Tennis Footwork is efficient, clean and simple, allowing him to hit shots anywhere in the court in perfect balance

Notice that the emphasis of most of these tennis footwork drills is lateral movement and recovery back to the centre of the court. In the modern game, this is used more often than ever because most players have now become aggressive baseliners.

Benefits of Using Tennis Footwork Drills

To play this type of game effectively, you really need to be able to control the centre of the court during rallies. In a match-up between two baseliners, the one who can hold on to his or her position near the centre of the court more consistently will have a greater chance of winning the point because this player has more angles to work with and less angles to defend against.

With constant practice, your footwork will become automatic, just like the way you swing the racket. Once this happens, you can spend less energy stressing about technique and footwork and focus more on strategy and tactics.

You will find that you can cover the court much better and arrive at every ball well balanced and able to take a really good hit at it. Your execution of each shot will consequently be better as well.

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