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Footwork: Right place, right time

June 16, 2010
By Jak Beardsworth

Anytime footwork is the topic of conversation, British pro Steve Heron’s take on it always comes to mind: “No feet, no game, no future.”

    Well said mate.

    Now that the outdoor tennis season is well under way, and the optimal playing conditions afforded by indoor hard surface play are no more, increased footwork becomes paramount with the wind and clay courts in the mix affecting both the flight and the bounce of the ball.

    Striking one’s shots in balance with the ball right where you want it in relation to your body require, simply, being in the right place at the right time. This holds true for groundies, volleys, overheads, and even lobs.

    With two systems of coordination working in concert — the obvious eye-hand one and the not so obvious, but more crucial, eye-foot component — the cleanest possible shot making is a by-product of a perfectly timed final positional step, occurring in the same time frame as ball on string impact.

    Good players, the one’s that we immediately notice who make it look easy, do not get set, according to a tired old adage that’s not only a huge misperception, but one that somehow still lives on in clubland. Tour pros and better club players use a more energized brand of footwork to, if you will, stalk the ball in order to set up for their final stride into the shot.

    When well executed a feeling of effortlessness is experienced often resulting in an amazingly powerful and penetrating shot — the kinetic chain at its best, firing on all cylinders.

    This kind of on-stride shot making is, surprisingly to many, at its natural, athletic best — even if you do not possess the Federer fluidity and especially if you know who Jack Kramer was — when on the run in pursuit of an opponent’s well-placed ball.

    Equally perplexing for even more players is the fact that shots directed right at them, so common in doubles play in particular with two players defending the court, are more difficult in that they require continuous small adjustment steps, commonly referred to as “stutter steps,” often in place with no place to go, until the final hitting step can be taken. Never stand waiting motionless, planted with your feet in cement, because the ball is “right to you!” Always keep your feet moving.

    So, while keeping in mind Heron’s foot working mantra, also be cognizant of another given, with a slight twist, regarding human movement: bodies in motion stay in motion, bodies at rest are difficult to get moving.

Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Resort. He can be reached by e-mail at or check his website: ;

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Jak Beardsworth



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