How to Improve Footwork in Tennis

How to Improve Footwork in Tennis
  • Specified fitness routines – SAQ (Speed, Agility, Quickness)
  • Live ball drills with focus on footwork
  • Practice with intensity, light on the feet, use aids if necessary

   Your Guide

Gavin Davison   Gavin Davison

If you are to improve your game, FOOTWORK IS EVERYTHING.

It paves the way to being in the right position FOR EACH AND EVERY SHOT YOU HIT.

Great footwork means you can really maximize the way you strike the ball.

Sloppy footwork will cause your technique to break down and you won’t hit your shots correctly.

One of the best, in my opinion, is Rafael Nadal – just check HOW INTENSE he is with his feet in the video here:

Bear in mind that’s how he moves his feet in practice!

When he gets into a game, his footwork is EVEN MORE INTENSE.

You can even hear the squeak of his shoes on the surface when hustling TO EVERY BALL.

But of course, we can’t all be as exceptional as Rafael Nadal on a tennis court. We can, however, improve our footwork drastically to reach our full playing potential.

You can see my top three tips above, but I’d like to DIVE DEEPER on each tip to really show you what you can be doing – starting today.

The three tips explained

There are LOADS OF WAYS you can improve your footwork in this day and age.

Naturally, different coaches and players have their own thoughts on how this is achieved in the best possible way.

But for me, the three tips discussed below have proved pivotal through my entire playing career, which is why I’d like to go into greater depth right now.

SAQ Routines

Fitness and footwork routines have gone through ALL KINDS OF branding changes over the years.

But I can remember when I was a kid, we had a routine called Speed, Agility, and Quickness.

Basically, this is where the coach took us to one side for anywhere between 30 minutes to one hour and hammered home FOOTWORK DRILLS.

We would often get the ladders out there on court, and weave in and out with specific footwork patterns.

But we would also get the cones out there on the court and practice moving around the courts with our rackets, SHADOWING CERTAIN SHOTS at various points on the court.

The whole objective of this was to get the FEET:

  • Firing Faster
  • Be More Precise With Our Strokes, and
  • Build Up a Natural Intensity to Our Movement

SAQ training had a HUGE IMPACT on me as a child, and it no doubt led to the footwork levels I still enjoyed as a competitive adult.

Check out this resource for a list of footwork drills you could get started with right away.

Live Playing Drills With Footwork Focus

Although fitness and footwork drills without a ball are HIGHLY BENEFICIAL, sometimes, you just can’t beat the real thing.

The number of tennis drills you can do is obviously rather extensive, and not all of them depend on great footwork.

However, that’s not our goal here.

Our goal is to identify drills that will improve your footwork.

You’ll find that most of these ‘footwork focused’ drills get you to work on Specific Footwork Patterns instead of getting your footwork sharper in general.

For example, rapid-fire volley drills get you to focus on the split step to prepare for each BALL COMMING AT YOU.

GHB Pro Agility Ladder Agility Training Ladder Speed 12 Rung 20ft with Carrying Bag

And if you perform a drill where the coach feeds you a running, wide ball, you might be focusing on the flow or power step.

Sometimes, you might be working on a transition ball too, which then REQUIRES YOU to flow forward up the court instead of horizontally like a wide ball.

Head actually has a fantastic series of tennis drills you can check out right here should you want to EXPAND YOUR KNOWLEDGE on this some more!

General Intensity When Practicing

Rather than being quite specific like my previous two tips, this one has to come from within.

It’s entirely up to you how hard you practice, but if you can constantly practice with high intensity, I guarantee that YOUR FOOTWORK WILL GET BETTER.

And when I say intensity, I mean:

  • Keeping Your Feet Dancing Between Shots
  • Always Executing a Split Step
  • Making Those Adjustments Around the Ball, and
  • Giving It 100% Effort at All Times

If you want to take things further too, YOU CAN.

Back in the day, I would make conditions with friends on the court that the first guy to make an unforced error would need to do 10 push-ups.

This fear of ‘punishment’ AUTOMATICALLY RAISED THE INTENSITY, and we would even play with weights on our ankles sometimes.

All in good fun of course, but it definitely helped the footwork.

Benefits of improving your footwork

At the end of the day, why should you worry so much about your footwork?

After all, isn’t hitting the ball the most important thing?

Well, I would have to say NO, because everything stems from footwork.

And here are the benefits of working on it:

1) Quicker Around the Court

If you are quick around the court, you can get in the:

  • Right Position for Your Shots
  • Hang in the Rallies Longer, and
  • Your Defensive Game Will Improve Dramatically

But you can ONLY BE QUICK around the court if your footwork is on point! 

2) Set Yourself up to Hit the Ball Correctly

You could have the best technique in the world, but if your footwork isn’t great, having awesome technique won’t matter.

You need to get your feet planted right and your body in the perfect position if you are to hit the BEST POSSIBLE SHOT.

Of course, this only occurs when you are moving your feet correctly.

3) Maximize Your Potential

Above all else, improving your footwork means that you are giving yourself the best shot at playing your best tennis.

And if you repeatedly work on your footwork, YOUR ENTIRE GAME WILL IMPROVE as a result of better

  • Movement
  • Fitness, and
  • Agility

Trust me, I’ve seen the improvements this can have on players, and it is WELL WORTH going through the pain barrier.

Have you found this quick read useful? Do you have any specific footwork drills you’d like to share with our community? Let us know in the comments.

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