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Quickness to the Ball, the Split Step,
and Monica Seles
Tennis is about moving and hitting, but somehow hitting gets all the attention. Our predominant impressions of the modern game are of the power and the topspin. Further, the modern racquet designs increase yet again even more power and more topspin, with what seems to be an endless stream of truly incredible technological breakthroughs.
But the other, perhaps unspoken, side of the street is footwork. And the recent French Open results underscore the importance of movement and footwork The players with superior footwork (Federer, Henin-Hardenne, Nadal) displayed a consistent advantage. These players are all dancers – gliding and then sprinting, and sliding, always in position (or nearly always), always on balance, always appearing unhurried. And just as footwork may be the unspoken element in tennis, I believe equally that the split step is the overlooked element in footwork. Besides the serve, before anything happens on a tennis court, the first issue is what you are doing when the opponent hits, and then how quickly you can get started on your way to the ball. Sounds simple, but there is more to this story.
I attended my first USTA Tennis Teachers Conference in New York in 1985. Nick Bollitieri gave a presentation on his academy and teaching methods, and while he spoke, a young girl and her older brother rallied the ball back and forth on the ballroom floor of the Roosevelt hotel. Nick spoke, they rallied. After 15 minutes it occurred to me that neither player had missed. They were 15 minutes into a rally without an error. As they continued and finally Nick finished, he took a moment to introduce the two players, 11 year old Monica Seles and her brother. He told us to remember her name. I did. And what a career she had - $14,891,762 in prize money, 595 professional singles victories. Her season ending singles rankings were # 1 in 1991, 1992 and 1995. She won 53 singles titles; including the US Open in 1991 and 1992, the French Opens in 1990, 1991, and 1992, and the Australian Open in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1996.
Figure 1: Splitting after contact
Well what does this have to do with footwork? In my book Monica Seles moved as quickly and effortlessly as anyone who has ever played the game. Two-handers are supposed to have limited reach, and when she hit with two hands on both sides we might suspect she would not get to everything, or at least be reaching or off-balance.
Players who hit the ball quite hard have reduced recovery time as the ball crosses the net and returns more quickly than would occur with a defensive player – and remember no one hit the ball any harder than Monica.
And finally, compared to the muscular athleticism we see on the women's tour today, Monica was not a super human specimen – she appeared physically unremarkable. Well that said, how then did she move so well? The story is told in her knack for the split-step and how she converted this floating move into a sudden yet effortless start, time and time again.
Figure 2: Reading the ball and the one-legged landing
I have read that the game evolves with the players, and teachers are a few years behind the curve, finally sharing these breakthroughs with their players only after the ideas have been digested (read resisted and misunderstood).
Well Seles employed two moves that have only recently entered the teaching lexicon – the one-legged split-step landing, and the open stance running recovery – both of which are evident in the accompanying photos.
A More Detailed Look
Figure 3: Hip turn and running steps
Video analysis is great for studying dynamic flow of the entire stroke, but viewing each stroke element in still photos gives us the opportunity to study each element a little more thoroughly.
Monica splits a moment after the opponent's contact (figure 1). Note the feet are spread wider than her shoulders and her posture is absolutely vertical. She has not committed to either the forehand or backhand, but is rather neutral as she waits to read the ball .
Reading the ball and the one-legged landing
Figure 4: Open stance running recovery
Seles has read the direction of the ball, and initiates her movement to the left (figure 2)). She has landed on her right leg only. The resulting dynamic imbalance gets her started to the ball.
Hip turn and running steps
Monica has swiveled her hips to the forehand (figure 3) as she drops or pulls the left foot beneath her. There has been no wasted effort, no sidestepping, no hopping, just a quick gravity turn followed by running steps .
Open stance running recovery
Monica finishes her movement to the corner stopping on her outside foot (figure 4), in this case the left foot. Now the right foot is suspended, and as she turns back to the center of the court she essentially reverses the gravity turn that brought her initially to the ball
Running to recover
Figure 5: Running to recover
Monica is off again, back to center, looking to finish the point (figure 5).
There's much more to be said about footwork — please see my more detailed article in this issue of TennisOne.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
(Click link to purchase Jim's McLennan's Secrets of World Class Footwork Video
Splitting – What, Why, When, How, and Where
Readiness when the opponent hits the ball may be the most critical element within the game of tennis. The modern game has become associated with tremendous topspin, and booming ground strokes. But look past the topspin and the power and you'll see dance like footwork that is sometimes furious and sometimes gliding - a constant and continuous readiness each and every time the opponent hits. Jim McLennan
Motivation to Change
If we want to improve our games or lives in anyway, some change is required, and that involves motivation. In this in-depth article, Sports Psychology Consultant, Jeff Greenwald, M.A., MFT, explains what lies beneath motivation and how we can find the strength and courage to reach our goals on and off the court.
Click here to listen to Jeff Greenwald's introduction to this article.
ProStrokes Gallery: Maria Sharapova - Serve
The reigning Princess of the tennis world, Maria was groomed by the legendary coach, Robert Lansdorp. She plays a big game, never temporizing, always looking to move forward, and competing fiercely for every point. And this month, Sharapova is poised to capture the Number One ranking. If so, she will be the fourth youngest woman to hold the top spot in computer rankings history. A pretty heady position for this ambitious Russian with the booming groundstrokes. New this issue - The Sharapova serve.
Product Highlights: Pro Tech Video Analysis
The Pro Tech Video Analysis system is the industry's premier video analysis service. Pro Tech puts your strokes side-by-side with the strokes of three professional players, providing a detailed graphical analysis of your strokes compared to the reference points of these top pros. This invaluable visual comparison, combined with the detailed analysis by a current tour professional coach, offers the most advanced and unique learning environment in tennis. Pro Tech will store your video lessons for two years on your own web page, so you and your coach can evaluate your progress from anywhere in the world. TennisOne members receive a 10% discount.
Jeff Greenwald - Fearless Tennis
Feel you're playing tentatively and know that you have greater potential than you're demonstrating in tournaments? This one of a kind, double- CD audio program, FearlessTennnis: The 5 Mental Keys To Unlocking Your Potential, will help you compete with confidence, close out matches and is a great way to get the mental edge en route to a tournament.
Schedule Jeff Greenwald to Speak
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