Tennis today is played at a much faster pace than ever before. The demands on a player to move faster place tremendous importance on fitness, speed and anticipation. I teach a system of movement that involves all three of those requirements and some more.
There are 3 main parts I try to teach my students when working on court anticipation and movement:
Here are the 3 parts explained in more detail.
In today’s fast paced game it is essential that player’s are able to anticipate where the ball will go to some degree. Observation is the most important aspect of anticipating well. Anticipation requires a player to read their opponents preferences, swing patterns, and get a quick read on the direction of the ball. It’s then time to move!
I ask my players to observe the moment of contact at the other end of the court. The moment the opponent makes contact with the ball should be observed closely because once the ball has been struck we can’t afford to waste a second.
Once my students have started observing the opponents contact I have them create a “Skip Check”. The skip check is a soft lift off the ground. You see this skip check with good returners of the serve, without it the quick movement to the left or the right is not possible. Today, the pace of the groundstroke game demands the same explosiveness as the return of serve and therefore we must add the skip check to our general baseline game. The skip check should be synchronized at the exact moment of contact at the other end of the court.
This links observation to an action. Without an action the observation gets lazy and the player sees no reason to use time or effort to watch for the opponents moment of contact.
Action (the skip check) also needs a function or it is also meaningless. The purpose of the skip check is to create an explosive start to the movement on landing, if it is required.
While the player is airborne the ball starts its path back from the opponent’s racquet and we would now know where we need to run for the next stroke. This is the key to the skip check, you are about to land on the ground knowing which direction you move next. From the landing the direction to move can now be anticipated and through pre-innovation the movement can be explosive and accurate.
We have now added an action to our observation which makes us much quicker on-court.
We have covered the movement to the ball and this will certainly improve once the skip check becomes calibrated to the opponents contact and the two become instinctual.
However, if you leave your player with just observation and reaction skills you haven’t done them justice because the rally lasts a lot longer today and players are expected to get many more balls back during the average rally. They need a way to recover for the next ball.
Recovery needs to involve the best way to run at full speed to a wide ball and return from that position to cover the court as best you can.
The way to achieve this is by “Flipping the Spine”. FTS means that you enter the strike zone with your spine in an optimal position, create the Line at the moment of contact and position the spine in an optimal way to recover back to a central place on the court.
In this first picture you see Rafi moving towards the wide ball at speed. His spine is angled towards the side fence.
The 2nd picture, the contact, shows Rafi creating the Line. The Line is the optimal point of balance and transfer of energy from the ground (in this case through Rafi’s right toe).
Together this system of Observation, Reaction and Recovery has all the elements a player needs for on-court movement in today’s fast paced game.