Tennis footwork for older players is a secret weapon!
If you watch any of the leading pros, you will notice that, despite the pace of the shots they have to deal with, they normally look well balanced when hitting the ball. Having a balanced posture enables them to hit with control and power.
The contrast with typical club players is quite substantial. Watch a game at your local club and you will tend to see some nice stroke mechanics rarely producing great outcomes. The reason for this is that the players are frequently off balance and out of position. The key to improving this is better footwork.
There are many different types of footwork pattern which can be effective, and there is certainly no point in attempting to be prescriptive. Looking at the world’s leading players, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Medvedev all have very different ways of moving around the court and positioning themselves for shots, all of which work well in most conditions. If a coach had tried to force Medvedev to learn to move in the same way Federer does, it probably would not have gone well.
The same is true at all levels and ages. Technique is also a factor as, for example, players with a single-handed backhand need to prepare for shots and position themselves differently from someone with a two-hander. Young players will tend to use different technique, and even different racquets, from older players, and, given their youth and added flexibility, their movement patterns may be quite different from those of seniors.
With this in mind, I will look at what to focus on in terms of tennis footwork for older players.
How Footwork Changes As You Age
As you move up through the age groups in the world of tennis, your speed and nimbleness diminishes. If you still attempt to move in the same way you did when you were in your twenties, you will find yourself consistently out of position, and unable to hit the ball as powerfully or accurately as you would like. A young player, on a slow court, might position themselves well behind the baseline and hit heavily topspun shots.
In order to be successful doing this, they will need to cover a lot of ground, because any angled shots will have travelled to a greater width by the time the player reaches them than if they were positioned close to the baseline.
As long as they are fast and able to get their feet into an appropriate position, they can present a fairly effective ‘wall’ this way, making it very difficult for an opponent to hit through them. This speed will also be crucial in retrieving any drop shots, as their opponent is likely to play more of these if they see the player remaining a long way back.
As you move through your 50s and 60s, the kind of tactic described above becomes more and more difficult to execute. If you lose speed, wider balls will be tough to deal with, and a good drop shot will suddenly seem a very long way away. If your footwork around the ball deteriorates, aggressive shots from deep positions will rarely be possible, and you will find yourself playing almost exclusively defensively, which will rarely be effective against competent opponents.
How Can Older Players Make Their Footwork More Effective?
There are no specific footwork patterns which will work for everyone, but there has been one constant theme running through my articles on this site: EFFICIENCY.
As you get older, you cannot afford to be as inaccurate and energy-intensive in your footwork as you used to be, as you will lack the capacity to correct quickly as well as the flexibility to play shots from poor positions.
Instead, you will need to devise a way to be in the right place earlier and more frequently.
Two key points which will enable you to do this are:
1. Stay Close To The Baseline
Instead of taking up a deep position, take the ball earlier and position yourself as far forward as you can. You will not normally be able to impart as much spin this way, but you will cut down the angles and will not need to run anything like as far as if you stand further back.
The other key advantage of positioning yourself this way is the fact that, by not allowing the ball to travel so far, you can return the ball to the other end of the court more quickly, thus rushing your opponent and allowing you to take the initiative. In addition, you will have more chance of reaching drop-shots, and you will have the option of moving in to the net to finish off points.
2. Anticipate The Path Of The Ball
If you are not as fast as you once were, the way to give yourself the best chance of being in position to play your shots is to start moving earlier. You may think that running as soon as you have worked out where a shot is heading is the best you can do, but usually this is not the case.
Most club players pay little attention to what is going on on the other side of the net, and simply try to work out the spin and trajectory of the ball as it approaches. However, if you are observant, you will be able to work out where your opponent is aiming to hit the ball, and with what spin, at a much earlier stage, simply from their positioning and preparation.
As soon as you have a good idea of what is coming, you can begin to move in the correct direction and mentally prepare for the expected pace and spin. Your opponent will find it disconcerting once you become good at this, as, without retreating, you will always seem to ‘be there‘ when they hit a shot.
Many good senior players are highly skilled at moving in the correct direction at a very early stage, and this enables them to win a lot of matches without expending an enormous amount of energy.
Additional Tips – POSITIONING
The most important thing for inexperienced players is to avoid focusing too much on the swing they have been practising, and not enough on their POSITIONING.
For most shots, they will need to give themselves sufficient space in order to play freely, so it is imperative that, whenever there is time, they try to insert a deceleration into their movement to allow them to assess their position in relation to the flight of the ball. This need only be very brief, but it may prevent them from running too close to the ball.
Older players may find that, however early they start moving, there are occasions when they cannot get their feet in the ideal position in time. Whilst this is not helpful, it need not be disastrous.
There are 2 things which can mitigate the effect of a less-than-ideal stance.
- You can ensure that your upper body gets into a good position. An early shoulder turn can often make it easier to play a shot from any position.
- As you age, you may need to compromise your principles a little in terms of technique. For example, a sliced forehand can be played from much closer, further away, or lower than a more orthodox topspin. With a little sidespin built in it can be an extremely effective shot in its own right, and can easily be converted into a drop-shot or lob with almost the same preparation. The same applies to the sliced backhand. So, if you are struggling to get into position, use more slice.
Training For Tennis Footwork
Much of the speed and agility training described elsewhere on this site will be extremely helpful in enabling you to maintain and improve your footwork as you age. Plyometric exercises such as skipping will enhance your ability to stay light on your feet during long matches. The following exercises are specific to the kind of movements you might perform when playing a shot, and could be helpful additions to your programme.
– Holding your racquet, adopt an open stance. Split-step, bend your knees and prepare as though to hit a forehand. Swing the racquet without a ball. Next, take a step to your right during the preparation phase and repeat the action.
– Again without a ball, but holding your racquet, set up for a forehand in a closed stance. Split-step, turn on your right foot and swing, stepping forward through the imaginary shot. Next, repeat this, but ensure that your right hip is brought forward as you hit the imaginary shot, so that your hips are in line with the baseline.
These drills can be done with a ball in conjunction with a partner when you have mastered the basics. The objective, as mentioned above, is efficiency. You should not need to make too many minor adjustments.
Tennis Footwork For Older Players Summary
Older players are not likely to be able to move faster or more nimbly than young players. However, they can move smarter, using their experience and powers of observation to anticipate what is coming.
They should try to move efficiently, positioning themselves close to the baseline, and practising eliminating unnecessary movements.
Focusing on early preparation with the upper body and avoiding getting too close to the ball will also help.
Perhaps the most valuable tool for the older player could be a mastery of sliced groundstrokes, which are very effective and less dependent upon precise positioning.
That’s all about Tennis Footwork For Older Players.
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