We usually strive for a straightforward answer but, you guessed it, it’s not that simple.

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Tennis players have to do many things well at the same time in order to be successful and footwork is just one part of the puzzle. How important depends but what does it depend on?

For one it is important to determine what your strengths and weaknesses are because that should affect your style of play, which then influences how much of a factor footwork really becomes for you.

Size Matters

Another aspect can be your size. If you are large (e.g. 6”4’/194cm or taller) then you tend to be less agile, meaning you are slower during change of direction, because you have a harder time maintaining dynamic equilibrium (balance) due to an elevation in the center of gravity (mass), which is one reason why you usually wouldn’t commit exclusively to baseline rallies.

Sandro EHRAT (SUI)

Sandro EHRAT (SUI)

Instead you have an advantage during the serve, which is why you could make it into a weapon, and you can cover more of the net, which means you are more likely to have an aggressive style of play.

But size and a great serve don’t mean much with regards to playing aggressive if you cannot volley properly, which illustrates that footwork is important but not exclusively the deciding factor.

When you are smaller you tend to be quicker and agility should be your strength if you don’t carry too much dead weight with you; footwork becomes more of a factor!

You probably still want to develop a weapon so that you have the ability to end points quicker because that is important with regards to the longevity of your career.

If you are simply a ball machine then winning consecutive matches over the duration of years becomes extremely difficult unless you take exceptional care of your body.

Body Composition – What Are You Made Off?

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Body composition is something you are born with and it can determine what kind of an athlete you are going to be, meaning is your body predisposed for endurance or power? This can be dictated for example by the body’s muscle fiber consistency.

In other words, what is your body predominantly made off? Fast-twitch muscle fibers or slow-twitch muscle fibers? This will also have an affect on the efficiency and capabilities of your energy system contributions, which can determine how fast you can move and/or for how long!

So now you know why size and body composition matter but what about how you want to play?

“Are you a big server, baseline player or do you prefer serve-and-volley?”

Why Style of Play Determines Importance of Footwork in Tennis

If you have a strong serve like Goran Ivanisevic, John Isner or Ivo Karlovic then who needs to run? Their serve is such a huge weapon that the rallies are so short that footwork becomes less of an issue with regards to winning matches. By the way, did you know that developing the core will affect how fast your serve is going to be?

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On the other hand, if you play serve-and-volley like Stefan Edberg then you must have fast feet and the ability to rush quickly towards the net and move all over to defend against passing shots or lobs, which means you must be able to change direction and move quickly in multiple directions, including backpedalling.

Now if you are a baseline player then footwork becomes very important because you need to either defend well or play more aggressive and own the court.

Either way you need to be fast and develop good agility and endurance. Having good footwork also allows you to have more time available, which allows you to:

  1. place the balls better
  2. hit different spins
  3. be more relaxed
  4. cover more of the court

The list goes on and on but I think you get the picture – improving your movement capabilities is important.

How to Know What to Improve and How to Do It?

Well, if you don’t know what to improve then you can do certain performance tests that will give you a better idea. You can check out chapter 4 “Performance Testing for Athletes” for detailed test descriptions and find out how to correct problems with fitness testing or how to train to improve power.

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Tennis Footwork Drills

Improving tennis-specific footwork can be accomplished with a variety of different exercises, such as:

  • speed ladder drills
  • hurdles
  • speed drills
  • agility drills
  • quickness drills

but before you focus on moving as fast as possible it would be a great idea to focus on movement mechanics and form first because once you have perfect technique then you won’t waste any energy for undesirable action, which allows you to move faster and for a longer period of time.

Speed Ladder Drills


Speed ladder drills and hurdles are great for targeting stride length and developing speed economy.

Speed ladder drills allow you to work on tennis-specific movement mechanics, such as:

And you can even integrate speed ladder drills into your on-court tennis training.

Agility Drills

Agility drills are fun and can be done right on the tennis court. Find out how to develop agility but if you are not interested in more information but want to dive into some fun drills then watch the following video where we introduce you to 3 simple agility drills.

Whoop There It Is

By now you should have plenty of ideas and exercises to work with. Bookmark the page so you can refer back to it whenever you want or share the information with your friends.

Remember, champions find a way, others find excuses! So go out there, try some of the exercises and have fun with your workout!

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Click on the picture to go to our YouTube channel!

About 

Content crafter at Tennis Conditioning. You can find me on the ITF/WTA/ATP tour coaching tennis players or online writing about tennis, strength & conditioning, exercise science or health-related issues. Champions find a way, losers find excuses!

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