The split step also known as the “hop step or “jump step” is a very important- often overlooked- area of footwork. With a complete understanding of the split step, a player will perform this action many times throughout a point, and a countless amount of times throughout a match. While the importance of the split step can not be stressed enough, it is still a very under used tool in the footwork toolbox. Without a doubt, the split step has a definite place on the tennis court and should have a top spot in any tennis player’s game.
Most of the time, a spilt step is performed with the intent to help a player compose themselves in order to better focus on the ball. Prefect examples of this are the return of serve, and right after a player has hit an approach shot. After the approach shot is hit, a player will fallow the shot in and “split steps” right before he or she receive the volley. What both of these actions demand is the ability to focus on the ball, and make a play on that ball in transition. Not necessarily an easy task to perform.
The return of serve is considered by many, to be the most important shot in tennis- second only to the serve. That said, supreme concentration is required when performing this shot; a loss of concentration is inevitable if the feet are not set while the ball is being struck. One may hop around on their toes, or they may bend their knees and rock sided to side; regardless of the routine, a player should always spit step right before the return is actually made. This will increase a player’s concentration level greatly, which in turn, will increase the chances of a successful shot being made.
Going back to the approach shot: A shallow ball will draw a player in from the baseline, forcing them to make a play in transition. This will test a players footwork and concentration, essentially testing them on the move. If the ball is hit towards the player while he or she is moving into the net, one should stop immediately and split step to gather themselves. Let me be clear, the approach shot itself does not require a split step- right after the approach shot, however, a player should spilt step before making a play.
To perform a split step, one should simply “hop”, then “set” the feet down firmly. The feet should be about shoulder width apart, if not a bit wider. A slight bend in the knees will lower the body center of gravity, and increase a players balance on the court. This action also loads power in the quadriceps preliminarily- this power can then be unloaded into the ball for added power.
For some players this maybe a saving grace, offering a quick fix to erratic serves returns and errant approach shots. I guarantee this will improve any players footwork immediately, and help a player better control the ball on the move. Try it some time.