Being balanced while playing tennis is extremely important as only then can we swing smoothly and control the ball well.
But often, players are not really well-balanced as they lean a lot and try to adjust to the ball with the upper body and their arms. This pulls them off balance.
The cause for that is that, in our daily life, we do most of the adjustments exactly like that – by leaning slightly and using our arms.
We need to become aware of this habit first and work to change it so that we learn to adjust with legs on the court, stay on balance, and keep our arms very comfortable.
Special thanks to PJ Simmons for letting me use the Federer clip!
If we lean and adjust to the ball with the upper body and arms, we will lose balance slightly.
That doesn’t mean that we’ll fall, but as we lean in any direction with the upper body, our mind and body will try to keep us in balance by tensing certain muscles.
You can try to feel that right now at home: stand up straight and check how you feel in your legs.
Now lean forward slightly (bend at your waist) but keep your feet where they were.
You will feel tension arise in your legs. Your body needs to contract these muscles in order to maintain the same position.
This tension causes a lot of problems when you play:
First, it prevents smooth movement and soft deceleration when you’re setting up for the shot.
Second, it starts to affect your upper body and arms, and you cannot swing smoothly anymore; therefore, you accelerate with a jerky movement and lose control of the ball.
Finally, when we lean, we change the racquet angle. The racquet also leans with us – BUT we don’t feel that!
The wrist is still in the same position relative to the racquet, and this is our main “sensor” telling us whether the racquet is open or closed.
When we lean, that angle in the hand doesn’t change, but the actual racquet angle in relation to the ground does.
So, we see so many times players miss the shot not because of incorrect technique, but simply because they were leaning towards the ball when it was low and in front of them. They didn’t really feel that the racquet was closed, so they hit in the net.
Then they usually blame the stroke technique and look for solutions far away from the actual cause of the mistake.
If we want to change direction quickly in tennis, we need to be in an athletic position.
In other words, we need to maintain certain posture throughout the rally that allows us to feel very stable and at the same time allow us quick accelerations, decelerations and changes of direction.
Most players that I see are being way too upright and are therefore unable to accelerate quickly when the ball is short for example, nor can they control their balance when they run to the side and need to slow down for the shot.
Because they are too upright, they are “thrown” in the direction of their movement and need a long time to recover.
I’ve used a clip of Roger Federer in the video above but I guarantee you that every pro maintains this posture as they play.
If you watch carefully, you will see that he maintains the upper body “tilt” even when he prepares for his shots – and from this side we can see that best when he prepares for his backhands.
I highly recommend you watch that Federer clip over and over again and try and copy his posture when you play tennis next time.
In order to hit consistent and accurate shots, we need to be balanced.
That means we must not lean and adjust with the upper body but instead do all the adjusting with our legs.
If we’re not used to that, it will feel at first that the legs do really hard work.
That’s why I like to explain this as imagining Queen Cleopatra in Egypt being carried on a litter by four slaves.
They have do to the hard work while she is sitting comfortably on her soft chair.
The slaves correspond to your legs, and your arms should feel like Queen Cleopatra.
If you really want to play better, you’ll need to stop feeling sorry for your legs and do whatever it takes to get into a good position before the hit. That way, you don’t have to lean and adjust anymore with your upper body and arms.
Pay attention to the little feels of being off balance and work on eliminating them so that, as you move and set up for your strokes, you feel very stable and comfortable without any tension in your legs.
Yes, legs must work, but the feeling of working hard with our legs is different from the tension that arises when we’re off balance.
Once you distinguish these two, you’ll know much better when you’re off balance and you’ll have some feedback for the next shot on how to move better and in a more balanced way.
So, in a quick summary – test now how it feels when you stand, lean slightly, and become off balance.
Remember that tension in your legs.
Then, when you rally with your partner, pay attention to determine if that feeling of tension in your legs that signals being off balance returns.
If it does, know you were not balanced. You were probably leaning and adjusting with your upper body.
Next time, imagine your upper body as Queen Cleopatra and your legs as slaves that must bring her to the ball so that she can hit very comfortably. 😉
Then come back and let us know how that worked for you!