Balance In Tennis And How Queen Cleopatra Can Help

Apr 10

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!

Why Leaning Hurts Your Game

poor balance in tennis

Whenever we lean, we are slightly off balance

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.

The Perfect Posture For Dynamic Balance

perfect posture for balance

Roger Federer maintains this posture throughout the rally. Do you?

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.

Legs Are Slaves – The Queen Cleopatra Mental Image

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.

legs-work

Your legs are like slaves doing all the hard work while your arms are like the queen, being very comfortable. (Click on the image to see the video on YouTube.)

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!

Leave a Comment:

(27) comments

Slimane April 10, 2015

Brilliant, once again.

I also like to think of trying to “glide” on the court, like those folks whose long robes hide the moving legs. That means being on the ball of my feet and trying to move around smoothly.

Reply
    Tomaz April 11, 2015

    Thanks for another good mental image, Slimane: gliding!

    Reply
    Arthur Quinby April 12, 2015

    While I agree that to be smooth and not “jumpy” on the court and allow your legs to give you the strong foundation that you (and Roger) need to hit the ball on balance, but some of the time I am reacting to something the “other guy” did with the ball and I’m just trying to get the ball back in play.

    How can I get into position faster, or sooner?

    Thanks

    Q

    Reply
      Tomaz April 12, 2015

      Good question, Q, so very important to point out something:

      “Just get the ball back in play” tells your brain you only need to reach it.

      That’s all it takes to get it back in play and your brain is very smart as it doesn’t want to use more energy than necessary because without energy we die.

      So it conserves energy.

      What you need to tell your brain is “I want to hit a good, solid ball with a clean hit off my strings and make it land deep with pace”.

      Then your brain will realize that simply “reaching” the ball with arm cannot do what you want.

      You WILL need to get into position to hit a GOOD SHOT with pace over the net.

      Reply
Gene April 11, 2015

Makes so much sense. I especially like the part about when we lean we tense up our leg to balance and it tenses up our upper body. Thanks for another great tip!

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Camille Fischer April 11, 2015

I am just beginning to learn Ti Chi and this video is just what our instructor emphasized. Power is all about balance. This is a great visual example—THANKS Tomaz

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Emanuele April 11, 2015

Uh I’m pretty amazed. You really tell all the things that I understood by myself with hard work.. And improved my game dramatically. I imagine that my legs are wheels and carry my upper body in balance.
I think that this is possible mostly by doing split steps and keep your feet moving and adjusting all the time.

I Would really like to know your teaching about breathing then…

One more thing: I’m very tall and often coaches tell me to stay low…
I believe it helps but somehow being “less” low and more in balance (as Fognini does for example) makes me more relaxed and effective… Even though I probably still have to get this better…

Reply
    Tomaz April 11, 2015

    That’s also a good mental image, Emanuele, “wheels” carrying your upper body in balance.

    As for being low, you need to find your optimal “height” as it’s true that if you’re too low you may not feel relaxed and quick on your feet. Keep experimenting.

    Reply
Linda April 11, 2015

Thank you Tomaz for another great tip. The videos were most helpful in reinforcing what you explained.

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Aggie April 11, 2015

Hi and thank you for this useful video lesson…….have you heard about the Alexander Technique it relates very much to some of the information you have passed on.

Reply
    Tomaz April 11, 2015

    I have heard about it, Aggie, but never went deep into it. I do know that with better body awareness, we’ll perform technique better and balance better.

    Reply
Graham April 11, 2015

Tomaz once again you have hit the nail on the head! Last year I decided that I needed some professional input to my gym routine. I consulted a biokineticist. She did a complete assessment of my movements and concluded, inter alia, that my core needed strengthening and she developed a programme for me. After about two months I had moved from standing shakily of one leg for short periods to doing arm exercises standing on one leg on an upturned Bosu ball. The point of the story is that about four weeks into the programme my tennis coached wanted to know I had been up to that had improved my tennis so dramatically!
Incidentally I have seen a video of a young Roger Federer standing on a Bosu ball hitting volleys.
Thanks again and please keep these tips coming

Reply
    Tomaz April 11, 2015

    Thanks for sharing, Graham. Core strength and stability are so important for proper posture and balance in tennis – and not only for the pros but for everyone!

    Reply
KIshor April 12, 2015

Extremely useful tip. Now I know what basic mistake I make whilst playing tennis which drains my confidence subsequently.

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Chris Canfield April 12, 2015

In the US our culture has trouble with thinking of athletics and dance together, especially among men. But what you show reminds me of watching Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire dance with incredible core balance while the lower parts of their bodies moved with such complex grace. Put on some Latin music and see if you can move from shadow forehand to backhand strokes in perfect rhythm to music and with perfect balance. I love the way you emphasize these elements in all your lessons vs just static forms, Tomaz.

Reply
    Tomaz April 12, 2015

    Good dancers almost always know how to use their body efficiently in tennis. I wonder if the opposite holds true too? 😉

    Reply
Marcelo April 13, 2015

Jajaja, Cleopatra & Federer, great imagination Tomaz !!!
It´s a very clear image.
Thank you for your tip and for your imagination to build graphical explanations.
Best regards,

Reply
JJRey April 14, 2015

Thanks Thomas, fondamental elements of dynamic balance. The slaves and Queen Cleopatra image is very useful. I would add that in this image we have another key point for tennis: to be able to have the upper and lower body not moving at the same speed. The legs should move quickly while the arms do little and when in place the feet stay quick while the arms move quickly.

Reply
    Tomaz April 14, 2015

    Thanks, JJRey, good point on “separating” the arms and legs. Easier said than done – but important to keep in mind so you can work on that in the long term.

    Reply
Ken April 16, 2015

Hi Tomaz…

Thank you again, like always. Your instruction always cutting edge/just what I’m thinking about, where things are going, what I’m discovering…

I’ve seen some instruction from this fellow Faeisal Hassan who talks often about ‘eye training’ (he has a good pdf on exercises) – but really what he also discusses is how the body will always seek to stabilize the head/protect the brain. You cannot control this response; put yourself in a position at primary ‘risk’ (unbalanced head) and the higher level secondary task goals are diminished (bad lunging backhand)…

Oh – and another picture for this yin/yang being: think of a duck on water; appears top, calm, cool – nonchalant above; but below, webbed feet whirling about a mile a minute stabilizing everything…

Reply
    Tomaz April 17, 2015

    Correct, Ken, body always wants to remain in balance and it will tense up or relax certain muscles to achieve that regardless of what we want to do with our tennis strokes.

    That’s why we must not get into this off-balance position in the first place so that mind / body don’t tense up any part of the body which would prevent a smooth movement and a smooth stroke.

    And thanks, another good mental image for being in balance and having the legs do the hard work – the duck! 😉

    Reply
Frank Batmale November 17, 2015

Tomas I’m sold on Feel Tennis. Your instruction has really helped my game!

Sincerely,

Frank

Reply
    Tomaz November 18, 2015

    Great, thanks, Frank, stay in touch!

    Reply
Osamu November 19, 2015

Thanks Tomas for good article.You are great tennis coach.
This article works very much for me.

My name is Osamu,I have played tennis for ten years.
I didn’t know tension cause a lot of problem.
When I checked my body playing tennis,I found a lot of tension in my muscles.
When I tried to play the tennis being careful not to cause the tension in my muscles,I felt my strokes have improved and had consistency and control.

Reply
    Tomaz November 20, 2015

    Great, Osamu, the first step is awareness of the tensions in your body as soon as you do that, your body will naturally relax a bit.

    Reply
Riyadh April 27, 2017

Hi
I agree with finding the strike zone with your feet. Intensity start with the feet. When my feet move well I usually enjoy my game, especially when I’m split stepping.

I am more proactive. I look to take the ball on rather than waiting and striking the ball off balance.

The Spanish believe if your feet are always in the right position, you can play almost any shot.

Reply
    Tomaz April 27, 2017

    Movement is the name of the game!

    Reply
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