The First Step To Mastering All Tennis Stances

Feb 26

If you’re struggling with a certain stance in your tennis game – for example, an open stance forehand – it’s very likely that you’re missing one fundamental piece of the puzzle.

It’s very easy to get too analytical and therefore confused with different tennis stances because there are neutral (or squared), closed, open, semi-open and a few other stances that you may have heard about when learning about footwork in tennis.

But, if we go beyond the complexity of stances and look at the fundamental biomechanics, we see that they are all based on just one of two abilities: pushing off your left leg or pushing off your right leg.

neutral and open tennis stance

There is always one leg that’s more dominant from which we push off

If you’re struggling with a certain stance, then take a step back and first diagnose the source of the problem and then practice the drills that will help you overcome it.

The No Stance Fundamentals – Hitting Off Left And Off Right Leg

Whether we play a forehand or a backhand, we always use one leg more to stabilize and push off the ground than the other.

Using both legs equally at the same time almost never happens.

That’s why you must first check whether you’re comfortable hitting off either leg.

That means that you feel balanced, stable and coordinated, and you can hit with good power while feeling comfortable.

Your first drill, which is also a diagnostics test, is to just drop hit the ball and hit it one time from a neutral stance forehand and one time from an open stance forehand.

neutral stance forehand

Hit a neutral stance forehand and then…

You can keep alternating hitting off these two stances and compare how you feel and how well you can hit the ball.

open stance forehand

… hit an open stance forehand and compare how you feel.

It is likely that you will feel more comfortable hitting off one stance than off the other one.

I most often see players being more comfortable hitting in neutral stance than playing an open stance forehand, so I will concentrate on that example. However, the logic of this article applies to all stance combinations.

If you’re not feeling comfortable hitting in open stance when just dropping the ball to yourself, then surely you won’t be comfortable or able to hit with efficient power when you’re stretched out wide and having to play an open stance forehand.

So, your first step is really to learn how to engage that outside leg and use it well to hit an open stance forehand.

Basic Drills For Improving Leg Drive

The following drills will help you first become more aware of which is your dominant leg for each stroke. Second, they will improve your ability to push off each leg and maintain good balance while hitting a stroke.

1. Call Out Your Dominant Leg

This drill is best done first during mini tennis where you just rally with your partner and your goal is to call out the leg off which you’re playing your forehand now.

By “playing off,” I mean the leg on which you transfer your weight and stabilize while hitting your forehand.

tennis stance drill

The first “step” is to just become aware of the dominant leg

This drill may seem too simple, yet I have found many times that adult recreational tennis players are not well aware of their dominant leg when I ask them to call it out when they rally with me during a mini tennis match.

It takes a minute or two for them to really become clear on what it means that one leg is always more dominant than the other.

A variation of this drill is to have the player lift the non-dominant leg when hitting the ball, which will make it very obvious to them which is the dominant leg.

Again, try it and you’ll see whether this is really clear to you or you are trying to lift one leg in the air without knowing why you’re doing it. 😉

2. Catch And Throw On One Leg

This drill is best done with a medicine ball (about 2 kg is usually enough). Your task is to stand on one leg and catch and then throw the medicine ball in a dynamic manner so that your leg bends when you catch and extends when you throw.

open stance drill by catching

This drill will teach your leg really quickly what it means to load and push off

If you don’t have a medicine ball, you can also try with a full bottle of water which will weigh around 1.5 kg.

I recommend 5-8 repetitions on one leg before switching to the other one and in total 3-4 sets.

Make sure that you don’t just bend down when you catch the ball. Your back should be straight and your upper body should rotate back and forth while you load and extend the leg.

You can use all 4 leg variations (forehand & backhand + left leg & right leg) if you’re working with a junior or working in a more long-term developmental approach.

Otherwise, just focus on hitting off the leg which you don’t feel so well.

3. Step On A Stair, Push Off And Swing

This is one of my favorite drills that develops the leg drive and coordination of legs and arms for tennis strokes because it literally forces you to execute it correctly.

Your task is to step on a stair and push off and extend your leg while coordinating that with your swing.

tennis leg drive drill

One of my favorite drills to work on “stances” and leg drive

I suggest you start first with a neutral stance, which means a right-hander playing a forehand will step up on a stair with his left leg.

Once you feel good coordination between your legs and arms and really understand what it means to push off, then switch to the open stance variation where you’ll step up on the stair with your right leg and swing your forehand as you extend it.

You can again use all 4 combinations for your legs and even find creative ways of combining them in order to keep the exercises interesting.

4. Hit Off One Leg

Hitting off one leg – meaning that your other leg is off the ground – really exaggerates the idea of using one leg as a dominant one and again forces your body to feel what it means to engage one leg more when hitting a forehand.

You can just drop feed to yourself while standing on your left leg first (for right-handers). Then hit your forehand and see if you can stay balanced.

open stance tennis forehand drill

Hitting off one leg develops balance, leg drive and legs / arms coordination

Your goal here is not to hit with full power but to feel that you bent and extended your leg while hitting the forehand and were able to maintain balance.

Hit 5-10 forehands like that and then try the open stance where you stand only on your right leg.

Check how it feels and whether you are comfortable and able to hit with efficient power and still maintain balance.

If this is your weaker shot, then just focus more on that.

I often ask players to hit a few forehands off their “better” leg too so that they have a reference “feel” and can compare how the stroke should feel when they play off their “weaker” leg.

You can also have a coach throw you the ball. This is a bit more challenging, but it helps you work on your timing of the loading and unloading in relation to the incoming ball.

Summary

Playing an open stance forehand (or backhand) can be challenging for some players because there is no real weight transfer, so the players don’t feel how to transfer energy from their body into the ball.

In neutral and closed stance forehands, we load the right leg first.

Then we transfer weight to the left one and we also push off the left leg – so the weight transfer into the ball is very easy to feel. It’s similar to how we walk.

But, in a typical open stance forehand, we load the right leg and then we push off that same leg. There is no weight transfer but rather a load and unload process which is not so easy to coordinate with the arm on the same side of the body!

I have found in my working with adult recreational tennis players that most of them do not execute the open stance forehands well because they don’t feel this loading and pushing off with the outside leg and they have trouble finding good coordination with their upper body and the hitting arm.

While players do play an open stance, their legs are usually very straight and they get no power from them.

I have found that using the fundamental drills often used with juniors that develop basic biomechanics of the body also helps adults develop those abilities in a relatively short amount of time.

junior tennis drill

Drills for improving biomechanics of juniors work really well with adults too

So, if you feel that an open stance forehand doesn’t feel very comfortable or powerful and that you are often leaning back or losing your balance, then make sure you practice the drills described above regularly until your brain and body learn how to generate efficient power off that outside leg.

This will improve your open stance forehand considerably better and faster than watching a video of another coach analyzing to the smallest detail an open stance forehand of an ATP tennis player.

Leave a Comment:

(29) comments

Kishor February 26, 2017

VERY NICE SUGGESTION

Reply
john February 26, 2017

Hi Tomaz – as always your videos/text on everything is so well done.

But can you just confirm to folk out there reading this – when you use the different stances…I know this but think it would be great coming from you..

Regards and keep up the good work – your info is 100 times better than other tennis instructional sites out there.
John

Reply
    Tomaz February 26, 2017

    Thanks a lot, John.

    When I use stances? Consciously I do not make any choice and you shouldn’t either.

    We can only say when certain stance happens more often:

    – neutral stance – lower and shorter balls, when approaching the net or when going down the line if you have time to set up

    – open stance – faster and higher balls, deep balls, when moving to the side or backward, or when running around the backhand to play a forehand

    Is this what you had in mind?

    Reply
claudia February 26, 2017

Great instruction (as usual). Your ability to simplify and highlight the fundamentals is impressive.

Reply
Jorg Rauthe February 26, 2017

I love your comments and videos; they are all well done and easy to understand. My 2 favorite websites are yours as well as Jorge Capestany and also my local Dir. of Tennis. Both of your approaches are no-nonsense and to the point with no hype. I am a PTR certified tennis instructor and appreciate your concise explanations. I got hooked on your site because I wanted to develop more finesse shots and not all power game which I already have. Keep up the good work. – Jorg

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Jeanne stasny February 26, 2017

You are an amazing teacher and I learn SO Much from you.

I look forward to every video.

Thank you for giving us this gift of your knowledge and wonderful teaching ability so it’s easy to understand and make real changes in our game.

I really don’t have words to tell you how much I appreciate it.

Sincerely
Jeanne stasny
DALLAS Texas

Reply
    Tomaz February 26, 2017

    Thanks for the wonderful feedback, Jeanne!

    I’ll do my best to post more interesting tennis ideas!

    Reply
Anne February 26, 2017

Dear Tomaz:

Thanks for your excellent tips with regards to hitting off both legs…

Most important in improving my ability to prepare for different types of incoming balls.

Anne

Reply
    Tomaz February 26, 2017

    Yes, Anne, if you can push of either leg and hit a good shot then you can handle all types of balls from all types of stances.

    Cheers.

    Reply
Tom February 26, 2017

Tomaz-
My problem occurs when a semi-open stance ‘happens’. Where is the proper axis of rotation? Equally between both feet? If I continue pushing/pulling my weight over my left foot, the result is often pulling away from the ball. Advice?

Reply
    Tomaz February 27, 2017

    Hi Tom,

    Semi-open stance allows you to transfer weight to your left OR play it like an open stance and rotate around your right leg. (for right-handers)

    So you need to choose which one is it and whether it’s the right one for that specific situation.

    You can end up in semi-open by moving to the right or to the left and that’s a different weight transfer.

    You can also send me a video and I’ll take a look…

    Reply
Szabadíts Ödön February 26, 2017

Hi Tomaz,
I allways wait for your new video with great interest.
These are very good articles and videos.
But,I have a very important question. What is the influence of the several stances about the backbone, about the health?

Ödi

Reply
    Tomaz February 27, 2017

    Thanks, Ödi!

    Open stance is definitely more taxing to the body because we a creating coiling (or torque) in the body.

    You can of course play it in a more easy way and not twist too much.

    The one negative of the neutral and closed stances is that they put pressure on the knee towards the end of the stroke when we are rotating but the foot stays on the ground.

    So it’s good to release the foot soon after we hit the ball so that the knee is relieved of torque.

    Reply
kam.mafi February 26, 2017

hallo Tomaz- it is a a very useful article about stances & the information given can help to overcome any particular trouble, with one stance by switching to another one.
kam,

Reply
emmanuel February 26, 2017

Thank you thomaz for this wonderful drills I know it will be useful for every tennis players who would like to level up their forehand stroke…

Reply
Bakthan February 27, 2017

Simple and logical explanation of different stances and the drills to practice them.

You have mastered the methodology of teaching the fundamentals that is so lucid even for a tennis dummy like myself!

Bakthan Savarirayan,M.d

Reply
    Tomaz February 27, 2017

    Glad that you liked the simplicity of these drills, Bakthan!

    That’s what also makes them very effective, especially if you repeat them regularly for a couple of weeks.

    Reply
Tom M. February 28, 2017

Tomaz,
The one handed open stance is used rarely at the rec level like you mentioned, but I tend to avoid it rather than work on it. Do you have any pointers, such as try to step on the inside part of the right leg (I’m a lefty) to have a little better leverage? Thanks–TMc

Reply
    Tomaz February 28, 2017

    Hi Tom,

    I would say that the foot must be flat on the ground and not on any side of the foot “sole”.

    Only then you’ll be well balanced. We use the term “plant the foot” often to describe it.

    So if you want to avoid open stance backhands just speed up your footwork so you can squeeze in that left leg in front even when there’s less time.

    Reply
ric February 28, 2017

Tomaz, yours is a clever way for people to play in a way they would deem more comfortable, which may be an ingrained habit that they had for years and is difficult to change. It’s also a practical way to find, if they are observant, what would be most natural and efficient way to hit a stroke (plus some emergencies situations in which it doesn’t matter on which foot you land).

I would only add that a change in balance can generate power as well and that a change in balance and pushing up can help your game when you are being challenged in different ways, whether made to run and return to cover the court or with balls that are served deliberately to your body.

Thanks for your contribution to our sport.

Reply
    Tomaz February 28, 2017

    Thanks for sharing, Ric, much appreciated!

    Here’s more info on the weight transfer for those interested in that topic too.

    Reply
Roger February 28, 2017

Hi Tomaz, I always say that three factors have influenced my improvement since I started playing tennis 16 months ago: 2 videos of Tomaz: Intention, How to keep a still head at contact (including Oscar Wegener’s book) and The Inner book Game of Tennis by Tim Gallwey (supress judment, let it go, images, concentration).

All your videos like this and insights are enlightening. Now I begin to understand the title of your site: Feel Tennis.

You are the best. Thank you very much. Hugs from Brazil.

Reply
    Tomaz March 1, 2017

    Great, thanks for sharing, Roger!

    More FeelTennis videos on the way, stay tuned and all the best to Brazil!

    Reply
Joe g March 1, 2017

Great aha moments with the stepping up the stairs. Thank you for continuing your paradigm of simplicity and fundamental biomechanics

Reply
Alicia March 2, 2017

Great drills … I’ll get my daughter doing these as she has difficulty sometimes on the dominating leg and I think these exercises will help her balance more!

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Malcolm March 3, 2017

Hi Tomaz
Thank you for yet another great video. It certainly makes sense to have good balance in all 4 positions. I will get to work and see where I need to work harder and become more stable.
Once again thank you.

Reply
premarajan puthiyapurayil March 6, 2017

Dear Tomas, wonderful insights given for beginers. keep it up posting such..

Reply
Joanna March 11, 2017

This is an excexcellent tutorial, Tomaz. I like how concrete and specific the drills are. Looking forward to trying them very soon. 🙂 Thank you!

Reply
    Tomaz March 11, 2017

    You’re welcome, Joanna. Pay special attention to the “open stance” outside leg drill and see if you can execute it well.

    Reply
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