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