A lack of readiness is an all too common trait in many tennis players. It’s the old “hit and stand” syndrome that you see from beginners certainly, but also from more experienced players. The less ready any player is between shots, the greater the likelihood that they’ll be anything but relaxed and in control when hitting the ball. Have you ever really noticed what the world’s best players are doing between shots when you watch a match on TV? Granted, the ball tends to move alot faster at that level then general club play but the point is that you rarely see them flat-footed and here are some reasons why:

  1. Good physical shape: The fact is that tennis is a multi-directional, explosive, stop-start activity and unless the points you play are mostly over within a shot or two, you have to be in good physical shape to be able to stay on your toes, get to balls, recover and repeat this process as long as it takes. Start by maintaining a bounce from foot to foot between shots when you rally with someone. Even this can be a barometer for what kind of shape you’re in and it’s a great habit to develop. Of course if you’re up for it there are innumerable explosive running drills that can be done on or off a tennis court. Something as simple as practicing imaginary points is a great way to get in shape and improve footwork.

  2. Athletic Stance: This should find you with your head and shoulders square, feet about shoulder width apart, on your toes, knees flexed and arms and racquet comfortably out in front. This stance paves the way for better balance from shot to shot.

  3. Use Your Eyes Effectively: Watch the ball come off your opponent’s racquet. Unless he disguises the shot extremely well this is your best bet at reading where his shot will go. If you guess alot your readiness will be in doubt. Also by watching the ball off the racquet you’ll know when better to do step #4.

  4. Ready Hop: This is a simple movement that’s often neglected or excused off as being “excessive.” When timed properly (just before your opponent hits the ball), the ready hop sets the leg muscles so that explosive first step can take place instead of a knee jerk reaction.

  5. Explosive First Step and Adjustment Steps: Something I always tell my students is that there’s no such thing a ball that’s hit right to you. One way or another you should always “move around the ball,” even if it’s not that far away. Smaller adjustment steps in this case will put you right where you need to be and improve your timing as well. If the ball is further away you want to make an explosive first step (or two or three…) followed by adjustment steps so once again your right where you need to be.

  6. Always Try To Set Yourself Before You Hit: The readier you are the more likely this will happen and the upshot is that you’ll have more choices with what you can do with your shot. Setting yourself isn’t always possible but really try to make a point of doing it!

  7. Instant Recovery: This is huge! Once your shot leaves your racquet you have to go into recover mode immediately. This usually means you’ll push off your outside foot, get back into the athletic stance and make recovery or shuffle steps until you reach the middle of your opponent’s two widest angles if there’s time to do so. Essential to this immediate recovery is the assumption that your shot AND will always be good. Don’t stand there craning your neck to see if the ball you hit might be long, wide or in the net.

  8. RELAX: There’s no better way to hit a tennis ball than when you’re relaxed regardless of what you plan to do with it. When you practice great readiness the opportunity to relax is increases tremendously because you’ll generally have more time. Utilize that time by relaxing. Exhale when you hit the ball and allow your body to perform without anxiety.

We need to relax like Roger...