Last updated on September 27th, 2022
Tennis is a game of tactics and making the correct steps before returning shots. Being fast on your feet is not enough. It’s about positioning yourself to respond and react to incoming balls. In tennis, a split step is one of the players’ main tactics to achieve balance while reading their opponents’ next move.
Successful tennis players have always used side splits to beat opponents. You must focus on mastering the split steps, whether a beginner or an upcoming professional player. This article is your ultimate guide to understanding the split step and its importance to your tennis career.
What is a split step?
A split step is a light hop tennis players make while preparing to return incoming shots. Once the opponent hits the ball, the other player hops in a split second and lands on his feet in readiness to return the shot.
The split-step move requires you to be fast enough and keep the opponent guessing what your next move could be. This move may be a bit complicated for new players, but it gets easier as you progress.
Now that you know what a split step is, let’s look at how you can perform this move. You can complete the split step in three ways, depending on how your opponent hits the shots.
Types of the split step technique
There are three ways to perform the split step technique. Each step is a well-calculated move to receive shots from the opponent. It’s essential to understand when and how to use each step. Here is a guide to the three types of split steps ;
The side shuffle step
While performing the split step, move your feet one after the other in the same direction and land on both feet simultaneously. It’s not really a jump but more like a stagger in one direction. This move is called a “side shuffle step.” Professional players use the side step when reacting to short balls at a fast speed.
The cross-over step
Move one foot in front of the other, then a side step after hitting the ball. Making this move feels like running and taking breaks by landing on your feet. This move helps a player move back to the middle of the court while anticipating the opponent’s next move.
The cross behind step
The cross behind step helps a player react to powerful long shots. The player moves across the court by stepping one foot behind, then making a split step and landing on both feet. The cross behind step is ideal for returning long shots.
Why is the split step important?
As a tennis player, you must realize the split-step’s value, intention, and motions. On a tennis court, split-stepping is as essential to movement as breathing is to our bodies. Here is a detailed explanation to help you understand the benefits of a split step.
Split steps give you the break and balance needed to hit incoming balls on time with speed. Performing the split step while your opponent hits the ball enables you to see where the ball is going.
Tennis is a game that requires a tennis player to make quick decisions. As your opponent strikes the ball, you must decide how to return the shots best. The split step also helps players gain the right balance to make a powerful serve.
Boosts your footwork technique.
Many tennis players focus a lot on footwork during training. The split step should always be part of the training. Learning the best technique to use at what point is crucial if you want to improve your tennis skills.
You can use the right split step depending on the angle you approach the inbound balls.
The split-step technique
There are several split-step techniques that tennis players can use in different situations.
The first technique is to step forward with one leg, then move behind to land on both feet. It is an ideal move when starting a match before it becomes more aggressive and fast-paced. It’s a rhythmic movement with lots of repetition.
Another split-step technique is hopping on your feet without jumping. Professional players use this technique when under extreme pressure from their opponents. You will not have time to jump when your opponent hits fast-moving shots.
After a serve, the player lands on his feet and returns the ball without jumping. Highly experienced players also use this technique to respond to fast-paced shots. When your opponent returns shots fast, you will not have time to jump but hit the ball with your feet pacing on the ground. While landing, the split step enables you to move towards incoming shots quickly.
How to perfect your split step technique
Perfecting the split step is inevitable for players intending to win. It is crucial to perfect your split-step technique while training. Here are learning tips for perfecting and improving your split-step performance.
Build physical strength.
To become the best in any sport, you must build physical strength. The split step requires you to build strength in your knees, ankles, and feet. Your legs must be strong enough to handle the pressure when landing from a split step. You should be able to spring your body in all directions without hurting your feet, ankles, or knees. Physical strength is also crucial for speed and power while returning shots.
Practice makes perfect.
For beginners, the split step may seem complicated and unnecessary. When progressing in tennis, learning the split step move must be part of your training. Your split-step technique will improve with consistent focus and practice.
Think before you land.
Performing the split step signals your body to move in a particular direction. The split step gives you a break to think fast and study your opponent’s next move.
When is the best time to try the split step?
Tennis is a game of speed. You must be prepared to split steps at the right time in the correct direction. The best time to perform the split step is seconds before the opponent returns your shots. Timing your split steps while in the middle of a fast-paced match may be difficult. It would be advisable to focus more on your landing, enabling you to split step and move towards the ball’s direction.
Observing professional tennis players, the opponent hits the ball while the other player is in the air. The player lands on the split step after the opponent hit the ball. While in the air, the player has yet to calculate the next move. On landing, the player quickly decides on the next move before returning the shot. From this observation, the best time to perform a split step is immediately when your opponent hits the ball.
Three mistakes that players make when performing the split step
Not completing the split step correctly could lead to you getting fatigued in the middle of the game or exposing yourself to the opponent. Here are common mistakes players make while split stepping.
Making the wrong split step
The correct split step enables a player to achieve balance and move in any direction. It will prepare a player’s body to move by giving them an extra push.
Performing the split step without correct timing will not yield the best results. Proper timing of the split step prepares a player to move in the right direction and return shots.
Using the wrong step to recover
After hitting a shot, the player takes a split step to recover and prepare for the next incoming ball. Using a side shuffle step helps a player recover from short balls. This move takes longer to recover from and leaves the player fatigued. Using the cross behind and over steps is advisable so that the player can move a wider distance. Rebounding from the wrong side of the court will expose a player to the opponent.
Why Should You Hit the Split Step?
Players must learn to use the split step to avoid exposing themselves to opponents. There are several ways you can use the step split to your advantage;
1. Use it to read your opponent’s next move.
2. Recover from a mighty long shot.
3. Prepare for a quick shot.
4. Create extra pace around the court and surprise your opponent with a sudden burst of speed.
5. Throw your opponent off balance and create an opening for a shot or serve.
Properly using split steps is the foundation of good footwork in tennis. You will perform better on the court if you master the split step because it prepares you for the opponent’s next move.
Once you have perfected your split step technique, it becomes a natural move. It may be a struggle initially, but it gets easier and better with time. The good news is that it’s all worth it.
As we have established in this article, split steps require lots of practice and tact. You must know precisely when and how to spit. One wrong move could leave you exposed to your opponent. As the Spanish say, you play tennis on your feet!