Forward Movement: Hitting Inside-Out on a Short Ball Using the Carioca Step
Tennis is a game of movement and there are many ways to move forward. However, sometimes familiar footwork patterns can hinder what the upper body - namely the shoulders and hitting arm - are supposed to do.
When we move from side to side, where the body makes a unit-turn and runs with the front of the body perpendicular to the net, the movement of the feet usually contributes to proper body position for a quality groundstroke. However, moving forward and stepping forward with a typical running step brings the hips forward and ends up with the player facing the net at the critical moment of contact.
A solution to this footwork dilemma is the Carioca Step.
Players who tend to stay back in doubles after making a return or after serving are often faced with a short ball hit to their inside position. (To the backhand of a right-hander playing the deuce court, or to the forehand of a right-hander playing the ad side.)
Notoriously, 3.0 and 3.5 players tend to hit this shot down the line - right to their opponent's net player! Even while players know they should not hit this ball to the net player, many do not know how to execute the footwork pattern necessary to provide for a good stroke crosscourt.
When a player is moving towards the net while swinging, the dynamics of the stroke change. If the player fails to adjust for these changes, an inside ball will tend to be hit down the line. Some players recognize this and simply lay the racquet back in order to push the ball crosscourt.
While this can keep the ball away from the net player, it does not allow for a very effective stroke to be hit.
One of the best ways to hit a firm, topspin or slice stroke, inside out (crosscourt) from a short inside ball is to employ what I call the Carioca Step. (Some people call it the “grapevine” step.)
Pete Sampras executes the carioca step.
The issue is that when a player steps through with their back leg during the swing, the swing pattern changes, usually causing the player to hit the ball too early to keep such an inside ball away for the net player.
Hitting the Short Ball While Moving
When taking the short ball, If we step forward using a normal walking or running step - the hips tend to rotate away from the desired sideways position to one facing the net during or prior to making contact. When the hips rotate, the upper body follows this lead and rotates with the hips. On an inside ball, this will make us swing too early and cause this inside ball to go down the line.
Instead, during the contact portion of the stroke, take your next step BEHIND the front hitting foot (as in a normal closed or neutral stance swing). This will keep your body sideways through this critical phase of the stroke and help prevent opening up too early. This is especially helpful on the backhand side.
On the forehand side, this footwork pattern is often done also. However, because the hitting arm on the forehand is behind us, the detrimental aspects of walking through the shot are not as magnified. (The hitting arm/shoulder is leading the way on the backhand…thus, the step-through on the backhand creates a very problematic footwork pattern when coming in on short balls.)
Practice the Carioca Step by having your coach or partner feed you balls from behind, forcing you to move forward on the shot.
When players get comfortable with the Carioca Step, it happens smoothly and fluidly allowing the player to attack the short ball with a dynamic topspin or slice shot.
Have a pro or a friend toss balls from behind you towards the net on this inside track. If you move forward to get this ball (that is, a
ball moving forward, away from you, and towards the net), you will be able to practice this move correctly.
Work on the Carioca Step slowly at first to maintain balance and control, and then add more speed and more pace to the shot once you master the pattern.
As always, we would love to hear your views on the subjects raised in this newsletter. Please click here to send your email directly to me.
Dave Smith, TennisOne Associate Editor
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's book, Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.
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