Common Errors—Stepping Through
In learning tennis, we are often reminded of techniques that we want to
adopt or perfect. However, there are common errors that, while subtle in
their execution, can contribute to poor form or prevent the acquisition of
those techniques we want to emulate or master.
One such error seen among many players is the action of the back foot and
leg when executing forehand and backhand groundstrokes, serves and volleys.
Players often step through the stroke with their back foot on these shots
at the wrong time. The cause of this is usually balance or a lack thereof!
Players often reach for the ball too early within the stroke or they don’t
set up on a balanced platform prior to the swing. These movements place the
center of gravity of the player out over the front foot. The player is
forced to step through during the shot to simply prevent from falling
forward onto their face!
Anytime the body swings around prematurely, the player must compensate if
they hope to make the ball go where they want it to go. This compensation is usually
done on a subconscious level. That is, the player’s body feels the early
turn and consequently makes a change in the stroke to direct the ball
differently, often without the player aware of the stroke change.
Note the back leg of James Blake. The leg kicks back subtly
before stepping through well after contact has been made.
serve, the player usually has to flatten the ball out or push the serve in.
On the volley, the player usually has to lay the racquet head back and,
again, push the racquet in the intended direction instead of applying a firm
stroke to the ball.
On groundstrokes, the step-through also causes the ball
to be hit early. In doubles, we see players end up hitting many balls down
the line when faced with an inside-out forehand or backhand. (I talked about
the “carioca” step in a previous newsletter when faced with a short ball in
In general, when the player faces the net prior to contact,
(which is usually the result of stepping around too early), they are forced
to push the ball away from their body. Such action is the most primitive of
tennis strokes and least effective in both player progression and shot
Beginners tend to step through too early, diminishing their
ability to learn effective strokes.
In all these shots, groundstrokes, volleys, and serves, if the player makes
this step a habit and does not learn to maintain the integrity of the body’s
position through contact, the player will seldom advance to more effective
strokes. This step-through problem, especially at the beginner and
intermediate levels, contributes to players becoming ‘dinkers’. By having to
redirect the stroke in a pushing modality, the player can seldom become
comfortable with the proper mechanics of skilled strokes, topspin or slice.
If you watch the pros, you will see subtle elements of this same
concept, even as they certainly have developed strokes that can be called
exceptions to every rule! Watch the pros as they either drag the toe as
mentioned in this article, or they kick the back leg back momentarily during
the critical contact point of the stroke. And, it is true that some pros can
actually step through early—BUT, they have developed the proper upper body
positions and hand controls to still execute the stroke in such a way that
it can be hit properly and effectively, even if they are off-balanced or on
the wrong foot!
Lindsey Davenport holds her back leg back throughout
her two-handed backhand, a common footwork pattern among many skilled
Go through the many Video Clips found in the ProStrokes Gallery here at
TennisOne, and I think you will see just how significant this footwork
Also, look for my upcoming series on “Common Mistakes in Tennis”…an
in-depth look at many more of these problematic situations that prevent
And, as always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments,
personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
Dave Smith, TennisOne Associate Editor
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's book, Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.
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Product Highlights: Pro Tech Video Analysis
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