Serve and Volley Split Step - Sampras Style
Today we are going to go over one of the most commonly forgotten necessities in the serve and volley game, the split step. This simplistic execution of footwork is one of the most improperly perceived movements in tennis. Even most of the tour professionals forget to execute this footwork or have poor split step timing and technique.
All too often I see a player attempt to make a split step but the ball is already passed him. Does this sound familiar? This player understands that there should be some sort of footwork action in order for them to get their balance but they simply never time the split correctly and therefore are in the air at the wrong time and cannot move laterally or vertically to intercept a passing shot.
Then there are the players who merely run full steam ahead towards the net and everyone better look out because the only thing that might stop this player is a ball hit mach 1 right at their chest. This player has been taught to close the net but if a ball is hit only an inch out of reach then forget about it. The point is over and he or she is passed. They simply never split step but rather make a little shuffle step while going at mach 1. I've even seen these players fall down trying to get that elusive passing shot that is only two inches from their reach. Does any of this sound familiar?
So "the when" is very important. Observe the first video of Sampras above and note that he executes his split step when the ball is about 2-3 feet from his opponent. You will see this commonality no matter where Sampras is on the court and he will do this before each and every ball that his opponent strikes.
Note their are three volleys in this video and in all three Sampras jumps into his split at about 2-3 feet before the ball reaches his opponent. You can also think of it in the following way. Make sure to jump off the ground so that you are in the air at the time the ball lands on your opponent's strings. Or try to land on the ground out of your split step at the same time the ball is landing on your opponent's strings. This will give you time to more easily switch directions and get your balance just in case your opponent hits the ball out of your comfort zone reach.
Where to split step goes hand in hand with "the when" but one thing to note is that "the where" will typically be different on a first serve compared to that of a second. This is due to the different paces of the balls on each type of serve.
Observe the second video of a Sampras serve and volley and note that he jumps into his split step only one step after he hit his first serve and he was half way between the baseline and service line when the split step was initiated.
In "the when" video above (top of page), Sampras hits a second serve and he was able to take two steps before jumping into his split step and the split step was executed just behind the service line. So on a second serve one will be able to get close to the service line and on a first serve one will only be able to get to about halfway to the service line before the split step.
Of course these split step locations are also dependant upon one's serve pace so these are not absolutes unless you serve at a rate near Sampras. The point here is to discover where you typically can get before the ball reaches 2-3 feet from your opponent on both your first and second serves and then try to get near that spot each and every time you serve and volleying then see if this helps your movement to the ball.
So go do some experimenting with taking one, two, and even three steps for really slow serves when running to the net before split stepping. Experiment to find out the specifics of the when and where that works for you during practice and then apply it to your next serve and volley game. Execute this technique correctly and you will be moving and covering the net better than ever. Until next time.
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