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Tactical Movement – Part 2


  • Tactical Movement – Part 2

    Author: Mike Crooks

    Abstract Part two of this article analyses the importance of movement, in both shot execution and recovery. Particular emhasis is placed on court geometry, with examples taken from two points between Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

    Key words: Movement, court-geometry, footwork

    Movement and Footwork – Point play analysis

    The ‘limitation and potential’ model of the four performance factors (technical, tactical, physical and mental) states that technique is a functional entity that is a means to execute a tactical intention. Furthermore, extrapolating the model it is seen that technique is a function of physical “contextual” competency which also relies on efficient movement and footwork execution and application.

    Players adopt certain movement patterns and footwork patterns that best suit the situation and the tactical intention. We have seen this in the previous analysis of a shot played by Andy Murray. In developing players coaches must consider the footwork and movement in a wider context and educate the player in the application of these patterns to the game.

    Movement and footwork are key attributes to allow a player to execute tactics efficiently and be able to play at the highest possible level. As the quality of the game the player is exposed to increases, the time and space that a player has to operate in becomes of great importance- players have less time to get into position to play. As we will see in this article, depending on the tactical intention (shot selection) of the next shot, a player’s recovery position will play a key role in optimising their ability to execute that next shot with the highest level of quality. Player’s will find themselves in various situations and the choice of footwork pattern will directly impact the outcome of the stroke. Not only do players need to understand tactics but they also need to associate and practice footwork patterns that are most desirable. In the midst of all this is the ability to cover the court and, once again, as the level increases and the game of tennis progresses, management of space and time is of upmost importance. Therefore players must find the most efficient ways of getting into position, the appropriate footwork to execute a stroke, and the recovery requirements.

    Point 1 Analysis

    Federer is considered to be one of the best movers in the modern game and so it makes sense to look at this player as an example. I have selected two points from the Dubai ATP Final 2012 against the British player Andy Murray.
    This first image is post Federer serve and we can see how he has landed inside the baseline with his hip line facing directly towards the return impact. Andy is in a tough spot returning this serve so Federer chooses to maintain his position, inside the court, rather than back up behind the baseline to take up a rally position. This suggests that whilst Andy is receiving the ball from the serve, a decision has already been made on what reply is likely- this decision is made at some point between Federer making impact on the serve and when the ball bounces on Andy’s side of the court.

    Tactically Federer will look to move up the court with his next shot due to the weak reply (see below image). Had the return been more neutralising, Federer may have backed himself up behind the base line to assume a more neutral position.

    In this second image Federer has shifted his hip line 90 degrees clockwise using three “shuffle” steps to move around the ball. The choice of shuffle steps as opposed to the common cross over steps is due to the urgency and precision required with the footwork. The cross over step is also a common pattern, and may have been used if the space needed to move around the ball was greater. Andy has backed up post return to try and buy some time in order to deal with the oncoming Federer attack.

    This next image above is Federer’s split step position. Notice that the approach didn’t push Andy out of the court laterally but kept him suitably pinned behind the baseline. Federer has reached this position using two running steps and has covered a lot of court for just two steps. Notice that he has followed the balls line as he moves in. His base and weight shift is massive allowing him to move way inside of the service box to play the volley.

    At contact for the first volley it can be seen that he is very much inside the service box with his weight held on his left foot (see above photo). The right foot is sweeping behind which allows him to orientate his body and create the space to play the volley back where the ball came from whilst also transitioning through the volley, closing in on the net. Andy is still in a position quite a way behind the baseline.

    Federer’s first volley is pretty central and the cross behind step he used executing the volley has allowed him to be in a strong net position very close to the net. Andy has no angles and maybe the lob, in hindsight, would have been a better option. However, Andy is up the court a bit more and Federer is not in total control of the point now. His stance is again wide and as Andy plays his shot.

    Federer has shifted his weight to the backhand side. This is a requirement when volleying- that the first step is often the foot nearest the ball. This allows much more court to be covered with the next step should the need arise, (which it does).

    Federer steps a long way across his body in this image above, attempting to create an angle with the shot and regain dominance of the point. His hip line is at 90 degrees to the net. He is able to do this as he can realign and reposition whilst the ball travels away from him.

    Federer takes up a new court position on the same side of the court as the ball in the above image. This is to close down the angles available to Andy and also allows coverage of the line. Andy, being Andy, plays a superb angle across Federer. This is a great choice of shot since the ball is travelling away from Federer after the bounce making it a really tough situation for Federer.

    Federer initiates a turn as he sees the ball move across him and adopts running mechanics again to find a solution to Andy’s reply. With the ball travelling away from him he has to rely on hand speed to make this next shot as the body is orientated in the same direction as the leaving ball. Notice again the coverage of court in just a few steps.

    Federer hits this shot off his right foot using his hand speed as the dominant source of transferring power to the ball. He finishes this shot on his left foot which has continued in the running pattern away from the intended direction of the ball. Minimum rotation of the upper body means that Federer is facing away from the play and he uses back peddling steps to continue his recovery.

    The choice of playing the shot cross court means Federer will take up a recovery position on the opposite side of the ball. Due to the angle he has created there is no need to recover too close to the centre. Federer is performing his split step as Andy strikes the ball having performed as much of a recovery as possible in the time available. This indicates that whilst the ball is travelling away from Federer, up to the point of the opponent’s impact, is the time frame in which to perform recovery- irrespective of whether the recovery is optimum. After this time, the player’s focus then switches into trying to ascertain what is coming next.

    In this sequence it is evident that Federer (and Andy in fact) has been able to adopt a variety of footwork patterns, recovery position’s and movement to maintain, better or re-gain dominance throughout the duration of the point. Tactical intention requires efficient movement and a choice of footwork to best execute and deal with varying situations. Both players have taken up positions to better their chances and provide opportunity. The coverage of the court plays a key role in taking additional time away from the opponent, reducing tactical opportunities and being able to stay in the point under pressure.

    To conclude, in this point sequence it is evident that footwork and movement must also complement the tactical and technical intention. The footwork pattern, court coverage and court positioning all play a part in the execution of the tactical intention and therefore must be considered in the development and preparation of players.

    Point 2 Analysis

    In this sequence we will see great court coverage and also some choice footwork steps that are executed with immense athleticism, that all contribute to the overall tactical outcome of the point.

    Federer has returned Andy’s serve down the line and he has recovered to a position left of centre opposite to the side of the ball. This is the “new centre” of the court due to the line of the ball and the angle created. In explanation, since the ball is off centre it creates angle opportunities across the court (in this specific case, on Federer’s backhand side) and therefore Federer has given himself the best chance to maintain quality play by taking up this court position.

    Andy plays back down the line forcing Federer to move a greater distance off his rally ball. Federer makes a weight shift simultaneously with his split step and performs a running step with the left foot crossing over. This is different to a cross over step since his hips have turned 90 degrees in the direction of motion. He must cover this ground quickly enough to meet the ball without having to back up and lose his neutral rallying position.

    Above you can see that Federer gets his right foot behind the ball and pushes off this leg whilst turning in the air to make the shot. This allows him to play cross-court which reduces his recovery distance as we will see in the next image. Notice that his landing position (see image above right) is in line with the inside tram line, quite a considerable hop. His shoulders are fully rotated and his hip line is perpendicular to the direction of the ball. This allows Federer to execute a tactically smart shot whilst maintaining his ability to recover quickly and efficiently.

    Federer has maintained his body position inside the line of the ball and has not had to cross outside the line of the ball to play this shot. In doing so he has allowed himself the optimum opportunity for effective recovery. The tactical intention is coupled with choice if footwork and post-shot recovery position. Although Andy moved Federer he was able to effectively stay neutral in the point. The court coverage in the first instance is energy efficient and allows this choice of foot work for the stroke, which again compliments a tactically sound intention.

    As we expect, with an understanding of the principles of court geometry, Federer recovers to the opposite side of the court to the ball, making his whole execution of the previous shot from tactical through to physical considerations a sound choice.

    Andy again plays down the line and Federer adopts two footwork patterns to create an opportunity to hit his favoured forehand. The first step is a “dynamic” cross over where his right foot crosses in front of his left foot although not as a step but more of a “ping” with both feet airborne until landing. He then performs a similar step with the right leg crossing behind to allow him to orientate his body for the forehand.

    The sweeping right leg ensures that Federer can shift his weight onto the left leg for the forehand. In order to create more space needed to find a greater inside out angle, Federer hops on his left foot. In the second image Federer lands the hop way outside the court, again a great example of athletic physical competence, court coverage and footwork technique to execute a tactical intention. With a greater angle and hitting cross-court, Federer’s recovery position is well within reach before Andy will send his reply. Knowing this Federer can make the choice to use his forehand instead of his less favourite backhand. This is trademark Federer.

    Due to the increased angle Federer created with the previous shot his recovery position is again on the opposite side of the court to the ball and also nowhere near the centre of the court. He maintains his distance from the baseline since the point is still neutral although Federer has covered more than the full width.

    Andy’s reply is exactly what Federer has worked to maintain neutral for. His intention now is to move up the court and command dominance of the point. He uses a left foot hop/pivot to move his body through the ball and into the court. This sets himself up in motion to approach the net. Andy has backed up from the baseline to try to deal with the oncoming attack.
    Federer again covers the court well, in fact in two additional steps. He has followed the direction of the ball and performs his split step on the same side of the court as the ball. This image demonstrates Federer’s ability to move with great athleticism. His base is incredibly wide and with a single additional step he can make his first volley inside the service box. Andy is way out of position now and even though he gets a racket on the ball he cannot make it over the net.


    The intention of this analysis was to demonstrate that footwork and movement play an extremely important role in the game of tennis. Footwork and movement in its own right has a tactical relationship with the game. In addition, not only do we have a technical component in stroke production we have the same in footwork execution. This means that when developing players or working with high-level players, the tactical intentions must also contain a footwork and movement component. Consider what footwork pattern will most effectively allow the player to execute the technique that will in turn aid in the achievement of the tactic. Consider the players ability to cover the court effectively and also consider the position of recovery that is optimal to maintain the tactical intention.

    Just like a coach may break down the forehand technique to progress it the same approach can be adopted to footwork and movement development. Can players hop laterally and control their mass in order to execute the right/right hop and turn? Do players have sufficient running capability to cover the court well? Can players manipulate their bodies to execute movement and footwork patterns to aid in their technical execution? I believe that in order to develop high level player’s coaches must also develop footwork and movement in conjunction with tactical and technical development. A simple model is to start with the tactical intention and work back through the limiting model. Look to see if the player uses the racket well and appropriately to achieve the tactic and also see what movement and footwork the player adopts and where the player goes post shot. Encourage this within drills and live ball situations and players will get better, faster. Developing footwork and movement allows the model to work in a progressive nature, fuelling tactical potential.
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