Written by Ian Westermann
Footwork — 11 January 2012
Tennis Footwork, Split Step Lesson 1 of 3: Technique

The split step is so incredibly important to your success on the tennis court and yet SO many recreational players completely skip it. If you’re one of those players (be honest!), or if you currently only use a split step once in a while then you’re going to want to pay very close attention to this video and the two others about the split step coming out very soon.

In this video I’ll be defining the purpose of the split step and also using David Ferrer as an example to teach the correct technique of the split step. In video 2 of 3 (coming soon) I’ll be using the pros again to show you precisely how to time your split step correctly, and in video 3 of 3 I’ll be showing you examples of how the pros use the split step during actual competitive points.

So be honest: do you currently use the split step every time your partner/opponent hits a shot? Tell me below after you check out the video. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Video 2 of 3: Split Step Timing — Click Here!
Video 3 of 3: Pivot and Fake — Click Here!

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  1. Thanks pointing out this I need to work with my girls more on their movement with the split step.

  2. Ian man you are doing amazing work here man. I started tennis 8 months ago an hour/day and I started using split step technique soon after 3 or 4 months I am good at it my problem is when I hit ball (forehand, backhand, serve, volley etc.) I do not look at it I just judge or analyze or you can say calculate the line and length where ball is gonna come and in direction I simply swing the racket as result I mishit the ball most of times mostly on the frame but if I judge a ball well and get timing I can hit winners as well. Still I need to have some exercise to avoid this wrong habit please anything that I can practice at court or even when not on court. Where as I really can hit ball very well I can cover court I can get top spin well but my consistency is very low I hate that. Thanks Man! Keep up the great job. :)

  3. Ian,
    You are knowledgable about tennis, but from a training perspective, you talk too much.
    Training theory says show an example, break it down into its component parts, then show it again. Your set up is way too verbose, and your face is more prevalent than the video that shows the technique. Also, the word "imporTant, has 't' in the middle.
    I'm not trying to be mean, just helpful.

    • Mark – I'll bet you're a real ball of fun to hang out with.

  4. very nice video.. spilt steps actually helps having good timing. Your video have best quality in super slow motion to understand the details minutely

  5. Ian, Terrific insight on all 3 videos of split step. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for the explanation re-technique of the split step.
    Am wondering, what if we just raise both heels off the ground as the opposing player strikes the ball instead of jumping into the split step.? Wont this action in a way get us ready for the next shot and at the same time eliminate the need of jumping which takes additional effort and could actually tire a player out?
    Thanks ….Fern

  7. Love tennis and love to practice new step ! Thank you!

  8. Thanks Ian, I am really going to practice this Split step, Now, that you have broken it down so good, step by step. I wish I had seen someone explained it like this years ago. You are a God- send!! I will begin this today.

    Thanks so much,


  9. I think I do most of the time. But I think I find my self not split stepping sometimes, especially at the net. I wonder how I can get myself to split step every time? Perhaps saying to my self, "split," every time my opponent hits the ball.

  10. today to the wall to see if I can perfect it, Thanks

  11. Thanks lan To be very honest I don,t use split steps . But after watching the video I will try my best.
    Anmol jain

  12. Thank you Ian. When I was taught to play tennis 40 something years ago I remember only hearing the term split step on getting ready to play an approach shot en route to the net. But in watching your video, I dont think I have been doing too badly over the years. Guess I never knew that what I was doing had the term "split step" Certainly I have attempted to never remain flat footed and to always be on the balls of my feet. But Im certainly going to bear split stepping in mind when I am able to play tennis again. Thank you. Diana

  13. Hi Ian, as a regular student, if heard it many times how much importance you make on using the split effectively. For me personally it is still far to be second nature but i use it 100% of time when I return of serve. Along with some walking or hoping steps before an after you can get sometimes even difficult placed serves. During match points it depends if it is a standard rally cross court then i usually do it automatically and i try when i occasionally at the net. But many times i realize that i am not doing it at all and find myself flat footed.
    So i will need to pay more attention to the split and to more dynamic footwork in general as i usually tend to have low quality shots if i do not move well enough.
    In any case thank you for choosing David as example as he is for me the best mover on Pro-tour.
    best regards Marijan

  14. Good analysis. Controversy regarding shoulder width distance depends on court position and anticipated direction of movement. As you get closer to the net, as is David, your stance is wider than if you are further back. The further back you are the narrower your stance because it is easier to move forward. I am not a firm believer or teacher of the split step as the default strategy for a serve and volleyer. The split step is a defensive move when you are not sure where the return is going. Even good serve and volleyers do not split step often, much less great ones. If you watch closely, the majority of great serve and volleyers use a stutter step or shuffle step where both feet are moving rapidly forward and when they recognize the direction push off with the correct foot to explode to the ball for the volley. The balanced split step strategy puts the volleyer in a position to react defensively rather than to attack aggressively. Teaching and using the split step has its place, but if the player you are playing against returns the ball so well that you have to constantly split step before your volley you better have a great volley or should consider staying back.

  15. Thanks, for the insight regarding the Split Step Lesson.

    I am and have been doing the Split Step as you perscribed. However, maybe this is more of a question of semantics. I have always done a "Split Spring" first waiting for the opponents contacting ball and then "Split Stepping" into the side of the direction of the incoming ball.


  16. Great Job. Many many thanks

  17. I use split steps quite a bit, if not for every shot yet. I've been working on that–I practice doing it for every shot in the mini-tennis I play. When I am server or returner's partner, I like to split step right; I often time it by moving forward at the sound of my partner's serve and split-stepping as the returner takes his racket back. As returner's partner, it is the sound of my partner hitting the return that initiates the forward movement, and the split step, and then I can move diagonally, or forward easily. I also have incorporated a split step forward on my service return–every return.

  18. I use it and it works great but it's not quite second nature. At times I catch myself not doing it, so it's a thing to concentrate on when not hitting well.

  19. I try to do the split step all the time; although I don't. I forget. Itis not yet a habit. The split step gives me more time to get ready to hit the ball. it seems like the game slows down and I have more time when I do the split step. I started playing about six years ago; I am 68. I wish I would have started a lot sooner. I play USTA and am rated 3.5; I want to become a 4.0. Your hinds really have helped me. It is just hard to remember everything. I am always learning. It seems like the more I learn, the more there is to learn.

  20. Thanks. tips are of great value.

  21. Great video instruction there Ian, thanks!
    I stumbled across Murrays exaggerated leap then split step awhile ago and have since tried to incorporate it in my return game. A little difficult to time at first on a hard first serve, however…on second serves, it takes me 3 feet inside the baseline and on occasion I can crank a clean winner from there. Plus, the push-off motion going into the split step just feels super aggressive.

  22. I believe I unknowingly have been playing on the balls of my feet. I will though try to incorporate the bent knees also.

  23. I am a 3.0 who is TRYING to remember to split step! It just is not a habit yet. Thanks for the video Ian.

  24. Thank you this video and explanation was helpful. I think I use a too narrow split. It was also helpful to see the way Ferrar turns his shoulders in order to execute volley.

  25. Hi Ian,
    Thank you so much for your video. Split step: so simple but so important and helpful
    for returning the serve at the right time. Great.

  26. I do use the split step. I really like how you described doing it.

  27. Hi Ian,
    Great video. The points you highlight are very useful. I do use the split step but not as often as I should. I intend to change that now.
    Thank you very much

  28. I mostly play doubles and I don’t see anyone doing the split step. I know that I don’t use it.. Someone told me not to do it at my age (66) because it would tire me out too much. I only started playing tennis for the first time in my life 3.5. years ago. What is your advice?

  29. My grammar is obviously better than my tennis Ian

    Being as balanced and prepared as possible to move to the ball at precisely the right time!

    Alison (sorry – cant help it!)

  30. I don’t use the split-step consistently… also never realized that you are always on the balls of your feet! So I guess whenever I thought to do it, I’d ‘stop’ and then couldn’t get going – thus I thought the split-step wasn’t for me!! wow. I just realized how embarrassing it is to admit that…

  31. Excellent lesson! I am a former baseline singles player who is returning to the sport after many years away from it. Now, at age 67, I play more doubles than singles. You make it very clear that I REALLY need to develop a good split step in order to compete in either singles or doubles. Thank you.

  32. Clearest explanation of the split step. Now I’ve just got to practice it!

  33. I really enjoyed the video, I am not sure how often I use the split step, I think now more than before. I will try to use it tommorrow when I play, thanks. Iliana.

  34. we use split step good lesson

  35. Great technique instructions, they really makes a difference. The question is, will you be breaking down the rest of the strokes? I would really appreciate if you would work on the forehand, backhand, volleys, etc. I salute your commitment to help all of us in need of improvement and for making a difference in this great sport. Thank you!

  36. Thanks, Isn. The split step looks great, very interesting, I’m going to try it in my next tennis hour, can’t wait in fact. I had never noticed this step before

  37. Pros hit he ball harder. Does this mean that they have less time to react and so they must go into a split step EARLIER then lets say a 3.5 player?

    How does the timing differ on video of a more typical player? Have you considered that in your analysis?

    Thanks Much for your reply, Ken

  38. I always use the split step for return of serve. Not so much during rallies.

  39. I have no split step, but after watching This, i tried to do the split steps and works, i will always do the split steps from now..

  40. Ian,
    I can’t get the speakers to work on Video 1 on my iPad. Don’t know if I’m doing something wrong or if it is the video. Are others having problems?
    Miss you at Congo….especially the help with the left handed serve!

    • Good to hear from you, Peggy! Sorry to say this but it’s definitely on your end, the audio is working correctly.

  41. Thank you ian: your observation on the importance of the width of the split step to enchance balance is spot on and insightful. bravo

  42. You are much easier to listen to than that Fuzzy Yellow Balls guy. I like this tutorial. I will try to do this the next time I play. Is it only for play at the net? Should I do this before I receive a serve?

    • Carolyn,

      No, absolutely not just for the net. You should be using this no matter where you are on the court or what type of shot you’re about to receive (with one or two exceptions that I’ll talk about in Video 3). Especially the return of serve. There is absolutely no excuse for being flat footeded! :)

      • Carolyn, sorry, I have to disagree with you. Will Hamilton and Ian are the clearest and best Internet coaches out there.

  43. Thanks Ian, thiis is truly important for someone who want to take his game to a higher level, i’ll try to split step whenever i’ll hit the Ball, thanks again.

  44. Excellent explanation!

  45. Hello, Ian.
    Last Saturday I played a match and I focused on the split steps when I was waiting the hit of my opponent.
    I could confirmed that when I stayed still with my feet completely flat on the court I failed my hits. I culdn’t start my movements in time, and I didn’t reach the balls.
    When I made the split steps I didn’t fail my hits!
    But I couldn’t keep the rhythm.
    Thank you!

  46. Best tip I have received from a pro in my almost two year career is learn to jump rope. Using the jump rope started helping my game right away. Plus the jump rope is cheap a couple of bucks. I can do 5 minutes straight now, working my way up to 10. Great video I am going to start doing this while I am watching tennis. Thanks Ian, we worry so much about our strokes and everything when we are starting out and don’t get good basic instruction.

  47. I play USTA 3.5 league tennis. Our coach will not teach us the split step. She thinks its more that we can handle at our ages-40′s and 50′s. I totally disagree and am going to try to teach myself. I like how simply you have broken down the elements of the move. Thank you!

    • Linda,

      good for you. I’m 67, going on 68, and I use the split step and ready step and all other footwork patterns. There’s no excuse for not splitting at any age! (Wheelchair tennis excepted.)

      If she steers you wrong on this indispensable fundamental, one has to wonder what else she gets wrong. Get a new coach.

  48. I have not performed the split step in completeness.
    my eyes are on the ball ALWAYS into the other person’s racquet across the net.

    WHEN THE BALL STRIKES THE Racquet, on the other side of the net
    my heels are off the ground,
    my legs bent and spread a little wider than shoulder width.

    I WILL TRY COMING OFF THE GROUND because I often late swing, perhaps
    I preparing the swing a little late and I’m using a forward stance.
    I most cases take the ball early, prepare late and swinging FAST.

    Racquet back and FORWARD WITHOUT any hesitation, with a full
    swing and follow thru, with a loose grip until ball strikes.

    thanks, I’ll start coming off the ground. any other suggestions.

  49. I remember playing the finals of a USTA singles tourney which I lost and a man I did not know came up to me afterwards and said the only reason I lost was her footwork was better than mine. The next year I beat her.

    I enjoyed the video because I know how important it is. I coached at the Community College level and had very few recruits with good footwork. Some had taken many lessons and I guess that was not emphasized.

    It was a great demo.


  50. haha its really a good reminder abt the split steps, always kinda forget about it in games.

    but its really useful though

  51. Great that you are addressing this in such a systematic way. I expect to try this next time I am on the court

  52. Good video. A little slow on the uptake. I found myself waiting for you to get to the “aha moment” of your lesson. Also, don’t leave out the middle-T in the word “imporTant. That “t” is essential, or one might say it’s impor…. (You get the message.)

    Nevertheless, I thought it was a good video. Can you talk next time about how the split-step helps with fatigue. I think that’s my motivation for wanting to do it better.

  53. Talking about playing on the balls of your feet, look at this guy http://www.essentialtennis.com/video/category/backhand-technique/. May not be the most representative video for split step but look at his feet. His heels barely touch the ground between the shots.

  54. I do not use split step and I have problems when I play with 4.0 players (I’m 3.5) who return the ball very fast and I do not adjust my position on time to hit balance, mostly on my backhand. I’m trying to move before the opponent returns but I do not do it consistently. Good videos in general.

  55. Okay I will try this technique

  56. I just recently started trying to implement more split steps into my play. Tennis buddies have commented that I’ve gotten alot faster on the court. Able to run down alot more shots. I just tell them I’ve lost some weight. ;^D

  57. I use it all the time, groundstrokes, volleys, etc. It really helps me stay in balance. Good point about keeping a wider base with the feet/legs.

  58. Thanks Ian, can you link the split step to receiving a serve – when do I do this – as he hits the serve possibly? The timing has to be right… Your definition of split step I feel misses one word: ….move to the ball as QUICKLY as possible …. – would you agree?

  59. I have always been a narrow stance guy. However, I think I was mostly concentrating on the start of the split step rather than the ending step. For the ending position, I go wide at the net and narrower at the baseline.

  60. I’m using the split step as often as I can. When I focus very well on using the split step and keep my balance on the balls of the feet my movement is so much more fluent and I find myself in much better position when I swing for the ball. The problem is that in order to do that continuously for 1 or 2 hours is very challenging especially on the lower part of the legs, feet and shin muscles. That is why off the court in the last few weeks I focus a lot on strengthening the muscles on the lower part of the legs. It really helps my game. In my opinion this goes hand in hand with fitness preparation. And even if you train off the court, many recreational players do not focus on strengthening the lower part of the legs. Just try it yourself. Play 15 minutes only by staying, balancing and running on the falls of your feet. Your shins will burn if you’re not used to it. :) I think for tennis you need more power and stamina in your lower part of the legs than in the upper part.

  61. Hi Ian,

    I think I know about the split step and have tried to implement it within my game however my technique wasn’t quite right so thanks for this series of videos on the split step and the clear set of instructions.

  62. it even worked when i played ping pong last night. I felt totally light on my feet and prepared to hit a shot.

  63. Ian

    Thanks for the tips on the split step. I think this is one of the most overlooked elements of tennis. I have played the game for many years and have never felt the need for the split step. I recently started to try to incorporate this into my game and I was amazed with the results. I still have much to learn about the split step but it has made such a huge improvement in my return of serve, that I am looking forward to becoming more proficient at using it.


  64. having problem accessing the video (just a blank screen right now) and it’s not that the image is blocked form my end) – never had trouble accessing your videos before – any idea? Is it me or is at your end? Thanks.

  65. Why do I watch your videos so intently?
    It is because I always get a great take-away from them.
    Some days I feel flat footed when play and I just don’t seem to hit as well or be as effective with my volleys. After watching this video a couple of times, I know why and how to eliminate that problem.
    Thanks Ian

  66. This is great….But, I just don’t feel athletic enough to do this. what
    can you tell me about this.


  67. Ian,

    another great series. Many thanks for it.

    If I were a coach teaching beginners, I would teach only the athletic stance, split step, and other aspects of footwork (shuffle step, crossover step, carioca step, etc.) during the first month. At the same time, I would also make them concentrate on keeping their eyes on the ball, getting to the ball, and being on balance. Only after a good three or four weeks of practice drills and matches with these fundamentals would they start learning ground strokes technique!

    What do you, as an experienced coach, think about that?

    Bob C.

    • Wow Bob where were you when I got back into the game 5 years ago? I am struggling with exactly these two things in my game now. I have actually set aside the next 2 to 3 MONTHS of my practice time to work on just seeing the ball. I am sort of working on the split step in conjunction with seeing, As well as racket level relative to the ball. I notice that for me getting my left hand on the throat of the racket seems to activate everything in the chain of the ready position including my feet and eyes.

      Ditto on Ian’s always great stuff! I am looking forward to Ian’s response to your question about learning sequencing and priorities.

      • Beth, if Ian has time to respond to all these comments, he’s super human! Like you, I’m looking forward to the next footwork video.

        The other thing I would do if anyone asked me for advice would be to start off by showing them videos by Ian and Will Hamilton to show that I am not making it up. They shouldn’t have to take my word for anything.

        I, too, am working on timing, rhythm, and footwork. I have to keep reminding myself to keep my eye on the ball and and keep my head still.

        • Beth or Bob,
          Any helpful hints on keeping your eye on the ball. Sometimes I feel like the ball is upon me before I see it coming. Not sure how this happens…what am I looking at??

          Any help appreciated!

          • Karen,

            Sorry it took me a few days to get back to you.

            I’m afraid one cannot answer your question without more information. What is your level of play? How long have you been studying tennis?

            I hesitate to ask whether it might be a vision problem. If it’s not that, then surely it’s only a matter of time and experience. Practice watching the ball when it’s on your opponent’s or hitting partner’s side of the net. Try to see it hit his or her strings.

            You are completely right that seeing the ball well and being able to time your swing are important fundamentals.

            Every student of the game faces his and her own specific challenges, and every one is different, so in that regard you’re not alone.

            Good luck and keep us posted.


  68. Great video! i couldn’t agree more. However, not to be ‘negative’ or demean your new volley course (for the most part, I think it’s excellent!) but I noticed in a number of videos in the course, the players don’t really split! Why is this?

  69. Thank you Ian. I do not use the spilt step and have honestly found it confusing as to timing, etc. As well, it has never really be explained as to the technique you just described. I will work on this and look forward to the next videos.

  70. Ian,
    If I am playing poorly the first thing I do when anaylising why I am is to ask myself…Am I moving my feet… which translates into staying on the balls of my feet and doing the split step.This improves my play 90% of the time.First thing I teach a beginner,after instructing the proper way to swing the racket,is footwork.Thank you for emphasizing how important it is.

  71. Sir,
    We play regularly but it was for the first time we understood the exact position which we call split steps.

    Sorry to bother you but please also show how to play topspin ball.

  72. Hi Ian
    I seldom use split step because I am not used to it but but am convince of its importance in maintaining balance. Thanks for this informative video. I will again apply it when at play just like your free serve video course. Keep up the good work!!!

  73. I’ve been conscious recently of playing with my feet flat all too often, and have been working on staying on the balls of my feet to facilitate better movement. Your split step video adds an important element to those efforts. Thank you, Ian, for a great video.

  74. Great Ian,
    Thanks for sharing it with us. Look forward to videos 2 and 3.

  75. I Ian,
    You made a big point with this video.Indeed the splitstep is so incredibly important, thats why pros do it all and every time..As a teacher in local tennisclub, I notice that only the most talentfull youngsters who spent several hours on the court weekly, practice the splitstep all th time , with is a keypoint to improve their tennislevel. Adults who have had a intensive trainingin the past do the same. Without a very good physical condition people can’t practice the splitstep all the time, so people start working on it , and than follow Ian ‘s instructions.

  76. I’ve been playing a few years now and only seemingly remember to spilt on return of serve. I find it very frustrating that I can’t remember to do it consistently.

  77. Ian, thank you so much for rising this theme of play. Looking at professional players i was always admiring how easy they move and how precise they stop to hit a ball. I noticed the split step and tried to add it to my movement as much as possible but by now it’s still far from ok. During a game there are so much to remember or consentrate on (without a lot of practice it does not become automatic easily:)). I also wonder how to join the dancing steps with split steps and make it a one satisfying flow. Are there any hints like playing some music in your head or something like metronome for musician? Thanks a lot for your help.

  78. Great info. Clearly explained and demonstrated.

  79. I am a rec player at the 3.5 – 4.0 level. I do split step most of the time. I know we haven’t gotten to the timing video but it seems to me that Ferrer is split stepping way too late. He is splitting long after the ball is hit which means he has to land before he can react to where the ball is going. I know this is a practice and he would probably be splitting right before the opponent hits the ball during a match.
    Great session Ian. Thanks.

  80. Ian, I have been working on using the split step more often at the request of my coach. I do use it sometimes, but I admit that I still feel uncoordinated and that it sometimes throws the timing of my shots off. I have the most problems with the split step when I’m moving forward to the net in preparation of a volley. It is the timing of the whole thing. The width of my stance and being on the balls of my feet is not a problem, but executing it at the proper time and then moving to the ball.

  81. Consciously I want to do it but I’ve noticed that I get late in hitting the ball sometimes when I split step, especially when the ball is coming right at you very fast. Which result in a very weak return. (volley)

  82. Hi Ian
    I m working on my split step these days, it’s not automatic i still have to think about it but when i do, it increase my playing level a lot. I cant wait for the next video to see if my timing is good, for now i m doing the split step when my opponent is about swinging at the ball. I also have great success with returning serve with the split step.

  83. Thank you for breaking down the split step with slow motion video with explanation. I try to use the split step just before my opponent hits the ball. However, I do not get on the balls of my feet, and do not bend my knees or widen my stance as demonstrated.
    Looking forward to other videos in this series. Really appreciate your teaching with video demonstration – well done.

  84. Ian,

    I do use the split step however I have noticed that I am more flat footed than being on my toes. I will start concentrating being more on my toes to improve my quickness and range of motion. Thanks for the tip and we’ll see how it goes.


  85. Hi Ian – Thanks for the help with this. Especially the specifics.

    I’m with Phil with regard to many pros/teachers exhorting me to use the split step, yet they aren’t able to explain or teach it. I have tried for years to add it on my own, combing through descriptions in books, watching recorded matches in slow-motion, and attempting to use it in games,…Even watching pros during matches at the Open and only watching their feet! (I love watching practice sessions between pros!)

    I still could not get the rhythm, the timing, the flow, balance, and the re-direction and make it come together all at once.

    I have arrived at some form of a “split step”, but know I’m not there yet. I try to use it in games, but often forget it when involved in a serious point. I have been able to add it on return of serve.

    I believe footwork is the one aspect that most instructors ignore, and likely one that would benefit recreational players greatly. Thanks for the instruction!

  86. No, not enough. I have to make a conscious effort to do split steps, it doesn’t happen automatically, I’m afraid. Also, if I’m feeling tired I feel like I can’t afford to expend the energy to split step.

    At the very least I try to move forward and do a split step during the return of serve.

    Thanks for the clear instruction, Ian.

  87. Yes I do! Everytime, and I am a big believer that if you have any ambition of getting out of 4.0 to 4.5 or 5.0, you won’t be able to hang up there without it. It’s made a big difference and it s hard to explain why. I truly believe that from a physical standpoint that good footwork is the most important thing you can do to play at a higher level.

  88. Hey Ian,

    I believe the importance of a correct (!) split stepnis highly underrated with many teachers. From all of them I had, not a single one told me how and when actually to do it. I have heard many times “do the splitstep…” but neither the correct mechanics (e.g. weight distribution) nor timing. Especially the latter was a big deal for me. I saw an instructional video on return of serve and it was said how exactly to time the splitstep. Until that I tended to do my split to early, meaning i was already loosing balance when identifying de direction of the incoming ball and it would only to allow me to start explosively in one direction. So I started to time itnlater, and I even made an exagerated movement while doing the splitstep to practice. This helped magic in terms of reaction to the serve.

    In play From time to time I do the same, but sometimes out of lazyness I skip the split when not focusing on it (especially when focusing on another part of my technique which is then fine for me). I also say out of lazyness because when deliberately practicing splitstepping moving fast to the ball and recover, it is a very intense physical practice and tires me quickly.

    Sometimes I also start off with the wrong food (i.e. with a cross step instead of going towards the ball with the outside foot first) and I think its because of a bad timed splitstep.

    I have recently defined key points for my game/technique that seem far more important now to me than in the latter years. Instead of focusing too much on every detail of my swing path the key points are:

    - correctly timed split / outsidefoot first step
    - correct spacing to the ball (and a good split step helps magic)
    - taking the racket back with both hands on the racket and around/above shoulder level
    - being as loose as possible in my swing (which is also a result of the high racket back)

    Of course there are more than those key points (e.g. follow through), but currently those are the most important for me and two of them have to do with the split step.

    In short: good job teaching a correct splitstep and highlighting its importance. :)


    • I wanted to add that the video on return of serve said I need to be in the air at the time the opponents racket touches the ball. It seems Ferrer was even later than that. This might also have to do with the intensity/height of the jump/splitstep to correctly time it.

      • I think these pros split step naturally now after years of practice so they’re not really thinking about it. As far as Ferrer split stepping later than just before the racquet makes contact with the ball, I’d guess it’s because he’s practicing and his subconscious has already made the adjustment that he knows the ball is coming back soft and too him, so he’s in a very relaxed state. In a match scenario he’d be much more tuned in and the split step would mirror the situation he was in. Just a theory that could be tested with a search of actual match footage of Ferrer on youtube. I haven’t looked but I’d be willing to bet his split step comes earlier than in this practice session.

    • One more addition (don’t mean to spam here hehe): whatever I’m not doing yet and wanna teach my body (!) to do it I start off trying to exagerate the movement. One tends to feel a move much bigger than one is actually doing it (I especially learned this while performing hip hop dance on a stage, a move can feel “too much”… but it looks a lot “smaller” for a viewer.)

  89. Hi Ian,
    This was a great video and helped me to pick up something that I plan to use. I am really looking forward to seeing what you have to say in the next two videos. Here is what I picked up and I would like to hear your thoughts.

    My high school Varsity teams (boys and girls) work on the split step every day in practice at some point. I have heard different theories about when you should split step and why you should have your feet moving. I explain that studies have shown that even if you are moving in the wrong direction (and have to change to the opposite direction) you will still move faster to the ball than if you are standing still when it is hit. This same technique is used by fielders in baseball; they do not wait until the ball is hit before moving.

    With that said, I ask my players to split step as the opponent’s racket is being swung forward….not well before the ball is hit because then your feet will stop at the time the ball is hit and you can not move as quickly to it. Certainly you can’t move too late and be running forward still as you will be on one foot and not be able to move laterally for the ball.

    After watching your video, it seems to me that Ferrer is actually in the air (just a bit) almost as the ball is being hit as he prepares to split step. He may be split stepping as the racket comes forward but I could not say for sure as the video was in slow motion. Please let me know your thoughts.
    PS I was at the Cinci tournament and spoke to you last summer. Hope to see you again there this summer !

  90. Yes – I do utilize the split step and I find it very effective. If I didn’t use it, I think I would probably find myself tripping on the court. One issue I do have, however, is when I am at the net, bouncing on the balls of my feet, I find I am not reacting quick enough to a potential volley – probably covering the alley too much. Should I just make a commitment to the center of the court, or cover the alley?

  91. Hi Ian,
    Happy New Year!
    In answer to your question…NO….I’m going to start. It’s all about practice. It just so happens I have a double match tomorrow. That’s where it begins.

    My best,


    • IMHO I think a match is the wrong place for practicing. In practice repetition needs to be deliberate so that the body starts doing it without your brain having to tell it to*. Like Tijux said, I think warmup is also good to do a few thing deliberately but in a match play focus should be on one thing, that thing being a yellow little ball :)

      *as Ian in a podcast once called this: becoming unconsciously competent!

      • I agree. But there is nothing like the present. I will continue with my practice sessions,


      • I have been reading a number of books on deliberative practice by artists, athletes and psychologists and I have come to the conclusion that unconscious competence is the goal, but reaching it may be the kiss of death. The minute we stop trying to improve we begin to recede. Often unconscious competence is thought of as going on automatic pilot where we repeat the same grooved stroke time after time. It appears that becoming unconscious demands a strong desire to be creative. You want to be aware of the work and unaware of yourself. I have always tried to be unaware of both. The last couple times I have played I have tried to hit every shot a little different, with panache. I seem to be playing better, but it is too soon to tell. However, I am enjoying playing so much more that it is impossible to believe that I am on the wrong track.

  92. Great job on taking on this often ignored topic. I too fall in line with Steve K below. As an ex-athlete I naturally tend to assume the “ready position” and modified that when I started playing tennis. So I tend to have a decent split step (will work on widening it) when allowed time to set up. However, when pulled off the court, or scrambling for a shot, sometimes it seems like the split step actually slows me down, When out of postion, I tend to stay on the balls of my feet – without the jump, and rely on speed to get me back into the rally.
    Not argueing with you… just noting a personal challenge for me in using the split step consistantly.

  93. I do split step when coming to net, when in good position on the baseline, but if I’ve been pulled off the court and scrambling to recover it doesn’t seem helpful. I know my opponent might hit behind me if in full stride, so I will shuffle at the moment he is hitting, so I have some preparation to change direction if I have to.

  94. Hi Iaim getting regurarly ur very helpful vidoe inst.
    this one is very important to me because i need a lot of improvement
    on my footwork. the split step is essential and im really bad at it.
    forehand, backhand serve is fine except my movement.
    your lesson above to me is very valuable and from now on im going
    to pay a lot of attention to it. im a 3.5 player
    thanks a million

  95. I’m only using it during the warm up, but after that, during the match I have to think about it to use, so I need to get used to it, so it becomes more like running/hitting, something you do without being aware of it. So my question would, what kind of training would you recommend to do in my room, since now its kind of cold outside, so I will be prepared when spring comes and courts will be opened.

  96. I most frequently do the split step at the net since there is far less time up react to the ball. I know you have to have some give at the ankle, knee and hip joints to allow the muscles to load eccentrically but I even when doing that I still sometimes have pain. Is it possible I’m not allowing enough of a loading phase on my split or could it be another source? I’m really hoping you include some information in your videos on doing the split while moving forward. That is especially challenging for me.

  97. great video … did you leave “as soon as possible” out of the written definition on the screen? sorry to nitpick, nice illustrative film clip of Ferrer

  98. Very nice video, i do use the split step, essential in terms of preparation!

  99. hello Ian.My name is Pedro, and i have a problem with split step.I know that the split is very important,but when i am playing,i do the split step but,i don’t see any result doing it and i feel that i am loosing energy with it.So,what is the problem an how could i solve it?

  100. Thanks so much for this video. The split step is one thing that I rarely do. I need this video.

    I have spent 2 years trying to improve with my strokes. I have now realized that I am not improving very much and what I need to do is to improve my movement around the cour. It is obvious that the split step is the center of most of the movement.

    I eagerly look forward to your next videos.

    Thanks so much for this video.


  101. I do my best to split-step every time my opponent hits the ball. To keep this habit I have found it extremely important to pay special attention to split-step timing and upper body rotation during short-ball rallies warming up; it’s a great work-out and after that it’s automatic during play.

  102. This is the single, biggest problem I have ever since I started taking Tennis Lesson seriously 2yrs ago. Sometimes I make very conscious efforts at it but once a point starts, I go blank and won’t remember to split again until the point is over.
    Hopefully, by the time I’m true with your 3 Videos, this would no longer be an issue.
    Thank You for your efforts.

  103. Excellent description and showing video of a pro doing it correctly really helps as well. As to my use of the split step, I definitely do on return of serve and early exchanges in a point – while I am thinking about it – but it is not automatic yet and I suspect I lapse into not using it as a point progresses.

  104. Great literal definition of split step ! I enjoyed how you emphasized the importance of this move .

    Having been in the training field; other than tennis, I appreciated the methodical way you deliver your material . Credibility, enthusiam and sincererity are outstanding . Good work and a profound thanks .

  105. Thanks Ian, great vid and no long marketing promotion introduction! I like to think i’m a strongish rec player but don’t split step nearly enough. I find myself completley flat footed sometimes waiting for the return. SS needs to be done without thinking me thinks.

  106. So far, I was under the impression that one should do a split step only during service returns and volleying. Never knew that actually it has to be done before every shot :(

  107. Most of the time I use a split step as the opponents racket approaches and is just about to hit the ball. timing next video. In this first video my feet actually move backwards as my toes are about to touch the court lightly so that I have a natural lean to be able to angle forward to have momentum as I put a shot on the ball.

  108. I have not been split stepping until recently. Currently, I probably do it 10-15% of the time. My coach is working this old dog (almost 65) into learning this new trick.. Everytime I do it, I do get a better return shot off.
    Looking forward to this series.

  109. Split-stepping in advance doubles is even more pronounced. Students are taught to split step even when their partner is heard making contact with the ball. Somethings we look like bunnies. But the payoff is huge…

  110. I’ve used a split-step for years on service return, but tried the “more than shoulders width” approach yesterday, which seems to add to my balance. Thanks! I’m also a lot more effective on this shot when I move forward off the balls of my feet and move through the ball.

    As an exclusively doubles player, however, I try to make my split-step preparing for my first volley (or covering a lob) more unhurried and ready to move in any direction.

    Where I occasionally run into trouble is when we end up with three or four volleyers in a quick exchange and I find myself sometimes digging in flat footed to defend rather than splitting. Not sure if I perceive I don’t have the time to split or am trying to be in a good position to dig out a volley at my feet.

  111. Very useful video. Split-step should be introduced early in their early beginner lessons…We teach it early. Even to 8 and unders

  112. Great video and great tip. A good reminder to split step when advancing towards the net. Sometimes, I have a tendency to rush through the shot. I can see how the split step helps add power to your shot.
    Great video quality-High Def!

  113. I do a split step when coming to the net but many times (often) I do not while I am waiting at the net in doubles.

  114. I use the split step fairly frequently, but sometimes I am lightening and other times it is as if I split step into molasses. One of the other members wrote about getting the right amount of tension. I strongly disagree. When you make a split step, the whole point is you do not know where you are going. You want to be accepting not anticipating. It is like skiing moguls, you do not have time to decide how to react, you let your feet make the decisions. So I try to simply bend my knees but to have soft knees. I try to extend this softness to all my joints. Hopefully, the contagion spreads to my mind.

    • Dear Donald,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my comment and express your thoughts. Please allow me to shed some light on this idea…when you bend you knees, you introduce tension…your muscles have to contract to support that position. When you are on your heals, you have tension…your calves and shin muscles are contracted to keep you off your heals. So…the split step is in fact a state of Dynamic Tension with periods of tension and relaxation interwoven. The split steps are in fact in anticipation of the ball…if you weren’t anticipating the ball, you wouldn’t be bouncing. Whenever you move, there is tension, it is simply physics. The point is SLIGHT tension versus heavy tension. The split steps help reduce the amount of time it takes to move as compared to being at a complete standstill! Hope this clarifies the concept. All the best on your training, Milad

  115. Thank you so much for having this course. I have never really used the split step that is why I am not a strong player but no one has shown me how to do it so this should be very helpfull. My question is this I know I am heavy on my feet what do you suggest I do to train myself to be lighter on my feet so that I can actually use the split step?(other than lose weight of course)

  116. I’m quilty as charged but will serve the time to be found innocent
    My biggest challenge will be doing it till it becomes something I do without thinking about it
    I’m sure it will put me a step ahead the people I play with because most of them are very flat footed

  117. I watched this video several times consentraeting on Ferrer. The last time I watched it I was looking only at Murry…and he doesn’t seem to be doing the split step at all. Am I wrong or am I just not seeing it.

  118. Ian,

    II have been working on the split step recently and had a general idea of what to do, but I LOVE how you broke it down to 3 easy points: wide stance, bent knees, and on your balls of your feet. This explains it so well and I am eager to get back on the court to work on it. Thanks for your help :)

  119. Ian,
    At my age (67) it is kinda hard to change, even bad habits. It is really easy to see how the split step would help anyone. I plan to try and incorporate these 3 simple rules into my next match. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the videos.
    Thanks Dave

  120. I do use the split step and have also been told that my stance is too wide. So hearing what you said with regards to having a wide stance was good to hear! My issue is which you are going to cover I guess in the next issue is timing the split step, especially on the return of serve and approch volleys.. I will look forward to hearing about that in your next video!

    Thanks again you explain things well!

  121. So should I use split step before every single ball I hit?

  122. Hi Ian,
    I’m an advanced beginner player & I don’t use the split step all the time — but I do use it sometimes. I’m really just learning to use it. Your video was extremely helpful to me & I look forward to the rest of this series. I’m starting to understand why the split step is so important to my game. I am able to cover the court well but am not always in the proper position to hit the ball the way I’d like to. Will the split step help me prepare faster/better?

  123. Ian,

    Terrific video. It is very much like the snake and how it stays in a coiled posture when it wants to strike. The muscles have a certain amount of tension…not overtly tense but not relaxed either.

    Thanks again and Happy New Year,


  124. Thanks for this video, Ian. While the timing video will be good, my primary issue is staying mentally in the point such that I even remember to split step. Which is why so many lobs are going over my head while I’m sliding across the clay putting on the brakes. You have a drill for that?

  125. I pretend to use the split step, whenever I think about it (10% of the time). At my 3.5 level, I have no problems get to the ball. BUT being Balanced is a different story. This is why I think your “Footwork” video is going to be great for me and my game. Looking forward to part two of the series.

    Question: Is it a goal to say up on the balls of your feet during the entire point? (even if your partner is running down a deep moon ball)

    I am committed to learning correct fundamentals. Regular tennis lesson are not an option because of budget at this point. (Two kids in college)



    • Todd,

      Haha, I appreciate your honesty :)

      There will be times that your heels should naturally come down and touch the court surface (running full-stride to a ball for example) but I would say a good 80%-90% of every point should be spent with your heels off the court. The amount of time that the ball is in play is actually quite small compared to between point time and change-overs, you can do it!

  126. the split step, probably the most important move in tennis. the prep it gives you is amazing. no wonder the pros do it every single time. truly amazing. thanks.


  127. I’ve finally gotten to where the split-step is a routine part of my game. I wish I was taught this back in Medieval times when I was younger. It has helped me compensate for my lack of quickness and my slow reaction time. Even though I don’t always get the timing right, it’s so much better than being flat-footed. Also I get more exercise out of doubles by bouncing on my toes throughout each point.

    Interesting in the video that Ferrer appears to split-step when the incoming ball is already in the air.

    • Andrew,

      Good observation on Ferrer’s timing. I’ll be talking about that in depth during the next video (out soon). Thanks for watching!

  128. Hello Ian,

    I want to be brutally honest with you. I’ve been watching your videos but was skeptical because of the name of your website (it is similar to Essential Tennis Instruction – it seems like you copied their name) and because I’m very much attached to FuzzyYellowBalls and their instruction (I bought every course they made).

    However, with this video, you completely changed my stance towards your instructional material. I’ve been looking for help on the split step for years and this is great help. You’ve earned my confidence and from now on I’ll be an avid consumer of everything you produce.

    Thank you!

    • Cesar,

      Well, to be frank with you, my web site launched a full year before Essential Tennis Instruction went live. So you’ll have to take that up with them ;)

      I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed this video so much, definitely keep an eye out for #2 and #3 which will be available shortly.

  129. Ian, thanks for the split step lesson, I have been trying so hard to let my students understand the importance of the split step even to my nationally ranked students that sometimes it feels like pulling teeth, so I was very happy that you talk about it also and I am hoping they will start using it since they hear the same thing from a different voice. Once again thank you for backing up.
    Samuel Joseph

    • Samuel,

      Absolutely, I totally know what you’re talking about. I used to spend 40+ hours per week on the court with rec players and it was incredible how few people would actually take this to heart and put in the work to make it a habit, even though it’s so vital. Keep fighting the good fight!

  130. Ian,

    I noticed that ferrer does his split step after murray makes contact with the ball. I always try to do the split step just before my opponent hits the ball. Is it just a matter of preference or does one offer advantages over the other? Or am I just doing it wrong?

    • Mike,

      The whole next video will address your questions here, look for it in the next few days!

  131. What timing! I just hit last night and used the whole session to work on my split step. (I’m still at the stage where I must force myself to remember to do it.) The difference is night and day, especially on my backhand. Without a split step, I’m rushing sometimes off balance to get into position and often hit with my weight going sideways or backwards. With the split, I often have time to prep, get into position and can often drive the ball putting pressure on my opponent – or at least stay in the point if he strikes the ball well toward me.

    It So simple and essential – without the split step, I’m rushing and frequently off balance. With it, I’m getting to balls, driving more of them and playing much more offense. It’s a huge difference!

    • Phil,

      If only my timing on the court were as good as my video timing with your game :)

  132. Ian:

    Thanks for your expert analysis.


  133. I try to use the split step. But, it is not ingrained to where I do it automatically. I can definitely feel the difference in my reaction time when I forget to do the split step.
    I have noticed it is a big help when returning serve. I try to take a little step in when the ball is tossed. Then split step as the serve is hit.

    • Dan,

      Yup, on the return of serve is definitely a biggie. Thanks for watching!

  134. I have been playing tennis for 38 years and the split step is automatic for me and I take it for granted. However, these videos help tremedously for teaching purposes. As a teaching pro, these videos are a refresher course!! I love them. Can’t wait to see more!!!

    • Excellent, great to hear that they’re helpful. Where do you teach?

      • I teach in baton rouge, La. The state, juniors leave if they want to be really good or turn pro as you well know. It’s not the best place to be if you want to be a top junior player. As a parent, I am in that position as well with my son. However, it is a great place to teach recreational players!! The adult tennis is great here!! Lots of recreational players. Thanks for your time!!

  135. I am an average 3.5 player and I play a lot better when i REMEMBER to split step. I am not very fast on my feet so I have a hard time adding a slit step and getting to the ball. I am not sure if my slowness is general laziness on court or due to lack of split step in my game. :}

    This is exactly the type of explanation I need – looking forward to learning from part 2 and 3.

    • Sundeep,

      Your goal should ultimately be to make it a habit, ie: you don’t have to actually remember anymore. Keep working at it!

  136. Hi-
    I use the split step when returning serve, and even then not all of the time. I REALLY need this, especially the timing part. I try to time it when the opponent hits the ball, but have heard it should actually be the moment you know where he/she will hit the ball. Can’t wait.

  137. Been trying to use the split step, particularly on service return, but was doing it only partly right technique wise. Great explanation.

    • Jim,

      Excellent that you’ve started, bring it over to every shot eventually, not just the return!

  138. Thanks again for the video. Was Ferrer using a forehand grip in that one? Thought you were supposed to use continental at the net. Is that just a preference?

    • It is personal preference to a certain extent, 99% of high level players (pros included) are using either continental or something very close to it. Ferrer is definitely not on Eastern Forehand here, his big knuckle is higher up than bevel #3. I’m not sure if he’s dead center on continental or not, but it’s definitely right around there.

      • OK Thanks!. It’s amazing that you thane the time to reply to everyone.

  139. Really good Ian. I’ve never seen it explained so well! I going out right now to practice. Mike

  140. Yes I am avid about the spit step I use it in every are of the game
    It’s very important to the aspects of the game.

  141. I am aware of the split step, I have seen a few people religiously use it. I seldom use it. Why?
    Too lazy to set up the ball machine or a practice session with some to move it from a thought, to
    a properly performed excercise, to a habit, to an automatic process.

    • Bill,

      I would actually only use the ball machine to work on it if you’re focusing on the technique only. In the next video I’ll be talking about timing the split step correctly which is virtually impossible to work on with a ball machine since you can’t see when it’s going to be “hit”.

  142. I have been working on the split step, but it has been inconsistent. This is the first time I’ve heard it broken down into shoulder width, balls of feet, knees bent. Very helpful. I have been getting frustrated at my struggels to get a good split-step because I know how inmportant it is. This gives me something to focus on and work on. I am looking forward to the timeing video. Thanks, Ian. Really good stuff!


    • You’re very welcome, Gary. Keep working at it!

  143. I have been using the split step, but I would concentrate on executing the split step, and then I would look to judge the incoming ball. This would often cause me to move late to the ball. I have been trying to execute the split step and at the same time judge the incoming ball. This works much better for me.

    • Sounds like a good plan, John! Keep up the great work as always :)

  144. Ian, excellent analysis of the split steps. I try to do that for every hit at the ball but the problem with
    me is I somteimes tend to forget doing the split steps during play. I am making notes of what you say in my iPhone so that I can revise it from time to time so much so that my feet become automatic in split stepping. In any case this is an extremely useful lesson. I am earnestly looking forward to watching your next two videos.

    • Great to hear it was helpful, John. Yes, making it automatic is the tricky part. That takes a lot of reps, keep working at it!

  145. OK thanks Ian.

    1. Is it not important also to try, if at all possible, to keep the body moving forward, weight moving forward, just after the spit step?
    2. Is it not important also to turn the shoulders (one way or the way, depending on if it’s a forehand or backhand you are hitting) as soon as possible just after the split step?

    Thanks again for video.

    • Gary,

      1. Definitely not always, in fact in video 3 you’ll see Ferrer and Murray (during competition) moving right, left, and even backwards as they split step. Most coaches really overstate that.
      2. Yup, you’ll see this demonstrated in video 3 as well.

      Good to hear from you!

  146. While your material on the serve was insightful, this material on the split-step will without question establish your teaching credentials. There’s no question that a close look at club players will show again and again that only “true” tennis players – at any age – split step on every opponent’s shot.
    It’s not the grace or accuracy of a swing or even the ability to win matches that makes the difference – it’s that split step everytime. Because I must still think about it every moment on the court – after three decades of play – I know the weakness that keeps me from playing at a level I like every time I step on the court.
    Kudos for looking right at “it”…

    • Martin,

      Great to hear that you’ve taken note of this as well. It really IS that big of a deal!

  147. I’m a pretty average 3.5 player. I know that I do split step once in a while. But for sure not every shot. Why would I want to be ready to hit every shot anyway? :)

  148. When I am fresh at the beginning of a match I use a split step. My biggest problem is timing the split. I look forward to your lesson on timing. Later in the match as it get tired I fail to split regularly.

    Jim Fournell

    • Jim,

      Definitely don’t feel badly about that, timing is the toughest part for players to get down. Video 2 will focus on that, out soon!

  149. You are right to emphasize the importance of the split-step. I do use it, but I am guilty of not being consistent enough with it.

    • Karl,

      Kudos for being honest, start making it a habit!

  150. I use a split step most of the time. It is almost an automatic reflex.

    • Linda,

      Excellent. Next stop for you: making it totally automatic!

  151. Im really looking forward to this. Any tips on drills that can help with timing the split at exactly the right time, during rally’s and volley exchanges, would drastically improve my tennis.
    By the way loving the volley course even though its winter here. Thanks so much for putting together such an excellent product.


    • Babak,

      The whole next video will be about timing, it will be out soon. Great to hear that you’re enjoying Volley Mastery!