Economy of Movement: the Key to Speed

Rowden Fullen (2006)

Explosive speed is an inherited characteristic and players who don’t have it are rather limited in what they can do to train up this aspect. However there is nothing to stop any player only using those patterns which give most economy of movement. It’s elementary for example to understand that quick play requires short strokes so that you can recover for the next ball (not so short however that you fail to play ‘through’ the ball). If in our modern fast game however you are attacked hard and have no time, then you must often be satisfied with the block return. Bear in mind however that there are a considerable number of differing ways of blocking, from taking the pace off the ball, to dramatically changing the spin, to increasing the speed and also a large variety of timing points which can be used.

Racket recovery is particularly crucial and it’s vital that the racket returns to the neutral position after each stroke so that you are ready to play FH or BH on the next ball. It is equally vital that the elbow drops down after the stroke (especially the BH counter) so that the forearm is in the best possible position to move in either direction.

The ultimate style of the player will dictate which type of movement patterns he or she should use. Close to the table blockers will use many one-step movements or small jump steps. Strong loop players will inevitably use the cross-step to reach the wide ball (pivoting on the left foot for a RH player) and defenders should train at moving in and out. However with the modern game both close and deep, movements which retain a square position are preferable. Movement is one of the most critical parts of any young player’s development and yet very few countries in Europe work constructively with footwork patterns at an early age. It is particularly important that you establish a pattern with a young player that can grow with the player, (can a sidestep pattern be easily developed into a cross-step?). It is also a priority in the ‘modern’ game, where we have limited time that footwork is economical, one big step is preferable to many small ones.

Among the world’s elite (especially the Asian players) the FH is still the dominant stroke and many men players will still move more in order to bring this wing into play. (Among the top European men because of the increase in the basic minimal speed many now use the BH from the middle or even from the FH side against the serve. It will be interesting to see if this tactic, which has been common amongst the women for many years, will become the norm in the men’s game).

Perhaps here a warning should be issued to women trying to use the FH over the whole table as some top men do. The women’s game is rather faster as they stand closer to the table, hit the ball earlier and flatter. Often they have less time to move and to react between shots. Also overall their physical capabilities can be reckoned as between 15 – 30% lower than the male. These factors can make the difference between success and failure at top level when women try to emulate the men.

For a top player to execute strong topspin from FH and BH corners with FH and BH consecutively takes around 0.6 of a second. However to do the same with just the FH wing will take almost 1.0 second. This is quite a big time difference at top level. FH play over the whole table is also asymmetrical (by this we mean one-sided and unbalanced movement). Symmetrical play is clearly superior from the point of view of economy of movement, the only downside being that the BH topspin is generally less powerful than the FH.

A change to more symmetrical play requires that the BH topspin be of the same quality as the FH. This can be achieved by use of what we call the tennis BH. Here with a quarter rotation backwards, taking the ball off the left hip, leading with the right elbow and using good rotation and very fast forearm action, the stroke can be upgraded to a similar power and speed as the FH. Certainly in the future it is becoming obvious that in the light of the speed of the modern game, play will become more and more ‘symmetrical’ and that this will be the way forward.

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