It’s Hip to be Square – Stances are situational

In tennis today, we are often told about ” angular rotational force” & how it differs from the “old school” back to front foot “linear force”. We’re also told about semi-open or open stances, as opposed to the square and closed stances of yore. The truth of the matter is that there is a time & place for both types of force & stance in the modern game.

Take the closed stance – most current pros still hit their one-handed & two-handed backhands with a closed stance – IF they are planted & have time; however, they ALSO hit their backhands with semi-open stances & open stances if needed eg. on the run & some ONLY hit open-stance backhands – Serena and Venus. The conclusion to be drawn is that stances are situational.

To clarify further, hitting from a closed stance means you’re hitting with one leg, the inside one, crossed over the outside one. Now clearly this requires one extra step to execute – the cross-step – as opposed to simply hitting off the outside leg. What else may we deduce?

a. it is quicker to recover back to the middle b. it is slower

If you said a. then consider that after you’ve played your stroke, you will probably┬átake a balance step with your inside leg, then take a cross-step back to where you played the shot from.┬áThe open-stance stroke player is already two steps closer to the middle & time is important in tennis. I think this explains why Federer – who stubbornly insists on a closed stance on EVERY backhand – does a lot more running side to side than Nadal, Djoker & Murray, who switch backhand stances from closed to open to square depending on the situation. Nevertheless, there is till a place for the closed stance back-hand in the modern game IF you have time.

On the forehand, no modern pro uses a closed stance for a ground-stroke. Why?

a. increased speed of the game b. fashion-statement c. need for more rotation

If you intuited a. and c. , & discarded b., you’d be right. We’ve discussed  the need for less steps to get to the ball and to subsequntly recover. In addition, we must now factor in the additonal rotational force you get with a semi-open stance. With a closed-stance your hips lock automtically, restricting your take-back, whilst with a semi-open the amount of rotation available is almost 50% more. There is one caveat to this  – to unlock your hips, you must pivot on the toe of your front foot (like an ice-skater prior to  a spinning leap) in order to achieve maximum angular rotation; if your front foot is grounded,  your hips lock & you get no benefit from the semi-open stance.

When do we need a semi-open stance on the fore-hand side? a. at the net b. mid-court c. return of serve d. base-line rally

The question can be re-phrased – in what situation on the court do we need the most angular rotation-power? Obviously, that rules out a. The volley is a direction shot. Ditto b. unless you are going for the kill on a high, slow ball – but even then you’re still more concerned with directing your ball c. is a hybrid of a. and b. ie. it is a ball you want to direct more than power & it is a mid-court ball. That, of course, leaves d., where you want the angular rotation- power the semi-open stance affords.

Now, finally, we get to the meat of this blog. A stance that you see many of the pros go to when they transition from base-line slogging to mid-court approaches is the Square or Neutral stance (this is like a putter’s stance in golf, both feet sideways in a line, your body facing the side). Like the closed stance, it naturally locks your hips. This is advantageous as you no longer need the big swing. The force is now more linear, front foot to back foot. In fact, pros often “hit through” their approaches, striking the ball as they transfer from back to front foot, without pausing to plant. The switch in stance, from semi-open to square is as crucial as the change in grip from ground-stroke to Continental for the volley.

So, now a little quiz to see where we stand, ahem, on stances & the use of hips & pivoting.

1. You are making an approach shot in mid-court – do you use a. a closed stance b. square stance c. semi-open

2. You are returning serve – do you a. ground your feet b. pivot on your front toe.

3. You are Serving & start your tossing motion – do you a. pivot on your front toe b. ground your feet

4. You get an approach shot – do you a. ground your feet b. pivot up on your front toe

5. You get a wide ball on your back-hand side – do you a. hit closed-stance b. open-stance

Answers: 1. b. (a closed stance stops you from running thru’ the hit as smoothly as a square stance) 2. a. (you don’t need a big back-swing, you are directing a mid-court ball: by grounding your feet you lock your hips & thereby restrict your take-back) 3. a. (You want to get as much hip-rotation as you can get, you are on the base-line, so pivot up on your front toe) 4. a. (You don’t want to over-swing & open up on short balls. Staying grounded helps you stay sideways) 5. b. (Less steps to the ball & to recover).

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