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Time Your Split Step And Own The Net

Young man is playing tennis on sunny day

By Angus MacLean, Tennis Professional at The Carl Sanders YMCA in Atlanta

After 30-plus years of coaching tennis and watching hundreds of league and tournament matches, I have come to the conclusion that the players who anticipate the best at net own the net and win the most. The players who cover the net well compared with the players who do not is pretty simple. The players who cover the net well really understand the concept of timing their split step. The players who do not cover the net well are flat-footed and like a deer in the headlights.

So what exactly is a split step? Coaches say it all the time, but sometimes I’m not convinced our students are grasping it. A split step is a little bounce step you take right as your opponent is about to hit the ball. It helps you get a good read on what your opponent is hitting to you. Is it low? Is it to my left, or do I need to move back and hit an overhead? I equate a split step to a shortstop in baseball. A shortstop always bounces as the batter is about to swing. The shortstop needs to read the ball off the batter’s bat, saying to himself, “Is it to my left, at my body, to my right, or do I need to move back and catch it?”

I know everyone has different athletic ability, but everyone can improve their anticipation and quickness at the net, no matter their skill level. I start every team coaching clinic with cooperative reflex volleys. I have all four players start about two feet inside the service line and I have them keep the ball in play without them letting the ball hit the ground. I have them focus on timing their split step and watching the ball come off their opponents’ racquets. Once they have nice, controlled rallies, then I let them hit the ball a little harder. This really trains their eyes and hands.

Time your split step, see the ball well, and own the net.


Hometown (City/State): San Francisco, California

How did you get involved in teaching tennis? I’ve been playing tennis my whole life and fell into it.

Diehard fan of what sports team? San Francisco 49ers

Best part of your game? My ground strokes.

Dream doubles match would be me and… Any one of the Bryan brothers

When I’m not teaching tennis, I’m… Walking my dog, Hunter, and doing home projects.

My favorite tennis memory is: Winning my first USTA tournament match when I was 13.

My favorite professional player is: Rafael Nadal

#1 reason why I enjoy teaching & coaching tennis: Knowing that I make people’s day a better day. I like helping people learn how to play tennis in a fun manner.

What important tennis message do you want to promote? The great thing about tennis is that it is a very healthy activity, but it is great socially. Humans are social creatures and getting on a league team gives you a bunch of new friends. I encourage everyone I coach to find a team to play on, as most humans like activities where they can participate in a group setting.


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