Skill, technique and a killer instinct are just a few prerequisites for the top-ranked U.S. Open stars. But aside from delivering 100-mph serves and set-clinching backhands, tennis aces must also display remarkable speed and agility.
Tennis actually involves a ton of running — all-out sprints included. In fact, in the 2015 U.S. Open men’s semifinal, top-seeded Novak Djokovic ran seven miles in a single match. And, we’re not talking steady steppin’ here. Tennis players must sprint laterally from all sides, behind or in front of the baseline, and to and from the net. Think of it like a chess game but with crazy acceleration.
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So what’s the secret to their quick and flawless footwork? Speed drills.
Even if the U.S. Open isn’t the goal, you still can get faster and more athletic by stealing a few foot patterns from the pros. And where better to learn them than Flushing Meadows, New York — the official site of the U.S. Open. Watch carefully, then jump in, as Reebok athlete Luis Badillo Jr. serves up a few of his favorite speed drills for any athlete.
“These speed drills are very helpful for a variety of sports. Sports are played at a very high intensity, especially when it comes down to speed, agility, footwork, quickness, explosiveness, reflex and reaction. These are all characteristics that an athlete must possess,” says Badillo, who has coached numerous NBA and NFL players.
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Using an agility ladder, cones and hurdles, do three reps (back and forth counts as one rep) for each drill. Repeat for three rounds. “The best place to start speed drills for beginners is on turf. Once you’ve mastered speed on turf, challenge your speed further by taking the drills to sand, water, mud or uphill,” Badillo recommends.
1. Get off the line quickly.
Set up an agility ladder and run through it with high knees, pulling your knees towards your chest. “Exaggerated movements like high knees help you practice technique so you’re ready for the real situation when it comes,” says Badillo. The ladder trains you to stay light on your toes while moving fast, which is crucial to developing speed, Badillo says. This is a great drill to help build endurance and strengthen your hip flexors. It also stretches your glutes so you get longer strides.
2. Snag strays on the fly.
Place two cones in front of you about eight feet apart. Run through them while staying low enough to tap the top of the cones as you pass them. A common mistake is running upright and then bending down. It wastes time and energy, Badillo says. Like the first drill, this exercise will help strengthen your quads and glutes, packing more power in your squats.
3. Sprint cross-court.
Set up hurdles a few feet apart across the length of the court, and sprint over them as fast as you can. “The hurdle is for explosiveness, or how fast you can get your feet off the ground,” Badillo says. This particular drill will help you achieve maximum speed over a short distance, Badillo says. Avoid knocking over the hurdles. This will train you to run with control at an accelerated pace, and force you to use your arms for more momentum.
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4. Stop on a dime.
Set up two cones about four feet apart. Run two loops around them and then continue to run across the length of the court. “Lean forward and keep your center of gravity low so you can take sharp turns without falling down,” Badillo says. The more forward leaning you are, the more momentum you’ll have to propel you. Think of it as positioning your body to the direction you want it to go.
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5. Pick up multiple balls.
Set up an agility ladder and alternate placing tennis balls inside and outside of each rung. Run through the ladder with both feet in each box and then both feet out, picking up the balls as you pass them. This drill will give your heels some recovery. Because you’re shortening your strides here, you’ll need to engage your core to run through the boxes and pick up the balls.
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