The fundamental footwork elements that you must master in order to have a chance to compete at the highest levels are: the split step, the shuffling, the cross over step and planting. The player also must develop the ability to use them at different speeds and directions.
This fundamental way of moving on the tennis court has been executed by all the great champions of any era. Bill Tilden used this way of moving back in the day, just like Roger Federer executes it in today’s game.
Split Step: This action must by timed with the opponents racquet impact with the ball, it will allow you to get in a well balanced neutral position, engaging your entire body in order to react properly to the direction, spin, speed or what ever action your opponent puts on the ball.
Shuffling: Moving with rhythm is the key to striking the ball with efficiency. Shuffling will give you that rhythm. In the duration of a point a player will shuffle about 75% of the time, the contrast will be the utilization of explosive movements and small adjusting steps. This combination is what makes the top players movement look effortless, as if they were gliding on the court.
Crossover Step: The cross over is a movement that will help you to efficiently cover more court when recovery from a ball on the run, while keeping you well balance and facing your opponent. This step is also used to move back to a deep shot, for an overhead, to attack a short ball or approach or even runaround the backhand, to hit and inside out forehand or volley.
You will normally want the opposite leg of the direction you are moving to, to cross over.
(If you are moving to the left, the right leg should cross over the left leg), keeping the hips and shoulders square.
Planting: Probably the most important of all. This action plays three (3) very important roles. Break, Balance, Push.
1) Break: No mater how fast you are running to the ball, when you commit to strike the ball, you must engage the leg into the planting (the leg of the side you are hitting from, Right leg for right side, left leg for left side) this action will slowdown your momentum and set you up for the next role.
2) Balance: This is the moment when you are loading your body weight and planting the leg and lining up the body with the ball to make contact. It will almost look like a pose, setting up the final stage.
3) Push: This is the moment when your leg begins the initial push and exploding/release motion continuing the chain reaction of the effective stroke production.
Properly planting will make your timing with the contact more effective, which will allow you to transfer the body weight, towards the point of contact, adding pace and control to the stroke.
The myth of the little steps: Many believe that a tennis player must move around the court with small steps, by doing so you will often be standing taller and off balance if you have to cover a longer distance, the movements will be awkward and make it very difficult to plant and load effectively. Small steps are used to adjust the planting, especially if you are playing a ball on the run or forced to back up.