Balance is the key fundamental. It is possible for you to compensate for certain inadequacies when you hit a ball. For example, timing can compensate for lack of speed. Stamina may compensate for lack of strength. Nothing however can compensate for a lack of balance. Being off balance slows your reaction time and impinges on your shots. In tennis, being balanced means you are balanced all the time, whether you’re standing, moving or hitting.
Whether swinging or punching, the force of an effective swing travels from your center of gravity to your racket head. A loss of balance at the beginning of a stroke will inhibit the body’s ability to initiate force. A loss of balance during a stroke will inhibit your body’s ability to transfer force to the racket.
Excessive waist flexion will lead to an off balance stroke. However, when you are rapidly accelerating to an approaching ball, waist flexion is necessary for maintaining balance. Imagine a sprinter as he leaves the starting block. His upper body tilts forward. After several steps the posture becomes straighter. However, in order to maintain balance during his initial burst of speed, he must flex at the waist and lean into the direction of his movement.
An off balance stroke will also occur when you flex at the waist without flexing your knees. Keeping the head, shoulders and hips in a vertical line will help your balance. It also reinforces head stability and a consistent contact range.
In tennis, being balanced requires moving your feet. This means bouncing, shuffling, and running to get to the ball and back to the Ideal Recovery Position. If you don’t have good footwork, you won’t have good balance. The way to better footwork is to work on balance though, not the other way around. You’ve developed your footwork’s muscle memory over a lifetime. It won’t change easily.
Good players work just as hard between shots as they do when they’re hitting the ball. They have their heels off the ground and are up on the balls of their feet, ready to move. Think about when you are running. Your heel always comes off the ground before your toe. If you are already on your toes between shots, you eliminate the extra movement and time needed to pick up your heel.
Your objective is to get your balance before your opponent even hits the ball. That’s where the “split step” comes in. If your “split step” is well timed, you’ll feel very balanced by the time you react in the direction of the incoming ball. If you’re off balance when the opponent strikes the ball, you will be late in responding to the incoming ball and can easily become “wrong-footed”.
Balance doesn’t need to be taught. It’s natural. You just need to become conscious of being balanced to become aware of it. Instead of saying: “Are you ready to react?” say to yourself:”Are you balanced?”. That will make you ready.