John Lucas – former NBA player and current trainer – is one famous athlete who excelled in tennis and basketball. While people rarely connect these sports because of the different sport-specific skills, the movements are similar. Tennis players move laterally to track down balls, charge to the net and occasionally backtrack to get to a lob. Basketball players move laterally to defend the ball, sprint down court and backtrack in transition defense.
We explain expert basketball players in many different ways – their competitiveness, their shooting, their court vision, their mental toughness – but the best players move well. Movement is at the heart of the game.
As Roger Federer competes in the U.S. Open this week, watch his movement, as it separates him from his competitors. There are better servers, better backhands, better forehands, but nobody moves better: he always hits the ball from a balanced position.
David Bailey, an Australian who prefers the title footwork specialist to coach, says:
“Federer has a 360-degree skill set,” Bailey said. “He’s fantastic going forward, backward and laterally, on all surfaces. There’s no movement wasted.”
Bailey credits Federer’s multilateral development:
Bailey attributes this, in part, to Federer’s background in other sports, like soccer, basketball and skiing. Some tennis players are one-leg dominant, Bailey said, which makes certain shots and portions of the court uncomfortable.
That’s not the case as often with European players, who Gimelstob said are taught tennis from the bottom up and move well with either leg, often from scurrying around soccer fields.
While many U.S. children rush to specialize, Federer – possibly the greatest athlete in the world right now – played multiple sports.
Federer credits his soccer, but also his fitness coach:
[Pierre ] Paganini stressed the importance of movement. He designed drills specific to the tennis court…He made footwork fun for Federer again. Paganini also built three training blocks into Federer’s schedule each season during which the focus was on fitness and footwork instead of forehands.
“My footwork comes from my fitness,” Federer said. “If I’m fit, I’m moving well, and this puts things in equal terms. And this is where I’m usually the better player. This is where I have the advantage.”
From Roger Federer, the greatest tennis player of all-time, we learn three things:
- He played multiple sports as a youth which has enhanced his performance.
- His fitness coach periodizes his training schedule.
- His coach makes his workouts fun.