The Travel Line
‘On Line One’
On most groundstrokes, the racket head is swung, whipped or thrown into a curved journey – an arc – around the body.
But tennis play is also made up of many important lines and this is the first of three.
Line 1: The Travel Line
Probably the most important aspect of tennis play is movement – namely, the ability to gauge the ball’s flight and move (and set up) accordingly.
And to successfully position yourself to hit any groundstroke, you must first read what I call the travel line of the ball.
In frame 1 Pete Sampras has eased-up on his movement as he nears the line of the oncoming ball: – he is fully turned, gripped-to-go and his racket is well into a take-back.
In 2 & 3 Pete slides his leading foot closer to the travel line of the oncoming ball: – not too close, not too far away, then…
in 4 & 5. we see Pete’s perfect positioning, as he gets close enough to crunch a backhand but stays far enough away to allow his stroke room to flourish (with a racket parallel to the ground in 4).
Sprint, then Ease
When covering wide balls, quality players sprint to within range of the ball and then ease up their movement as they approach the travel line, enabling them to engineer a perfect contact and hit from a steady base.
Much better than hitting the ball in transit – ‘Hey, there’s a ball! I’ll hit it while I’m passing through!’ is not the right approach.
The Sampras backhand also had personal quirks, which I’ll highlight later.