Tennis Technique: 9 ways to improve your volleys
Coming to the net to finish off a point can seem quite daunting to many players, mainly because you have less time to react to what’s coming and also because people just feel more comfortable playing from the baseline as that is where they have spent the vast majority of their time on court.
However coming to the net can help you put pressure on your opponent, as well as allow you to finish off the point much sooner. If you do it well, it can make things a lot easier, plus it adds a whole new dimension to your game.
Here are some tips on improving your volleys and net game in general:
1 – Stay low, keep your racket up.
2 – Make sure you use the correct grip.
3 – Don’t take big swings: Racket movement needs to be short and direct
4 – Hold the racket firmly
5 – Body weight should be on your left leg for the forehand volley, right leg for the backhand volley
6 – Racket face needs to be open slightly. The lower the ball, the more it needs to open
7 – Know where to position yourself
8 – If the ball is coming straight at you, hit a backhand volley
9 – Know where to hit the ball
1 – Stay low, keep your racket up:
Staying low (knees bent, bodyweight forward) at the net allows you to react and move quickly to whatever comes your way. You will naturally feel more ready and alert by being in this position. If you are standing upright, you will not be able to react and move fast enough to anything unexpected. Keeping your racket up also helps you to get the racket in place quickly and efficiently to where it needs to be to make contact with the volley.
2 – Use the correct grip:
The correct grip is called a continental grip. In general, you need to adjust the grip until it’s comfortable for hitting a backhand volley, then use that same grip to hit every volley or smash. It’s ok to adjust a bit until it’s feeling less awkward on the forehand volley, but whatever you go with, stick with it.
You just don’t have time to swap grips for every shot when you are at the net, especially when playing someone who hits hard or if you are playing a doubles match where you can easily get into a fast volley exchange between 2-4 players close to the net.
3 – Don’t take big swings: Racket movement needs to be short and direct:
You simply don’t have time to take big swings at the net. You are much closer to your opponent than if you were back on the baseline, so you have much less time to react.
If your opponent hits the ball fast and you take a big swing, chances are that you will mess up the timing of the contact and lose control of the volley. Plus you don’t really need the power from a big swing at the net. Just by positioning yourself well and keeping your balance with bodyweight forward, you can generate plenty of power on the volleys by blocking/punching them back.
If you have time (your opponent has hit you a slow ball), then you can do a bit more, but don’t overdo it as it is deceptively easy to mess up a slow ball at the net.
4 – Hold the racket firmly:
When the ball is hit fast at you when you are at the net, you’d better be holding your racket firmly, otherwise you will lose the point (sure, you may get lucky sometimes, but 9 times out of 10 you will lose the point).
If you aren’t holding your racket firmly, what will happen is that the ball will move the racket in your hand and it will end up facing the wrong way, causing the ball to bounce off your racket somewhere other than you intended. In an extreme case, your racket could also be knocked out of your hand if you happen to mess up the contact, which would be embarrassing.
If you do hold your racket firmly, you will find that you don’t really need to do much when the ball is coming fast, just face the racket head in the direction you want the ball to go and when it hits your strings, the ball will bounce off with plenty of speed and head in that direction.
Even when you are doing a dropshot volley, you still need to hold your racket reasonably firmly , except in that situation, you can loosen up the wrist and arm a little bit to help you gain the desired “feel” to take the speed off the ball and drop it short.
5 – Bodyweight should be on your left leg for the forehand volley, right leg for the backhand volley:
This is a good habit to get into, mainly because if you do the opposite, you are either left-handed, or you will find that your leg gets in the way of your racket on any mid height to low ball which can obviously cause a lot of issues with your volleys.
The other reason is that using the correct leg to balance on allows you to turn your body and use your upper body to generate some weight for the contact, rather than being stuck front on.
6 – Racket face needs to be open slightly. The lower the ball, the more it needs to open:
This becomes quite obvious, if not straight away then at least once you have hit a few volleys. Keeping the racket face straight (vertical to the ground) will just make the ball you hit drop down and risk going into the net.
Hitting with a slightly open racket face allows the ball to gain a little bit of lift, allowing it to go straight or slightly up (and clearing the net), rather than losing height and dumping into the net.
The lower the ball is when you make contact, the more you need to open the racket face to allow the ball to be able to clear the net.
7 – Know where to position yourself:
Don’t just run up and stand almost touching the net. This position will allow your opponent to pass you easily with a high ball (a lob) and also risks you touching the net with either your body or racket, which automatically costs you the point.
Likewise, don’t come forward and end up standing in the center of the court as it will be easy for your opponent to hit a successful passing shot on either side of you. Also, don’t get caught standing too far back because this gives your opponent a chance to jam the ball down at your feet or to pass you easily with an angled passing shot.
What you do want to do is get close, but not so close that you can’t cover an easy lob going over your head. The position here will depend on a few things, namely your height/reach, your speed, your ability to read the play and how much risk you are comfortable with.
Generally though, a good distance to position yourself from the net would be around 1m forward from the middle of the service box (check the orange mark in the diagram below). Then, you just follow the ball: if you hit the ball to the left, move to the left. If you hit the ball to the right, move to the right.
How far over should you move? Far enough that with one step you have all of your opponent’s down the line shot covered, and yet with one large step in the other direction you are still able to cover most of their cross court opening.
8 – If the ball is coming straight at you, hit a backhand volley:
Contrary to what you would do when hitting from the baseline, at the net your main shot when you get in trouble is the backhand volley.
If you take a racket and start moving it around in front of you like you would if you were hitting a volley, you will find that using a forehand volley will cramp you up very quickly as soon as the ball gets close to your body. However, if you setup for a backhand volley and move the racket around, you will find that it can cover a much larger area while still being able to hold the racket firmly, even out towards your forehand side.
This means that whenever a ball is coming fast at your body, it’s much better to use the backhand volley to hit it back. Your racket will be much more stable and your shot will be hit more effectively.
9 – Know where to hit the ball:
The obvious one here is to not hit the ball back to your opponent. Make sure you don’t hit your volleys too short, where they will just bounce up nicely for your opponent to smack the ball right past (or through) you.
The exception to this is when you are trying to angle the volley away from your opponent: in this case, the shorter you hit the ball, the more angle you can hit. In singles, generally if you can hit your volley away from your opponent and at a decent pace, most of the time you will win the point if you have also followed the advice above.
In doubles though, where usually there is at least 1 opponent (and sometimes 2) at the net, you won’t be able to get away with hitting your volley back too high. What you want to do is aim at your opponent’s feet. This will cause your opponent to only be able to hit the ball up, and hopefully not very aggressively, giving you a chance to see an easy volley.
If you hit too high and deep on your volleys in doubles, you will find that the better players will start looking to cross when you hit to the baseline opponent, trying to intercept your shot and surprise you. Here you need to stay calm and be ready for anything, while looking for an opportunity to place your volley behind your crossing opponent.
In conclusion, the best way to get better at coming to the net and finishing off the point is to just do it as much as you can until you are comfortable there.
Pat Rafter, former ATP number 1 and US Open champion, used to get passed all the time when he came to the net as a junior. He lost many matches this way and wasn’t a very successful junior player. But he stuck with it and kept trying.
By the time he was in his 20’s and bigger and stronger, he had gained so much experience playing points at the net that his game became all about getting to the net where he knew he could finish off the point more effectively.
Years of perseverance and experience paid off by giving Rafter a net game that was one of, if not the greatest ever.