Wednesday, January 19, 2022

It’s time to have an expert check out your volley



One of my favorite aspects of coaching beginners is that the new player comes to the tennis court with no bad habits. Tennis coaches have the opportunity to mold our new player with solid fundamentals. As we focus on the volley, we urge our players not to have big backswings and we constantly emphasize the importance of watching the ball, not the target. A talented and experienced tennis coach must concentrate on the following items:

  • Great volleyers hold the grip softly and delicately
  • The player prefers to hit the volley out in front of the body
  • The volleyer’s eyes must remain on the ball, not the intended target
  • Have the player lead with the palm of the hand, not the fingers
  • The coach must aid the player with the importance of anticipation, as the action is faster at the net
  • The player’s equipment may play a pivotal role; tightly-strung rackets may cause the student to over-swing at the net

With the advent of the ‘modern game’, it often appears that the volley is almost forgotten as we continually observe our young and powerful ATP players winning points from the baseline and beyond. The common joke about the current game is that we only see players come to the net when they shake hands at the conclusion of the match. Clearly, there is truth to the idea that today’s players are not in a hurry to rush the net. Yet, we are observing small incremental changes. Just last month at the US Open, commentator John McEnroe stated, “Nadal has one of the best volleys in the game today.” In other words, Nadal realizes the importance of coming forward when he has his opponent in serious peril. From an injury standpoint, it behooves our world’s top player (Nadal) to shorten the points, as his opponents are either off the court or in poor balance: Why not move forward and hit a winning volley?

As the tennis director at the Hall of Fame in Newport, I had an interesting vantage point this summer: the entire outdoor facility in Newport is comprised of beautiful grass courts, similar to Wimbledon. Grass courts are notorious for low bouncing balls with unpredictable court conditions, and it is imperative to go to the net as often as possible to win points. Ironically, the most preferred volley by the pros at the Hall of Fame was the deft drop volley: once the ball landed, it literally died. As a rule, players moved forward and hit soft angle volleys and hundreds of drop shots.

By contrast, most southwest Florida league matches are contested on clay courts, where players aim to drive their volleys with power and depth to force the opponent to hit a weak lob. In either situation, a good net player already knows where he is going to direct his volley, so he does not tip off his opponent and look at the target too early. Also, when he utilizes the drop volley, he barely squeezes the racket handle to gain the perfect touch. Coaching teenagers offers unique challenges; kids often confuse their priorities as they over-use power instead of consistency.

Bottom line: Get back to basics with the volley and begin to focus on longer eye contact so the player has more control over the ball. Before you hit the courts for your next practice session or match, go through your volley check-list. Believe me; good volleyers often dominate in the game of doubles. Good luck.

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