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Volley comes from the French word “voler,” which means “flight.” It is popular in many different kinds of sport and may depict a skill in which a player manipulates the ball so that it “flies” just before it bounces or hits the ground.
It is usually known as an aggressive shot.
In tennis, the volley is often used to go on the offensive to win a point off the unsuspecting opponent (unreadiness of the opponent) and take away the risk of a bad bounce on an uneven surface clay or grass.
The volley requires great hand-to-eye coordination to be pulled off as it is done almost impulsively. It is one of the most important shots in the game since many a point is rounded off with it. It constitutes a vital part of the serve-volley gameplay in Tennis.
The primary function of the volley is to score the winning point.
Tips on How to Make a Successful Volley
Since the purpose of the volley is to shorten the rally with one or two strokes, these are a few tips that can help the player to make the best out of a volley:
Quick Reflexes and Hand-to-Eye Coordination
👉The player must learn to follow the ball with their eyes as it comes off the opponent’s racket; they must be able to anticipate the favorite moves of the opponent as they hit their counter for the volley, maybe a passing shot or a lob.
The player must have swift footwork, such as a split step or a side step, and move quickly as the ball hits the opponent’s racket.
There will be little time to take more than one step in any direction. Therefore it’s essential to practice footwork to learn how to move quickly yet accurately without losing balance. The knees bust be bent, and the back kept straight.
Footwork is often used to get into the best position for the volley and take more control of the player’s body frame to prepare for the ball. This movement is important for those who approach the net quickly, particularly beginners.
Depending on the type of stroke (backhand or forehand), the player needs to turn sideways 45 degrees from the net with their hips slightly closed and their feet 45 degrees from the net.
The player must move fast and precisely, with every volley beginning with a split step and a forward step across the body with the other leg. Put simply; a right-handed player will need to step forward with the left leg on forehand volleys and with the right leg on backhand volleys.
Many players often go for the volley with their rackets placed too high or too far behind on the ball. The racket must be kept just behind the spot where the ball almost hits the ground without bringing the racket too far out or even behind the body.
If the racket is placed too high, the ball floats or pops up rather than in a volley across the net. This is one of the most common mistakes that beginners and even advanced players make.
When the racket is placed behind the player, the volley becomes technically difficult to time and successfully execute.
The player needs to drop the racket head, but their hips and feet should be in an area 45 degrees from the strings.
Their hands need to be slightly under the racket head with the strings slanting upwards depending on the depth of the volley. Lower volleys need the racket strings to be pointed higher to gain enough momentum to fire the ball over the net.
The volley is to be thought of as a punch. The ball’s impact is absorbed by the racket’s strings depending on the type of volley to be hit.
For instance, for a drop volley, the player needs to loosen the wrist, whereas, for a more powerful volley, the wrist needs to be stiff.
The Volley Grip
The backswing can be thought of as placing the racket strings behind the path of the incoming ball. However, in some instances, the racket is placed slightly above the contact point to swing a slightly downward trajectory.
👉It is advisable not to overplay the volleys or get more swing force on the ball, but players should subtlety flex their wrist with a short backswing.
The force will be supplied by precise footwork and the ball’s incoming pace or rebound on the racket.
Since the backswing during the volley is short, the forward swing path is also short. With the racket behind the ball’s path, the player takes more control of the contact with the ball.
In a forehand volley, contact is made in front of the body with the wrist retreating. While in the backhand, the contact is more on the side of the body with the elbow jutting outwards and the shoulder and wrists aligned.
The player should move the racket through the ball’s path to prevent a floating volley, which happens when the player carves their racket under the ball’s path.
The path of the racket should be towards the contact point and never downwards for a successful volley. The player must slant the racket’s strings towards the direction of contact rather than towards the sky.
Also, the racket needs to be placed lower just before the ball is hit to hit cleaner volleys.
The player should place their elbow in front of their hip and the racket out in front to help move up to the ball, track the ball, and make contact. The player’s elbow needs to align with the hip with their arm in the direction of the knee. This is called a joint position.
Without properly learning how to move forward, the arm would be left with all the work, running the risk of swinging on the volleys, which would likely lead to an unsuccessful hit.
👉The body’s momentum needs to trudge forwards and the motion in the arm minimalto make cleaner volleys. A good forward body momentum in combination with a great grip and good footwork will hit the ball through the court.
The player needs to try not to lose balance as they push forward. If the legs become fatigued, the player must take slower steps to not miss the volley👍.
The Closer One Gets to the Net the Cleaner the Volley
The volley becomes a less daunting task if the player gets as close to the net as possible, so they can drive the ball downwards into the opponent’s court.
The more the player launches forward, the more likely they may hit the ball at the highest point, but when the player tracks backward, the ball may likely fall downwards unto their feet, making the volley more difficult to hit at this position.
A volley hit from the shoulder height is much easier than a volley hit from the knees since it is much easier to hit a volley while standing than bending.
The player should always stand halfway between the service line and the net to strike better volleys. Volleys in the service line are to be avoided, or else the player is unto a half volley while trying to move forwards.
Types of Volleys Based on Different Court Positions and Situations
Generally, the volley can be played at three different positions of the court:
- Near the net
- In the middle of the court (mid-court)
- Near the baseline
It is also possible to hit a volley in the area between the baseline and the service line, but this may be difficult and could be the reason why the area is colloquially known as “no man’s land,” a kind of blind spot for volleys.
This may also be known as the first volley. It is unlike other volleys in this group because it is typically a low volley. Therefore it must be prepared in keeping with the depth of the ball.
The body frame must be kept in accordance with the height of the ball, meaning that the legs will drop lower.
The foot on the side of the volley must be kept in front of the other one as the player moves forward towards the net. This enables the player to spread out their body frame so as to limit the opponent’s gameplay and options.
The accuracy of the volley, especially the footwork, will determine the swiftness of the player to return for a counter passing shot or lob from the opponent.
Near the Net
This volley is also called the finishing volley because it is used to finish off a point.
It is usually hit close to the net, as the name implies. The dropshot is a great option for this kind of volley. In a dropshot, the ball goes over the net to land just behind it. It is a stylish way to finish the point.
This kind of volley requires the player to either be stationary or edge slightly forwards on one foot. The flight of the ball is often shortened after impact.
Near the Baseline
This is also known as the volley placed far from the center. This volley is used to catch passing shots near the alleys. The player’s body frame must be extended to cover the greatest distance quickly to reach for the ball. This is done by:
- Extending and turning the hips
- Extending the shoulders
- Extending the arm with the racket
- Spreading the feet in the widest possible angle
- Maintaining body balance and control as the body is inclined towards the side of the volley
This volley is often used for doubles and rarely used for singles. It is a very technical volley, and the player needs to free up themselves as much as possible.
If the ball comes towards the belly, the backhand volley is often preferred as a defense against the player’s abdomen. If the ball comes towards the player’s hip or thigh, the backhand volley may be used, but the foot on the volley side may slide forwards and laterally. The elbow must jut out laterally in each of the above situations.
Even though the backhand is more favorable, if the player must use the forehand, the hand must be kept in front of the body, and the wrist relaxed to catch the shot.
In both situations, a forward or lateral side step is crucial. Obviously, before a volley is taken, there is little or no time for preparation; hence, short technical movements of the player are highly important, not just to hit the ball in a volley but also to cover for the counter hit of the opponent.
The volley is not just a powerful shot in itself but a soft shot that uses the pace of the incoming ball to gain momentum.
Types of Volley
A volley is not to be confused with a rally, the latter being a term used to denote when the incoming ball hits the ground as the player uses a groundstroke to return the ball to the opponent’s court. A volley rather hits the ball mid-air, preventing the bounce off the floor.
Volley Swing and Swinging Volley
Normally a groundstroke involves hitting the ball just after it bounces off the floor either with a forehand or backhand as the racket traverses from one side of the body to the other side. 👉So importantly, during a groundstroke, the player finishes with the racket on the other side of the body.
This does not happen in a volley. However, there are situations in which the ball can be volleyed after it has bounced on the ground, and this is called a volley swing.
On the other hand, situations occur where a player uses a full groundstroke to volley the ball mid-air.
This is technically a volley since the ball does not hit the ground and is referred to as a swinging volley.
To hit great volleys, a player needs to be aware of the seven major types of volley, when and how to use them, and switch up their gameplay and become less predictable to the opponent.
👉The seven types of volley are:
- Half volley
- Drop volley
- Block volley
- Punch volley
- Drive volley
- The overhead volley
- Swinging volley
The Half Volley
This is when the player hits the ball off the ground just as it bounces on the ground. It is also known as the “on the rise shot” because the ball is rising just as the player hits it.
The half volley is a thin line between a volley and a groundstroke and is often seen as not a true volley. In this volley, it is as though the ball is struck mid-bounce as it prepares to take off from the floor. The timing is the most important factor and skill in this type of volley.
The half volley can sometimes be easier to place, especially when the ball hits a slow surface such as clay, reducing the speed of the ball so it can be caught easily.
When the aim of a half-volley is a drop shot, it can catch the opponent off guard especially when they are heading for the baseline.
Balls which bounce close to the player’s body may be hard to half-volley but can be handled by blocking the ball in time as it becomes off the floor, as in a block volley.
The half volley requires a lot of practice to master; it also requires maximum focus and hand-to-eye coordination.
During the serve and volley type of gameplay, while coming into the court off the serve, the player is often forced to hit half volleys because there is hardly enough time to catch the ball before it bounces on the ground.
It is often better to aim to keep the ball in play when half-volleying a hard-struck ball to gain time to brace yourself for the next shot.
A half volley may be hit by using abbreviated groundstroke grips, volley grips, and techniques depending on his position on the court. If the player is between the service line and the baseline, he may hit the half volley using a short backswing, a lower center of gravity, a deeper knee bend, and a short follow-through.
The Drop Volley
The drop volley is a volley that is aimed close to the net with the purpose of letting the ball bounce two or more times before the opponent, who is out on the baseline or behind it, reaches it.
This forces the opponent to defend inside his court. Nowadays, players have evolved in their court-positioning such that they often stay 5 to 10 feet behind the baseline, which makes it harder to receive a drop volley.
The drop volley can be used on the forehand, backhand, and two-handed grips. When attempting the drop volley, the player should let his wrist flex as the ball hits the racket so that the strings absorb some of the power of the ball to allow it to travel a short distance over the net.
There is no follow-through in the drop volley because any forward movement of the racket may cause the ball to accelerate and hit the mid-court area of the opponent, making it less difficult for him to catch.
The volley is a major way to tire out the opponent since they keep running from the baseline to pick up the ball.
If the drop volley is not hit well, the ball may land close to the middle of the opponent’s court with a high bounce making it easier for them to smash it over to the player’s court.
It is almost impossible, especially for beginners, to hit the drop volley on high-velocity shots (shots of 70mph or more). Therefore it is advised that shots of this speed should be handled using the block volley.
The Block Volley
The aim of this volley is to “block” as the name implies, or intercept a hard-struck or fast-paced ball. There is no take-back or forward swing in this volley in that the player’s body does not need to move forward at all.
The block volley is perfect for fast shots, especially those within the range of 70mph or more. It can be a very dicey technique as it is difficult to control balls with such speed.
The grip of the racket is the most important factor in deciding a great block volley.
The player needs to wield the racket with a loose grip such that the strings can be forced back some inches by the ball’s impact so that the pace of the ball can be slowed enough to keep it on the other side of the court.
Most beginners and amateurs have firm grips on the racket as they hit their block shots, and this shoots the ball away from the court because the ball rebounds with all its force and speed as it hits the player’s racket.
The Punch Volley
This type of volley is great for balls with moderate speed and enough height over the net. Here, the player punches his or her racket forward and slightly down-faced to add an underspin to the ball. The punch volley is the commonest volley for netplay.
Here, the player punches the racket forward to generate enough momentum and pace for the ball. This is the kind of volley used more in doubles by the one player that plays the net. The volley is used to place an effective net attack.
If the ball drops under the net, the punch volley becomes difficult to execute, and a drop volley may be preferred instead to save face.
The Drive Volley
The drive valley is the best volley to use for incoming slow shots, which are several feet or more above the net. This type of volley requires a long swing.
The slower the pace of the ball, the easier it is for the player to place a drive volley. The racket is usually taken back and held up high to the level of the shoulders to gain a power position to hit the ball with enough pace and force it out of the reach of the opponent.
The drive volley may also be used for moderate shots of balls (medium-paced balls), especially for advanced game players, and it can be used to finish off a player’s net play should a chance present itself.
The player may also want to step into the shot with his weight as the ball comes in to generate maximum power, while the racket is moved forward or slightly down to create backspin on the ball.
A misplaced drive volley may let the ball into the opponent’s half high above the net enough to allow him to pounce on it in different ways i.e., a lob, a counter drive volley, passing shot, punch volley, etc., depending on the situation.
The Overhead Volley
This volley is executed often when the two players approach the net simultaneously, with the volleying player hitting the ball with an open-faced racket above his head in a lofted arc unto to the opponent’s half and over his head but within the baseline.
This volley is also called a lob, and its motion is similar to some parts of a serve motion. Sometimes, an overhead volley or overhead smash can be done even after the ball has bounced on the ground.
👉Some factors make overhead one of the most difficult shots in tennis:
- In Daytime tennis, the sun may affect the player’s sight as they look up to catch a view of the ball, so the player should be conscious of the position of the sun relative to his own position.
- In nighttime tennis as well, the ball may be hit so high that it drifts away from the path of the lights momentarily, and this can affect the player’s volley.
- The direction and force of the wind may deflect the ball’s path before it reaches a player’s racket.
- Great hand-to-eye coordination is needed in this type of volley because of the factors that may affect the ball’s flight. Hence, the player is advised to get their racket into a power position early and use the cross-step and shuffle footwork to adjust their position to track the ball’s position. A perfect overhead volley is a colorful way to finish the point in grand style.
The Swinging Volley
This, as explained earlier, is not often seen as a true volley because the player uses a forehand or backhand groundstroke to hit the ball directly out of the air.
This volley requires great hand to eye coordination since the margin for error is much greater than in a traditional compact volley technique. This volley is not to be confused with the volley swing. It is carried out on slow-paced balls or balls which drop below the height of the net.
The ball is often struck by the player with such a pace that it cannot be returned by the opponent; it can often be used to end a point in a beautiful way.
The swinging volley should be practiced often by beginner and advanced players alike even they do not use it every time on the court. It could be held in reserve as the player’s ace up their sleeves, to be brought out suddenly and used effectively to kill the game.
The swinging volley takes more energy to hit, so players may tire out if they always use the volley.
Master your volley and it’s a great addition to your game to help win points.
I highly recommend you record a video of you volleying and let one of our pros take a look at your technique. You’ll get detailed feedback on what you’re doing wrong and they’ll show you personally how to improve your technique so you win more points from your volley.
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Review by Marc Peppin – Won 40+ International Titles – Canadian #1