Some say the art of the serve and volley strategy in tennis is dead. While it is not as dominant as it was in the past, it is still a tactic used occasionally by players at all levels. It puts a ton of pressure on the returner, and can keep points relatively short if a player masters the skills.
Since the technique is not as popular as it once was, how can a person learn it accurately? Here are the steps to getting the most out of this strategy.
1. Build Up Serve Consistency
It all starts with a solid serve to pull off this technique. It does not have to be the fastest or best serve every single time, but it needs to fall in and be placed well consistently.
A lot of people get into the habit of rushing themselves when trying to get to the net. It is essential to finish the serve before moving forward. Otherwise, a person is going to blow their opportunity, and it might come back to backfire. That is because if the opponent knows that a person is trying to serve and volley, they might change up their tactics.
Look for ways to improve first and second serve percentages. It helps to put some spin on the ball, as it gives a person the extra half-second to get to the net, and it makes the returner struggle to get a clean look. A ball that is flat and not hit hard can be too easy for a player to hit a reasonable return with modern racquet technology.
2. Change Up Serve Speed & Location
Consistency is great, but being unpredictable can also give a serve and volley player the edge. Do not always go to a specific side, unless the player has shown a lot of vulnerability in that regard. Put slightly different spin on the ball at times, and even go big occasionally if the consistency is there.
No player is serving and volleying every single point these days. It is a surprise attack, and should be treated as such. Move the opponent around, and pick on some of their vulnerabilities if possible.
3. Read Angles Off The Serve
Wherever the serve lands, a good serve and volley player will follow in accordingly. For example, a serve right down the T means a player can come in pretty straightforward without too much of a risk of a sharp angle return. There will occasionally be players who hit a great return, but more often than not, it is going to stay towards the middle of a court.
When going out wide , a person needs to take that into account. While it could be a great serve that keeps the opponent off guard, they will have more of an opportunity to hit the ball at a sharp angle. Close off those angles as much as possible, following the ball in appropriately.
4. Master The Split Step
Some people believe that serve and volley technique means running to the net as quickly as possible. While it is important to get close to the net, it still needs to be very controlled to open up opportunities. The way to stay controlled is to use a hop and a split step right when an opponent is about to make contact.
This is not a full stop, but rather a way to control the body so that it can move in many different directions. Players are trying to move forward with whatever shot they hit, but they might need to go to one side or the other to pull it off. Timing is important with this split step, and positioning the hands in a neutral position helps as well. Just make sure to have the ability to adjust to any shots coming back as a return.
5. Volley Variety
If the serve and volley point goes as planned, that first shot is going to be a volley. However, not all volleys are the same, as there will be different opportunities to hit certain types.
If it is a rather weak return, a person needs to be very aggressive with the volley to try to in the point. Go for a drive volley, swinhing volley, or overhead smash. These all have high risk on certain returns, but it should be a relatively easy shot if the ball is sitting up. You should check out this post on how to improve your volley.
It is especially important during returns like these to get that split step down and put the ball where it needs to go. People tend to overswing when they have what they perceive to be a pretty easy ball. A person still needs to go through the usual steps to finish the shot off, so take the time to get that extra power.
For decent returns that are still fairly easy to handle, the punch volley, half volley and even drop volley can all prove to be pretty useful. It is not so much about hitting a clear winner off of this ball, but rather staying on offense for as long as possible. Angling the ball off a little can help, but going to extreme is going to make a low percentage volley.
Finally, the block volley should be left for those who are facing a great return. In this case, a person is just fighting to stay in the point. A block volley might not keep a player on offense, but it is better than trying too much and hitting the ball out.
6. Understanding Placement Options
The type of volley a person hits is important, but placement is as well. Each opponent will be slightly different as far as strength and weaknesses are concerned, but there are a few different general placement options available.
A lot of players who know that they have their opponent on the run like to hit behind their opponent. They are already scrambling, and it will be nearly impossible for them to get back into a good position when the ball is behind where they are heading.
The second option is to hit a volley right at a player and put pressure on them. It needs to be a good volley if a person is going at someone, because they might be able to block something else back. However, they usually are not ready for a volley right back at them, so it could force an error.
Dropping the ball into the open court is another option that players can turn to if they want. This seems like the best option with a pretty high percentage, but make sure to hit it crisp enough so that they can’t chase it down.
Finally, if a player is way back, a drop volley is always an option. Again, it needs to be good enough and disguised so that they do not chase it down, but it is a good weapon and a way to keep the opponent honest.
7. Preparing For Additional Shots
Not all serve and volley points are going to end with two shots. In some cases, the rally might continue for quite a while. That usually means the returner did enough to neutralize the point, but a good serve and volley player will be able to improvise as well.
The top goal should always be staying in a ready position after each shot. If a player is already at the net, try to stay up there as long as possible to control the point. Players might try to lob the serve and volley player to get them back into things, but that is the only reason why a player should leave their possession near the net.
Remember that in most cases, the server still has control of the point. Dictate how the point goes and continue to put pressure on them with each follow-up shot. By being passive, it can open up an opportunity for the opposition to take control.
Working on being able to recognize balls that are going out is also a key to serving in volume. It takes time, but a good eye is going to reduce the amount of shots that are needed. Players can watch a shot go by if they feel like there is not a play.
Final Thoughts On Serve & Volley
It takes time to become a good serve and volley player, but the steps above break down the process pretty well. Developing consistency with this strategy can frustrate any type of player.