Volleys are key strokes that frequently
are not practiced as often and as well as they should be. Being able
to volley is key for doubles play, but can be an important component
in singles, as well. The modern game of tennis promotes big groundstrokes
and huge serves. But, what can a player do when she/he finds herself/himself
losing in a match? Well, of course, she/he should enact plan “B.” For
many players, serving and volleying and/or chipping and charging can
be the best alternative strategy when the groundstroke game goes awry.
In either case, the player will find herself/himself at the net…where
volleys and overhead smashes are the essential strokes.
Now, I know for some of you coming to the net only occurs when you
are shaking your opponent’s hand at the end of a match. Why? Let’s
be honest. There are lots of players who just don’t possess volleys
with which they feel confident. Well, this month’s column will address
the forehand volley in a manner that will hopefully inspire the needed
As always, let’s begin with grip. For the forehand volley, there are
only three grips that I would recommend. These are the eastern forehand
grip, the continental grip and the “hammer” grip (which is really a
closed fisted continental grip).
Here are some pics of these three grips:
The Eastern Forehand Grip
The Continental Grip
The “Hammer” Grip
The eastern forehand grip is a more “natural” and stronger grip for
the forehand volley. It puts the wrist, arm and elbow in positions
that allow for strong, controlled volleys. These reasons are
why many tennis teachers encourage beginners to use this grip for forehand
volleys. The disadvantage to this grip is that it is not appropriate
for the backhand volley. Thus, the player must make a grip change when
hitting the backhand volley. With rapid exchanges that can and do occur
at the net, any grip change may be a liability.
The continental and hammer grips are the most commonly used “volley
grips.” They do not require any grip change when hitting either forehand
or backhand volleys. In addition, these two grips can be used effectively
when hitting the serve. Thus, the player who serves and volleys can
use one grip for both.
Now, many of us do make very slight changes in grip when using either
the continental or hammer grips for volleying. When I forehand volley,
I generally move my grip from pure continental to something that is
slightly more eastern forehand-like. Similarly, I find that I move
very slightly from the pure continental to something that is slightly
more eastern backhand-like when hitting the backhand volley. These
changes are very slight, but do help make my volleys a bit more “crisp.”
If the exchanges at net prevent me from making these changes, I am still
able to hit a reasonably good to very good volley using the pure continental
Players who use the hammer grip generally do not make any changes when
moving from forehand to backhand volleys. It has been my experience
that players who use this grip generally have good volleys but are a
little weaker when hitting the low volley.
Some years back, I had the opportunity to get a piece of advice from
Stefan Edberg regarding volleying. Truly, he was one of the very best
volleyers to ever play the game.
When asked what is the most important thing about volleying, he answered,
“seeing the ball come off the opponent’s racquet was key.” He further
explained that volleying is something that requires as much anticipation
as is possible. To better anticipate the opponent’s shot, Edberg suggested
that one really needs to concentrate on the ball as it makes contact
with the opponent’s racquet strings. This action will give the volleyer
a better “read” on where the opponent’s shot is headed, and thus, will
help the volleyer anticipate how to move properly to hit the volley.
I have found this advice to be extremely well founded.
Moving to the ball is a critical ingredient in proper volleying. The
closer your body is to the ball when you volley, the more control you
will have over it. To facilitate this movement, I suggest that you
move your head toward the ball as it comes toward you.
Now, I know that some of you may fear that you will be hit in the head
by the ball. I assure you that this is very unlikely. Rather, moving
your head toward the ball will get your body in close to the ball, and,
in addition, it will keep your body at the proper “height” to hit the
volley. I learned this tip from Oscar Wegner when I trained with him
and it has served me well.
Often times, you hear coaches say to their players…get down low to
hit the volley. Well, this is good advice for those balls that fall
below the height of the net cord. The goal, however, is to try and
hit the volley when the ball is at maximum height. Unfortunately, this
is not always possible. However, if you constantly are moving forward
as you move to volley, you will have the best chance at hitting a high
volley, which is much easier to hit than the low volley.
Here we see Jana Novotna hitting the high forehand volley. She seemed
to always get close enough to the net to hit the highest possible volley.
Whenever possible, hit the forehand volley in front of your body.
Now, this will require you to bend the wrist back if you are using the
continental or hammer grips. Too often, I see players (including myself)
hitting the volley with the racquet parallel to the shoulders or even
behind the shoulders. Sometimes, this can’t be helped. But, hitting
the forehand volley in front will greatly improve the control and pace
of your volleys.
Here is a shot of Todd Woodbridge hitting a volley well in front of
his body. What is amazing is how often he is able to hit the forehand
volley in front. Notice how his wrist is bent fully back.
In addition to hitting the forehand volley as far in front of your
body as is possible, it is critical that you try to keep your racquet
hand’s elbow close to the body. Groundstrokes on the forehand side
usually necessitate that the elbow be up and away from the body. Quite
opposite is true for the forehand volley.
In the following three pictures, notice how each player has his elbow
in close to the body and the racquet hand wrist bent back. Remarkably,
each of these players was able to hit the forehand volley well in front
of his body.
Good technique associated with any volley (forehand or backhand) requires
that the racquet head be above your wrist at the moment of contact.
If a player can keep his/her racquet head high even on the low volleys,
he/she is much more likely to volley deep and with control. Too often,
the groundstroke-oriented player allows her/his racquet head to get
below the wrist when volleying. This is not surprising because when
hitting topspin, the forehand and backhand groundstrokes benefit from
the lower racquet head.
Here are some shots of low forehand volleys where the racquet head
is either parallel with the wrist or slightly above the wrist. Obviously,
to keep the racquet head up when hitting the forehand volley, the player
must be willing to bend his/her knees. For we older players, this is
not always a pleasant task, but one that is necessary.
Sometimes, you have to get so low that racquet head height is not an
Finally, a player needs to practice her/his forehand volley frequently.
How you practice is critical. When having balls hit to you, don’t stand
too close to the net. In reality, we rarely get truly close to the
net when hitting volleys in a match. I suggest that you stand a little
bit in from the service line when practicing volleys. This is much
closer to reality.
In addition, don’t just practice volleys. Practice serving and volleying,
and chipping and charging the net. Have your hitting partner hit a
ball low to your forehand side as you approach the net after serving.
He/she can do this by not returning the serve but by hitting a ball,
which he/she is holding in his/her hand. Also, hit an approach shot
off of your opponent’s serve (a chip). Instead of having him/her hit
your approach, have him/her use another ball (held in his/her hand)
to feed you a low shot to your forehand.
These “play action” practice drills are critical if you truly want
to incorporate volleying into your game because they replicate match
So in review, I offer the following advice for the forehand volley:
- Use an eastern forehand, continental or hammer grip.
- Concentrate keenly on the ball as it comes off your opponent’s racquet.
- Try to move your head to the ball as you approach the ball to volley.
This will keep your body in proper position to hit the volley.
- Try to hit volleys before the ball falls below net height. This
means that you have to move forward to volley.
- Try to hit forehand volleys in front of your body.
- Keep the wrist bent fully back and the racquet hand elbow close
to the body when hitting the forehand volley.
- Try to keep the racquet head above your wrist when hitting volleys.
- Practice your volleys often. When practicing “static” volleys keep
closer to the service line…not near the net. Also, try to replicate
match play by incorporating “play action” drills into your practice
If you follow these 8 tips, I am sure that in no time your will find
your forehand volley has become a weapon…not a liability…and you will
soon become a tennis overdog.