Footwork technique at the net
Playing near the net is the result, the culmination of playing forward, offensive tennis. This means taking time from your opponent by striking before the rebound, preventing the ball takeover strategy celebrated by many attackers. In fact, seeking to end a rally with a winning volley, a provoked error (destabilizing shot), or a direct error (often due to putting increased pressure on the opponent), is tactically, mentally, technically, and physically different to a more defensive approach where regularity is a player’s cornerstone.
This game tactic made famous by McEnroe, Edberg, Rafter, Henman, Stepanek, not to mention Sampras, is less present in today’s tennis. The game has become much faster and players are in better physical and mental (mental preparation is very present) shape, meaning that volley focused players have trouble remaining effective throughout a whole match, facing all players, while constantly at the net.
Defense has improved and the game has shifted towards the back of the court with players approaching the net to finish a point once they have a real advantage over their opponent and are ready to close. Nevertheless, net-play remains a spectacular, acrobatic game style that requires both great mental strength and a fair amount of “courage” to remain constantly in danger.
The race at the net
When a player intends to volley, the first step is to come inside the back-boundary line and position themself in the service box. The more decisive the attack, the more the player can approach the net. Inversely, for a medium attack a player should keep a slight distance in order to anticipate needing to move laterally or further back if the opponent lobs. Whatever happens, this race to the net, from the attack to balance recovery, depends on the timing of the point. The faster the game, the quicker one must approach the net and position themself to volley, ensuring that they’re “in the right place at the right time.”
Balance recovery and positioning
Recovering balance before returning a hit is fundamental when executing a good volley. It allows one to slow a run since heading full speed for the net leaves no way to control the volley or be technically precise. The step must be perfectly timed according to one’s own rhythm and the rhythm of the point.
As well, it’s the opportunity to collect information on the return hit, to anticipate and to position oneself according to the situation (final volley, approaching volley, smash).
The placement depends on three different situations:
- The lateral return requires one or more adjustment steps following balance recovery in order to hit the ball from a balanced stance. These adjustment steps are necessary about 50% of the time.
- The volleying player is on the ball and places himself in the series of returns.
- The player is lobbed, side steps backwards, and repositions himself near the line or scissor kick smashes if late.
Volleying player stance
One must be dynamic from start to finish when volleying in order to maximize the effectiveness of net-play. When recovering balance, the player must spread his feet in order to have a lower center of gravity in the waiting stance than on the backline. Body weight should be at the front of the feet. Maintaining bent legs, the volleying player must be quick to respond, moving frequently (both feet at once and not alternately), eyes fixed on the ball, informing the legs. This state of physical and mental vigilance will be key for maximizing reflexes and efficiency when using this offensive game tactic with no room for a passive, defensive stance.
Dispatching body weight is key to uniting control and power, notably during the first decisive volley. Momentum from the standing leg (right for someone right-handed) sets off the strike while the left foot goes down on impact or slightly after on a low or high volley. To smash, the player places himself in line and must be as balanced as possible before striking, adjusting himself. Once balanced on his back leg, he shifts weight to his front leg to push the ball towards the desired zone.
For a very acrobatic scissor kick smash, the player, who is falling backward after sidestepping towards the back, will push off his back leg at the moment of contact to jump and land back on his left foot (for someone right-handed).
All good volley-focused players know how to reposition themselves reflexively since they have less time to cover the field than when at the back of the court. It’s important not to watch your own hit. Repositioning must take place using lateral side steps with bent legs. Placement depends on the previous move and should close angles and eliminate openings. When repositioning, leg stance should remain dynamic, in constant motion, with weight grounded in the lower limbs.
In conclusion, it’s important to clarify that volley-focused players often find themselves in ill-adapted, unbalanced body postures. This is due to the fast pace of the game, and that they do what they can to reach the ball and hit it back over the net without respecting previously cited technical parameters on each volley. This is what gives this game strategy its spectacular nature.
As such, overall stance, mental vigilance, and precise footwork are crucial in order to make up for the strategy’s shortcomings.