Volley technique in tennis

There are as many ways to hit a volley as there are situations experienced at the net.
In fact, the volleying player must consider a number of factors when approaching the net, and must initiate a fairly complex volley:

  • The quality of his approach to the shot and the spot from which to hit it
  • Whether to move forward or go backwards to hit the volley
  • The nature of the return shot (along the line, diagonal, body shot, tight, plunging, fast ball or with a twist).

At least one or more of these factors will generate a varying degree of difficulty when executing the volley. This difficulty level will in turn guide the player in his game options.


Volley basics

Position at attention

At the net, taking a balance step is the first basic maneuver. This involves:

  • Inclining the body forwards, body weight resting on the soles of the feet, shoulders in front of the feet
  • Elbows and forearms away from the body, in front of the abdomen, forward by about 10cm.
  • Racket pointed forward, head slightly lifted
  • Favoring the hammer grip
  • Left hand (for someone right-handed) placed on the racket throat
  • Head looks forward, eyes fixed on the return shot and ball
  • Feet spread wide, shoulder width apart (stability)
  • Knees slightly bent, allowing the thighs to control the forward tilt of the body

From this obligatory position of attention, even during a sequence, a chain of movements common to all types of volley can be identified.


The preparation

The first movement is the preparation (upper body: Early opening). Lack of time brought on by the position at the net means that one must carry out the movement quickly and efficiently. The joint segments involved should therefore be kept to a minimum. For a forehand volley, with elbows forward, preparation involves simply opening the wrist. This action will place the racket to the side, held horizontally and parallel to the net. Keep in mind the image of the hand opening (the racket with it) to catch the ball. This is the simplest of all the movements. As well, this opening of the wrist is anatomically limited (kept at an extension of the hand) and therefore very quick. The celebrated, quick and forward preparation, recommended by all coaches, is used often. When applied, the opposite hand stays near the playing hand, resulting in a slight right rotation of the shoulders and torso (20-25°) as compared to the net. A player is then armed and ready for the forehand volley. Let’s look at how to prepare for a return volley.

First of all, you will have noticed that for a return volley the playing arm is slightly forward, unlike for the forehand volley.

The first step when preparing to return, is to position the right arm laterally, taught/relaxed (slight bending of the elbow), parallel to the net, and horizontal. Not only does this create reasonable distance, but it is anatomically simple to carry out (arm distance) in order to send the ball to the side. The racket is kept vertical, tilted backwards (approx 40-45°), left hand placed on the racket throat and in line with the elbow and shoulder. This stable alignment of shoulder-elbow-left-hand, in addition to balancing power, creates a real “hitting ramp” from which the hand and racket can take off.

Once the upper body is ready, it’s useful to observe what’s happening in the lower body, i.e. the hips, legs, and feet. The limited action time available during a volley means keeping the hips facing the net before hitting the ball. Shortly we will go over other scenarios. Keeping the hips facing the net during preparation means taking an open balancing step to the right and left. In this case the hip on the corresponding side advances automatically, slightly forward. Concerning organizational timing, this balance step, depending on if we need to continue forward to hit the volley close to the net or if we are already in hitting position, will either: take place secondly in the first situation (moving forward), or simultaneously in the second situation. Placing the feet wide apart means you’ve found the right hitting balance and that it’s time to strike.


The hit: the transfer and end of the movement

In either one of the 2 situations, once the preparation has taken place and feet are spread, the player must transfer his weight (weight dispatch). This transfer constitutes the first step in the hit. To complete it, push weight sharply forwards towards the game in order to accompany the hit and have movement when it’s time to carry it through. The ball should strike the racket mid-thrust. The pairing of the two movements, the thrusting step and the impact of the racket on the ball, to which we add the exploited speed of the arriving ball, creates a global, kinetic energy that brings the necessary and adapted speed to the ball.

The second step is impact and the end of the movement. Impact happens when the hit is made before the balancing step. It happens mid-thrust. In this moment, shoulders stay perpendicular to the net in order to conserve the right lateral distance for a side return, and thanks to the left arm, for a forehand the slight rotation from the preparation step is maintained for the same distance objective.
The hitting plan is more advanced for a crossed volley than a volley played down the line.

At the end of the thrust, the movement ends by sending the head of the racket in the direction of the game zone thanks to a slight bending of the wrist. Since the arm stays taught/relaxed, the wrist action becomes positive. But be careful not to pair the movement with a bending/extension of the elbow. This will bring imprecision to the plan of contact. The opposite leg catches and corrects any unbalance and ends the movement. The racket should not end up on the other side of the body. Though sent forward, the racket must complete a slight descent in order to slice the ball and force the lowest rebound possible.


Specifics of volleys played in certain positions and situations

Volley played at center mid-court (1st volley)

This type of volley includes most of the elements discussed in the general description. One difference is that this type of volley is typically a low-to-the-ground volley (like during a volley serve or sequence begun from the backcourt line and therefore far from the net). In this case, preparation is identical, one must simply adjust the height of their center of gravity depending on the height of the ball. One frequently encouraged point of reference is to keep eyes level upon impact. This requires going much lower in the legs. This volley must absolutely be carried out in movement, with an open, forward facing stance (foot on the volley side to be kept in front of the other). The objective is to maintain the energy of the movement in order to get closer to the net and reduce angles and game options for the opponent. The quality and precision of this volley will determine the freedom we leave ourselves for covering a returning lob linked to lateral coverage of the net. When carrying out a high, mid-court volley, the preparation height must be accentuated to respond to the reduced speed of the incoming ball. The preparation stance should therefore place the game arm upright to the ground, in front of the body and feet. The hit will then take place with a pronation of the wrist and closing of the pectoral muscle in varying degrees depending on how far we wish to hit the ball.


The finishing volley

The finishing volley is, by definition, a volley that can finish the point and therefore takes place close to the net. The drop shot volley is one option for finishing the point. These volleys require less movement and are often played from a stopped position or with a slight thrust on one foot. The end of the movement is often reduced, ending a short time after impact, especially for crossed volleys.


The far from centre volley

The far from center volley is used to intercept passing shots near the alleys. It requires maximum body extension, meaning the extension with which we can cover the greatest distance. This requires turning the hips in order to obtain additional reach characterized by wideness in the shoulders and lower body, the length of the arm-racket pairing, and the widest possible spread of the feet in order to obtain maximum upper body inclination while remaining balanced and in control. Taking off from the centerline of the service box, with a foot to each side and wide shoulders, we can make the end of the racket reach almost 50cm from the alley. This leaves little precision for attacking the return. Great physical abilities are therefore required.


On the body volley

This volley is most often used for doubles, but not exclusively. The objective is therefore to free yourself as best you can. To do so, there are two “technical” options: you had enough time to adapt your movement trajectory and you can play the volley normally. This means you were able to move far enough laterally to reduce distance to the ball and simplify the technical task of hitting it back to your playing side, or the opposite side to surprise your opponent. As this makes the task more complicated, you decide to play the volley normally. The second option is that you had no time to move before the hit. In this case, you must rely on technique. There are, however, several helpful tips. Favorize the backhand volley. With an elbow pointing laterally outwards, the volley remains playable. Don’t jump at the same time. Many players have this reflex but losing your footing isn’t ideal. If the forehand volley is a must, take care to keep the hand in front of your body and just open the wrist to catch the shot. This should help you stay in the game! In both cases, pairing the hit with a lateral sidestep will help you.


As you have seen, the volley is a hit that happens close to the net where reaction times are shortened. Technical movements should be short, clean, and efficient. This hit requires using speed from your opponent’s ball to send it back with further acceleration. Taking in information and reacting accordingly are vital components of this type of game and therefore the right technical tools to use.

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