In the modern tennis world of intense, long baseline rallies, filled with a whole lot of running, it’s easy to forget that the game didn’t always look like this.
There was a time not so long ago filled to the brim with quick, short points. A serve and a net-rush, followed by a put-away volley winner.
Over time, the game changed and the slower pace steadily took over. A number of things contributed to this, with one of the main ones being the development of racket technology that meant that players could more easily strike angled winners past anyone camped out at the net.
Regardless of this, it’s still important to know how to volley properly. You’ll still see it utilized a LOT in the doubles version of the sport but there’s also a growing push to use it as a way to mix up the current grinding pace of singles matches nowadays as well.
With this in mind, take a break from those grueling rally exchanges and come sit with us awhile. We’ve put together a list of the key things to keep in mind when you’re learning how to hit a volley in tennis.
What is a Volley in tennis?
Probably best to start here! If you’ve read the entire introduction and find yourself absolutely baffled by what we’re talking about, do not stress!
Learning how to hit a volley in tennis can seem like an alien concept if you’re someone who prefers to stay back on the baseline throughout matches but it will still be to your benefit to have some understanding of the shot. If you suddenly see your opponent sprinting to the net, you want to know what to expect!
By definition, a volley in tennis is any ball struck in a rally before it hits the court surface. Volleys regularly help to speed points up and can be seen as a good tactic to try out if you find that you’re often losing the majority of longer exchanges in your matches.
While this is usually done up at the net to finish points off quickly, this isn’t always the case…
Different Types of Volleys in Tennis
We do not want to overcomplicate things for you but yes, there are different types of volleys. No, wait! Come back! We don’t want to scare you off and so we’ve developed a list of the main volley variations for you to consider.
1. Punch Volley – This is the basic blueprint and the one that most people think of when they hear the word volley. Hit while up close to the net as a way to block back an opponent’s shot, this is ideal for countering slow-to-medium paced rally balls. Struck with forward momentum and with the racket face at an angle for underspin, this will hopefully produce some well-placed winners.
2. Block Volley – This is more simplistic than the punch volley! With no spin whatsoever, all that the block volley requires of you is that you get your racket up and in front of the ball to – yes, you guessed it! – block it back over the net. A good shot to fall back on when your opponent is trying to pass you, this is usually seen as a bit of a last resort when you’re up at the net.
3. Half-Volley – OK, you know how we said up the page that a volley is a shot hit before a ball has bounced? Well, we lied. Kind of. A half-volley is struck right after the ball has bounced while you’re rushing to the net. If you find that you haven’t had enough time to take the ball out of the air, bending low to use a half-volley is a good alternative to help continue the rally.
4. Drop-Volley – Oooo, we’re getting fancy now! As the name of this volley would suggest, it’s a combination of a drop-shot and your standard volley and requires a bit more feel than others on this list. Using an angled racket face with a light touch, try and let the ball drop as close as you can to the net while still going over onto your opponent’s side! With any luck, they’re not reaching it in time.
5. Lob Volley – This is your ticket out of rally exchanges up at the net and will hopefully result in your opponent floundering around on the baseline trying to get the ball back. Using an open racket face on approach, your aim is to land the ball up and over their head. You’re trying to land it somewhere around the back of their side of the court so try to balance the angle of the shot with a bit of power.
6. Swing Volley – We rip up the technique with this shot and resort to our forehand or backhand swings to take the ball right out of the air with power and – hopefully! – accuracy. This will come in handy if you find yourself standing in the middle of the court and your opponent has hit a shot that looks to be landing back on your baseline! Time to cut it off before it passes you!
7. Drive Volley – We’re back up at the net again with the drive volley and this is really an attacking play. Aside from the swing volley, this shot requires us to take the longest swing at the ball out of all of the shots on this list. Keeping low and steady, try to angle your racket slightly upwards while cutting right through the ball. With any luck, the result will be a shot that skims the court surface with power.
8. Overhead Smash – The last volley type we’re going to focus on, the overhead smash is really a way to counteract an opponent’s lob. Struck up above your head with a similar motion to your serve, successfully managing to hit a smash will need you to keep your eye on the ball and arc your racket up through the air to make contact. You should be looking to hit a powerful put-away winner with this shot.
Up until this point, every volley we’ve described can easily be utilised on your forehand or backhand side.
However, with a smash on your backhand side, you need to be able to face away from the net and flick the ball backward over your head in what is known as a skyhook. If that sounds complex, it’s because it is and should only be attempted by more experienced players.
How to Volley in Tennis: 5 Easy Steps
Let’s cover a few of the basic steps for your typical volley. We’re going to keep things concise for you, narrowing it down to a handful of key areas to keep in mind when you’re working hard to improve.
You do not want to have what you think is a nice strong hold of your racket for a volley, only to have it go tumbling from your grasp as you try and deal with a powerful shot from your opponent.
We recommend a nice stable Continental grip for volleys. Also referred to as the chopper grip, this is widely used for serving as well. Pick your racket up and hold it with the frame running perpendicular to the ground. The racket should feel a bit like a weighted axe or a hammer in your hand, hence the chopper nickname for this grip!
The Continental grip offers a good level of secure stability and easy maneuverability on those quick-fire volleys when stationed up at the net!
Obviously, for the majority of volleys, you’re going to be stationed up at the net, ready to redirect the ball back over the net quickly.
You’ll want to make sure you’re ready on the approach though. Come to a stop a metre or so before the net with a split-step. This is the movement that you’ll regularly be taking as your opponent strikes the ball in rallies so that you’re prepared to return their shot. This will help you to secure yourself before hitting the volley.
The meter or so gap between you and the net allows you to play the volley from where you are or decide to move in and play a drop-volley or drive-volley. It helps open up options for you and will offer you the chance to mix up play with a variety of shots if required.
Time to decide what volley type you’re going to be hitting.
Now a LOT of this will come down to how the rally has gone so far, what kind of approach shot you’ve hit or if you were brought into the net by your opponent hitting a dropper. From here, your opponent is going to try to pass you in some form or fashion and you have to be ready.
As with every rally, keep your eye on the ball and ready yourself. Be prepared to subtly change the angle of your racket for the volley you want to hit at any given moment. When you HAVE decided, try to commit to your choice and focus. If you don’t, the result could be messy…
As you make contact with the ball, keep your arm secure, strong and slightly in front of you. When volleying powerful shots, we know it can be hard to do so but believe us, if your arm is loose, your volley will be weak and difficult to control.
Keep your head as stationary throughout the volley as possible by following the ball with your eyes at all times throughout contact. If you’re turning your head to look at where your opponent is, you’re not going to be able to place the ball as easily as you’d like.
5. Follow-Up Shot
In an ideal scenario, you’re going to volley away the ball for a winner that your opponent has no chance of getting back. If this happens, go wild. You’re a volley professional. You’re basically Roger Federer himself!
What’s that you say?
The ball’s coming back? Your opponent reached it in time?!
Well, you’d better get ready.
Between each volley, make sure to take that same split-step when your opponent hits their shot. Also, track where the ball is going when you’ve hit it. This will allow you to position yourself better and predict where they’re going to try and pass you with their shot.
Be ready because if they reach your volley, they’re going to try and make the most of it.
Tennis Volley Drills
Let us quickly take you through a few drills that might interest you if you’re looking to improve your volleys.
1. Volley off the Wall – The best thing about this is that you can use a wall anywhere to rally off. Even the side of your own house if you can’t get to your local courts!…
Just don’t tell your family that we told you to do this, they might get annoyed with all the banging.
In any case, find a wall and start of easy with some light touch volleys. Try it on the forehand and backhand sides and work on controlled placement of your shots. Consistency is key here.
Also, if – like us here at Mind the Racket! – you have no friends, this is a perfect drill to use on your own!
2. Touch Volley with a Partner – Assuming you do actually have friends to hit with, stand on either side of the net and start with some light volleys back and forth across the net to each other.
From there, begin to take steps back to lengthen the distance between you, the net and your opponent. Make sure they are does the same. This encourages variety and shot selection when volleying and allows you to work on hitting volleys from further back.
We recommend backing up enough so that you eventually find yourself volleying from the service line, allowing you work with a bit more space.
3. Two Up, Two Down – If you’re lucky enough to have four whole friends to hit with, make sure you and your doubles partner are on one side of the net on the service line and the other two are standing on the baseline on the other.
The aim is to win points from the service line or up close to the net and back away to the baseline if you lose points. If you lose a point and need to back up, your opponents take up position on the service line where they can win points from. The pair that starts from the baseline always feeds the ball into play.
The game ends when one pairing reaches 11 points!
If you’ve got yourself a tennis ball machine, then you can always set that up to get some consistent volley practice in, without the need of someone to play with.
And here we find ourselves at the end of the how to hit a volley in tennis road!
With any luck, you’ll now be feeling somewhat more prepared to head out on court and swing away at volleys without any hesitation whatsoever. We have no doubt that you find yourself perfectly confident in every aspect of volleying now that you’ve read our fool-proof article right here!…
On a more serious note, volleying – like most things in tennis! – takes time to fully perfect. There will be frustrating moments that make you yearn for your baseline glory days as you cast your eyes towards it at the back of the court.
But don’t give up and we can assure you, when you finally perfect a technique that feels good, you’ll have added yet one more weapon to your game to help you win matches.
With that in mind, we’ll see you out there on the courts!