What Is A Tennis Volley ?

tennis volley

What Is A Tennis Volley And How Is It Executed?

Most of us learn to play tennis from the back of the court, hitting forehands and backhands after the ball has bounced. As our tennis becomes more advanced, we realise that it is sometimes helpful to move closer to the net and hit the ball before it bounces. This type of shot is called a volley. 

Volleys in tennis has been widely used by some of the greatest players in the history of the game, and forms a crucial part of most doubles matches at any level.

Most Common Grip For The Volley?

The easiest way to describe a grip is to look at the position of the hand in relation to the ‘bevels’ on the racket handle.

The most popular grip for any ‘orthodox’ volley, that is to say excluding drive volleys, is the continental grip, where the index knuckle and heel of the hand sit on bevel 2, and the thumb and index finger form a V-shape. This grip can be used for both forehand and backhand volleys, as well as overheads, so no awkward adjustments are required during the rapid exchanges of shots which can occur when one or both players are at the net.

How do you play a volley in tennis?

The technique required to hit a volley is quite simple, but it can take some getting used to, as it differs significantly from that for most groundstrokes.

Forehand Volley

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For a forehand volley, you should position yourself with your left foot ahead of your right (for a right-hander- the position is mirrored for a left-hander) at an angle of around 45 degrees to the net. To keep the racket solidly aligned, it helps to have your wrist slightly ahead of the racket head at impact.

When preparing to hit the ball, you should pull the racket back, but not beyond the line of your body. To strike the ball, a short, punchy forward movement is best. The stroke does not require a swing, as the key is to block the ball back, reflecting the pace of the incoming shot. 

It is, however, vital to move your weight towards your front foot as you hit the volley. This combination of forward bodyweight transfer and a short racket movement can produce the kind of ‘crisp’ volleying which is most effective. 

Gripping the racket firmly will keep it stable and produce solid, accurate volleys, although you may loosen your grip if you wish to absorb the pace of the shot to play a drop-volley which stops too short for your opponent to retrieve.

Backhand Volley

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The technique for a backhand volley is very similar to that for the forehand version. This time, you turn in the opposite direction, still at around 45 degrees to the net, but with (for a right-hander) your right foot ahead of your left. Once again, a short, punchy action is required and the temptation to swing the racket should be resisted.  A modest weight transfer forward is vital, and the wrist should stay ahead of the racket head during the shot.

Why Is It Called A Volley?

The implication of the word ‘volley’ is that the ball is being taken out of the air. The word derives fom the French ‘voler’, meaning to fly.

Why Is The Volley Important In Tennis?

Tactically, it is often helpful to move forward too the net and hit a volley. For example, if your opponent is under pressure in a rally, and you anticipate that they are likely to hit a weak or defensive shot, moving to the net to hit a volley will give them less time to recover their position and increase your chances of winning the point. 

Some players like to move forward frequently during a match, especially on quick courts, because it plays to their strengths. For example, a tall player with a good serve, but who may struggle to get into position for baseline groundstrokes, will benefit from playing a substantial amount of points from the net. 

If they have sound volleys and a strong overhead, this kind of tactic can be very intimidating for an opponent. Ivo Karlovic, who is extremely tall with an exceptional serve, but has relatively weak groundstrokes, has built his career around this approach.

Until the 1990s it was common for players to move to the net many times during matches, especially following the serve. Volleying was very much a key skill. Since then, racket technology has improved, making it easier for players to hit with pace, spin and control from the baseline. This has made it riskier to move forward in a rally, as the shots you will need to return tend to be more challenging than was previously the case. 

Some female players, in particular, today tend to have poor volleying technique as they very rarely venture forward. 

However, there are still some players, like French-American Maxime Cressy, who charge to the net at every opportunity, and this style can still work. The volley may not be as important in professional tennis as it once was, but it still has a role.

In seniors tennis, rallies can be shortened by using volleys, so this is increasingly of benefit as you move up the age groups. Volleying skills are at a premium in seniors doubles, as few players have enough weight of shot to unsettle a good volleyer, and taking the net position therefore imparts a significant advantage.

What Is A Drive Volley?

This shot is useful when you have forced your opponent into a weak, high defensive shot and you wish to move forward into the court to finish the point quickly

To execute a drive volley, you will use your standard forehand or backhand groundstroke grip, and, using an abbreviated swing, hit the ball from waist height or above with topspin.

The drive volley needs to be struck aggressively with full commitment, as, if you allow your opponent to retrieve it easily, you are likely to be seriously out of position for your next shot- especially if you are not a confident orthodox volleyer.

What Is A Half-Volley In Tennis?

The half-volley is generally not a premeditated choice, but it offers a way of staying in a rally if you had been hoping to hit a volley but the shot you receive has dipped too low. A half-volley can be played with a similar grip to an orthodox volley, so it is easy to adjust quickly. 

The key distinguishing feature of a half-volley is that the ball bounces just before you hit it. The most effective way to play it is to lower the racket head towards the court and loosen your grip, allowing your weight to shift towards your back foot. It is not necessary to swing: the shot requires a short, gentle forward movement, which can be extended slightly if greater depth is needed. 

The objective is to either keep the ball low and deep, or to control the length and play a drop shot. A high half-volley is likely to give your opponent an easy shot.


Key points about volley in tennis:

– The orthodox volley is a short, punchy shot played with a continental grip.

– It is important that your bodyweight moves forward as you volley.

– The volley is not as important as it used to be for professionals, but it is still a key skill.

– Volleying is an excellent way of shortening rallies in seniors tennis.

– The drive volley is an aggressive topspin shot which can be used to finish a point.

– The half-volley can keep you in the point when your opponent hits a good shot.

Do you like to volley? Do you enjoy watching volleyers in the professional game? Let us know via the comments section.

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