Chapter 14: The Volley and Smash

The volley game is a major part of developing your game to championship standards.

No game is complete unless you know how to play any shot in any part of the court. Otherwise, an accomplished player could easily exploit any weaknesses in your game.

Most tournament players scout their opponents for obvious faults or unskilled areas in their game. One particular spot is vulnerability to short balls.

With the type of strokes you are learning here, it isn’t difficult to attack short balls, make forceful approaches, and set yourself up to end the point at net with easy put-aways. (Put-away: A shot hit from above net level that you can “put away” as a winner

There are two stages to learning the volley. The first is to become familiar with shots close to the net and above it.

After mastering those, you’ll move away from the net, learning more difficult volleys sometimes hitting the ball from below the level of the net.

This could be called the second level. Here you will learn the shots that will enable you to play an attack game, in which you could serve and volley or go to the net most of the time.

This requires a different type of proficiency on the volley, a different type of game. It is also a different dominion in terms of the space of the court, both your own and your opponent’s, and it practically requires another state of mind. You want to rush your opponent, in order to cut his response time.

It is very different from your Rally Game, but it may be useful on faster courts or in cases where your steadiness from the baseline doesn’t make a dent.

Because of all these reasons, I will introduce you to the volley slowly, building it one step at a time.

Consider it a major undertaking. Make sure you are proficient in each step before you tackle the next.

I also recommend that you master your put-aways by attacking short balls and following them to the net in your practice and matches. Get familiar with this type of volleying before you go to the sophistication of a more advanced serve-and-volley or an all-out attack game.

Then go to the section on advanced volley drills and practice those to your total satisfaction. In those drills you’ll move gradually away from the net until you learn to volley from anywhere on the court.

Basic Concepts

All volleys, including low ones, are hit with the racquet-face moving down and forward.

The most modern volleying, which is also the most effective, stops the hand and racquet at contact with the ball, except for easy put-aways, where it follows through more.

This is a dramatic change from your groundstrokes. That is the reason you have to first become very proficient in your backcourt game, where it is important to follow through all the way.

You’ll volley many balls from above the net level, where it seems logical to hit down. But when the ball drops below the top of the net you can also achieve great results by going down and forward with your racquet, with the racquet face sharply open.

Then stop the hand firmly at contact, like a cutting action with an ax.

The ball will clear the net and go forward at a good pace, making this shot very effective. The backspin will make the ball slide and stay low on your opponent’s court.

Advanced Players

You may be learning tennis through this book, or perhaps you have played for many years, but are not skilled at volleying. Regardless of your level of advancement, you can learn to be a good volleyer following the same path through the drills.

While someone starting to learn to volley may do a drill thirty or forty times before having it totally under control, an advanced player may accomplish the same for one drill in eight or ten repetitions. Perhaps the next drill would take much longer to accomplish for a lower-level player, and so on.

Each drill develops a certain aspect of a shot, e.g. coordination, control, racquet angle, placement. Do each drill until you feel you’ve got it. Keep the sequence as laid out in this chapter to get the best results.

On the other hand, if you have a good forehand volley and a poor backhand one, you can skip the first section and go directly to the backhand volley drills. Or if you have excellent high volleys and weaker lower ones, go to the low volley drills.

Professionals

For the very advanced player or pro, just reading this material may point to a concept previously not clearly defined or, perhaps, defined incorrectly. By analyzing this new data against your experience, you can envision the changes that need to be made.

Translate this into practice and observe the results. You can now decide whether to incorporate this new data into your game or keep the same old form.

Many times what seems tailor-made for one player may not fit another as well. Practice will tell you what is valuable for you and what is not.

The Forehand Volley

DRILL #1: Stand about two feet from the net, in the center. Have your friend stand at the other side of the net, about five feet away from it, and slightly to your left. He’ll toss a ball to your right side, about face high.

Barehanded, block the ball down firmly with your right hand so that it clears the net and goes down in your opponent’s court, as shown in the picture below.

Your hand should stop at the contact with the ball. Repeat several times. Block some balls in different directions just slightly changing the angle of your hand. Keep doing it until you are successful on every try.

DRILL #2: Grab your racquet with your right hand behind the strings and the left hand midway on the throat. Block the ball the same way as in the prior drill. Your hand needs to stay against the strings to get the feel that you are blocking the ball with your hand.

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Try some balls in one direction, then in another, changing the angle of your right hand.

DRILL #3: After successfully performing the previous drill, move your right hand to the throat of the racquet and hit your volley as shown, preferably on the side of the strings closer to you.

Block the ball down, sending the ball over the net and down into the other court.

While waiting at the net or anticipating a volley, the racquet head is held above hand level, instead of at hand level or below as in the groundstrokes.

Note that the left hand helps prepare the shot and lift the racquet if necessary. It will let go of the racquet prior to the hit, but will stay in the vicinity of the racquet and will come back to it after each hit.

When the ball is coming toward your side and you need to move your body, it is best to lean first in that direction, then let go of the racquet with the left hand just prior to the hit.

Let the ball come near your racquet before you hit. Most errors are due to rushing, instead of waiting for the ball to come close and then blocking it firmly with the center of the racquet strings. You’ll actually hit in front, but striking too early will affect your consistency and control.

It is best to keep the racquet face slightly open and to hit down with the face, while still going forward, than to hit the ball plainly forward and flat. The slight backspin that you get by hitting down will add to your control.

As you progress, move your hand gradually toward the grip of the racquet, volleying ten or twenty balls in each grip position. Don’t rush these changes because it is easier to learn with the racquet gripped short than with your hand all the way down to the grip.

DRILL #4: After mastering the last drill, with good control of the placement of your shots, move to a position about six to eight feet from the net and volley from there. Your friend needs to stay clear to one side so as not to get hit by your returns.

First, have your friend feed some higher balls, shoulder level or above.

When the ball comes high, it is a good idea to point to the incoming ball with the racquet butt. This will automatically open the racquet face, allowing you to hit down without hitting the ball into the net.

Lead the shot with your hand, rather than with the head of the racquet.

(I have used this laid-back position of the racquet to correct many advanced players who had trouble with the forehand volley.)

Next, have your friend feed some lower balls. Open your racquet face while you go down to find the ball. Lead the shot with the bottom edge of your racquet, as when you still had the racquet short.

This is done while going forward and stopping at contact with a firm hit, as if you were stopping an ax at the contact with a tree.

The ball should come up and clear the net with some pace, but not too much backward rotation. Otherwise, it will be a slow shot. Try some different racquet positions to get a clue as to what the opening of your racquet should be for each shot. There isn’t a set racquet angle. It all depends on how the ball is coming to you.

After you have the height and depth of your shots under control, have your friend stand in front of you. Practice hitting some balls to his right and some to his left. You’ll need only to vary the angle of your racquet, without changing your grip, to accomplish this.

Again, practice will tell you the relationship between your racquet angle and your placement.

Here is an example of how to lean towards the ball as the first move:

The Backhand Volley

The most efficient volleyers volley all shots with just their dominant hand. There is much more reach hitting the backhand volley with one hand, than keeping both hands on the racquet throughout.

Therefore, I will teach you the one-handed volley first. Later on this chapter will describe the two-handed backhand volley.

DRILL #1: Stand about two feet from the net and hold the racquet from the throat with your left hand. Put the racquet in front of you, a little to your left, about shoulder height. Place the back of your right hand behind the strings.

Your friend tosses a ball toward your racquet. Block it down into your opponent’s court, keeping your hand against the strings. Repeat several times. Notice how the racquet face should start slightly open towards the sky. This will give you the idea that the backhand volley is like blocking the ball with the back of your hand.

DRILL #2: Grab the racquet just slightly down the throat with a right hand hammer hold. Have your left hand hold the throat of the racquet, as with a sling shot. Always hit down, leading with the bottom edge of the racquet. Some sliding of the ball on your strings will occur, which will add time to the contact and more feel and control.

After each hit have the racquet come back up and onto your left hand.

Note that a shoulder turn helps you hit more comfortably, especially when the ball goes farther away to your left. Hit normal volleys, higher volleys, and lower volleys, managing the opening of your racquet as needed.

Pointing the butt of the racquet to the incoming helps to find the ball and to hit it firmly. This pointing will also help you later to rotate the racquet from a forehand volley to a backhand volley.

The racquet movement for the hit comes from extending the arm, rather than breaking the wrist .

Don’t break wrist

DRILL #3: With your friend in front of you, but safely farther back, hit some balls to his right, then some to his left. Do this gently but firmly, varying the racquet angle but not your grip. Repeat until you have complete control of your shot direction and you meet every ball in the center of your racquet strings.

DRILL #4: Continue practicing, but slide your hand gradually toward the grip of the racquet, until you get to a normal grip position.

At this point it is better to move your thumb down and around the grip because the thumb against the back, if that’s how you started, although good for early developing stages, will make it difficult to open the racquet face for very low volleys.

Practice volleying with this new grip, but make sure that you still can volley firmly on high balls, too. If you have trouble, keep your thumb against the backside until you strengthen your hand and your arm.

DRILL #5: Move away from the net another six to eight feet and volley from there until you have control. Then, have your friend feed you some higher balls. Point the butt of the racquet to the incoming ball, then block it firmly. Below is your finish, whether the ball you hit was high or not.

Lead the shot with the butt of your racquet, rather than with the racquet head and breaking the wrist. As you hit, the right arm should extend toward the net and across the line of the ball. The left arm extends toward the backcourt to help you keep your balance, but backwards as if putting your shoulder blades together.

Next, have your friend feed low balls. Open the racquet face sharply and lead the shot with the bottom edge of your racquet, like a cutting action, as shown below.

Hit down and finish across. Stop firmly at contact with the ball, to send it over the net at a good pace and yet keep the ball in the court..

You need to work out the correct angle of your racquet to give good pace and some depth to your shot. If you underspin the ball too much it will be a slow shot.

The angle of your racquet should vary, depending on the speed and height of the ball coming to you. In the beginning, get the racquet face almost parallel to the ground for very low balls. Then, start to adjust according to the results you get. This racquet angling is learned from experience and instinct, rather than being set the same all the time.

Combining Forehand and Backhand Volleys

When you are waiting at the net for your opponent to hit the ball, you hold the racquet in front of you. Whether you’ll go to your right or to your left depends on the direction of your opponent’s next shot.

In chapter 13 I described how to anticipate the direction of your opponent’s next shot by carefully observing his racquet angle the moment he makes contact with the ball. As soon as you see whether the ball is about to go to your right or to your left, lean in that direction.

Your upper body usually turns in that direction, too. Keep both hands on the racquet during this turn to adjust the grip and line up your shot.

DRILL #1: Starting with slow balls, your friend alternates the toss to your right side and to your left.

Don’t rush. Wait for the ball. Lean and turn slowly and deliberately, taking as much time as you can, instead of getting ready too fast. This way you’ll move naturally. You’ll work out what is necessary and what is not, what to focus on and what to ignore.

Going slowly will throw overboard those unnecessary details that will trap you at higher speeds. The slower you go at these slow ball speeds, while simplifying your moves, the faster and better you’ll react to the high ball speeds.

Grip changes at the net for pros are minimal. They occur mostly at the bottom of the palm of the hand, while reacting to the right or to the left. I led you into more of a grip change only to get you started (that was forehand volley Drill 3 versus backhand volley Drill 2). Later on, as you find the ball better and better, you’ll achieve more firmness and certainty in your contact with the ball. By then you may need less grip change in your volleys.

This latter stage is usually called the continental grip for your volleys, halfway between your regular forehand grip and the one-handed backhand grip.

Some minor natural adjustments will occur–even with a continental grip–for both your forehand and backhand volleys to be truly efficient. Going from the right to the left, and vice versa, the racquet angle will change slightly in your hand.

Again, it is the left hand’s hold of the racquet that induces these changes. The left hand will push back the racquet head for the forehand volley, together with a slight shoulder turn to the right. The left hand will pull the racquet head back, together with a sharp shoulder turn to your left for the backhand volley, then releasing the left hand and, for the backhand volley, squeeze your shoulder blades to help power the ball from that side..

If you followed the drills and instructions detailed early in this chapter, this should now be built-in in your muscle memory and most likely, at your instinctive level reactions.

The best volleyers volley firmly but not too hard. Hitting hard interferes with finding and feeling the ball.

You don’t need to grip the racquet tightly in between shots. Have the racquet rest on the fingertips of your left hand, holding the racquet head up. The right hand “feels” the grip, firm but not tight, and your body is ready to jump to find the ball. You start your move, releasing the left hand as late as you can. Then you hit, tightening up the racquet at contact with the ball, stopping it firmly as you would stop a hammer hitting a nail into a wall without breaking the wall. Then come back to the ready position, covering the court as well as you can.

The Two-Handed Backhand Volley

If you truly feel that you like to hit the backhand volley with two hands, leave both hands on the racquet, without any grip change.

Your hands will either be touching each other or fairly close together.

The racquet face is held up while you wait for the ball. Then go for the ball and hit it forward, with a slight downward cut. Stop at contact, with the left hand doing most of the work.

This two-handed volley is similar to a forehand volley with your left hand, except that the right hand is kept on the racquet. You can follow the same learning sequence you did for your forehand volley, but using your left hand instead. Grip your racquet with your the left hand higher on the grip to leave room to put your right hand below it, pretty much like your regular two-handed backhand grip, but holding the racquet pointing up. In the beginning, alternate hitting one volley with the left hand, then one volley with both hands. After a while, keep the right hand on, but without letting it interfere with the work of the left hand, which should be slightly dominant.

In the two-handed backhand volley it is the left hand that changes the angle of the racquet. The right hand accompanies it.

It is an easy stroke to develop, especially if you already have a two-handed backhand stroke. The only disadvantage is a big reduction in reach. The one-handed backhand volley allows an unequaled stretch for difficult shots, while this two-handed backhand volley does not. On the other hand, you may like the feel of the two-handed shot and its simplicity, since it doesn’t require a grip change at all.

Hit down on low two-handed volleys, leading the shot with the bottom edge of the racquet and with a sharply opened racquet face. Stop firmly at contact, and the ball will clear the net safely and carry some good pace into the other side.

The Smash

When your opponent is trying to lob the ball over your head, you “smash” the ball when it is directly overhead.

This smash requires only a short preparation, and it is similar to the serve described in the beginning of the service chapter.

DRILL #1: Stand close to the net. Have your friend toss balls to you a little higher than your head. Hit them down in your opponent’s court with your right hand, as shown in the picture below.

DRILL #2: Have your friend stand safely to one side. Your friend again tosses the ball above your head and you hit it gently to get feel and control. You end the shot, after extending your arm, down and across to your left and into your left hand, which will catch the racquet by the throat.

Do this gently, with control. Find the ball well and hit away from your friend to avoid hitting him.

Smashes are hit down, rather than up like serves. They are also much more flat.

DRILL #3: When going up for the ball, also lift the racquet with your left hand. Find the ball well and hit it down into your opponent’s court.

Unlike a fully developed serve with the long loop before going for the hit, the racquet goes straight up as in the high forehand volley. Then maneuver yourself under the ball, finding it well, and hit it downward firmly, but with control.

DRILL #4: Have your friend feed higher balls. The left hand will become instrumental in placing yourself under the ball and finding it well. Get yourself under the ball as well as possible, lifting the racquet with both hands toward your right shoulder. Now point to the ball with your left hand as if you were going to catch it, fine tuning your position below the ball at this time. Your racquet has dropped behind your back, as in the serve. Find the ball well, then release your power into the shot finishing toward your left hip.

This last detail is important to prevent you from hitting your legs with the racquet.

DRILL #5: After becoming proficient in the former drill, move your hand gradually toward the racquet grip. Hit several balls from each hand position, mastering the new racquet length before going on to the next. Follow through firmly but not hard, always ending with the throat of the racquet in your left. The most important thing in the smash is to find the ball well. The easiest place to do that is above your head, perhaps slightly in front and to the right. On most balls you will need to adjust to wherever the ball is going, whether it’s to your right, to your left, or behind you. The best smashers lift the racquet with both hands, coordinated with the upward flight of the ball. Then, with the ball descending, they point to it with the left hand, as if going to catch it. Then they hit it. If the lob is clearly going back beyond their reach, instead of backpedaling, they turn their feet to run back normally, while still raising the racquet slowly and looking at the ball over their left arm. When the ball is within their reach, they jump with a scissors-type leg action, which allows a timely power release and avoids hard lower back twisting or a harmful fall.

Smashes don’t need much force to be fast. They require coordination and timing, with the force coming in when almost touching the ball. Smashes usually come out harder than intended, especially in the early learning stages.

For your friend’s safety, smash gently and with control.

Learning the Smash by Yourself

If you don’t have a friend who can hit high balls to you, you can toss them high yourself and do the drills described before. Just toss them high enough so that they clear your head after the bounce. Find the ball well as it starts to come down for the second time and hit into your opponent’s court.

Advanced players sometimes practice this way. They hit the ball up with the racquet, let it bounce, go up again, then smash it down into the other court.

Again, should you do this, learn control rather than force. The force is within you–the control has to be learned.

Advanced Volleying

There are four major types of championship styles. One is the purely defensive player, who stays back as much as possible, and often just goes to the net to shake hands at the end of the match.

The next type of player is mostly a baseliner, but as soon as he gets a short ball, he hits a very forceful approach shot, almost a winner in itself, and gets to the net for a volley put- away.

The third type is the player who is skillful from the back, but who is always looking to maneuver to the net. He’ll take more chances of going forward, and is usually good at placing the first volley where the opponent has difficulty making a good passing shot.

The last category is that of the serve-and-volley player who does it as a way of life, regardless of the surface. He probably isn’t very skilled at matching groundstrokes from the backcourt, and usually thinks of it as a waste of time. Rather than work his way into the point, this player risks everything, from groundstrokes to storming the net on any kind of ball.

This can be very effective on given days, when things go right and the opponent collapses under the sheer pressure of the attack. But if this player is matched against a skilled all-court player, he’ll have a struggle on his hands. The backcourt player will dampen the other player’s attack with low angles and skilled lobs mixed with some forceful passing shots. Although backcourt players do more running, they do so with more time to get to the ball, while the attacking player depends mostly on jumping and lunging ability.

On clay courts, where matches between players of comparable skill usually go on for hours, an attacking player will have difficulty sustaining the effort for an entire match.

At championship level, serve-and-volley players get to most of their opponent’s service returns near their own service line. The shot from here, should they be able to reach it before the bounce, is called the first volley. In most cases, the ball is by then below the level of the net. This first volley needs placement, pace, and depth. After hitting the first volley the player continues to advance toward the net, and is now prepared to cut off the next return, usually a forceful passing shot or a lob.

The attacking player is now in a more commanding position, but here the options for the opponent vary according to the type of surface of the court. On a slippery surface like grass, good players go for a forceful passing shot most of the time, or for a very defensive lob. The attacking player just needs to angle the next volley to the open court, and most likely it will be out of the other player’s reach. On a lob, he needs to reach the ball and hit it to the open court.

But on slower surfaces, like clay courts and most modern championship hard courts, the likelihood of the defensive player hitting a good lob is much greater. The attacking player cannot risk getting very close to the net. He therefore opens himself to some angled passing shots.

Here is where an accomplished serve-and-volley player has something that the accomplished backcourt player does not: a sense of net coverage, of which angles to open and which ones to close. Serve-and-volley players know how to lure the opponent into hitting a particular shot. They can close to the net fast, while still preparing to smash even a decent lob. A little while into the match, they’ve learned to anticipate the passing shot by reading the racquet angle of the opponent at contact time. It is a skill that you develop by committing to a volley game. Your tactical approach changes, adjusting to different conditions that you create for yourself.

One major aspect of the successful attacking game is the pressure put on the opponent to make very good shots, which leads to many errors, especially in important points. The faster the court, the more pressure the player under attack feels.

The Low Volley at Championship Level

For a low volley, you obviously have to lower the racquet from the normal height where you were holding it to the point where you’ll meet the ball. You can use this downward (and at the same time forward) movement to get momentum to hit the ball. You get it to go over the net by opening the racquet face, while you stop at contact with a firm grip. This will give the ball good speed, while it will still be accurate and clear the net. The ball will also have some backspin that will keep it low after it bounces in your opponent’s court.

You can use this low volley with spectacular results from anywhere in the court, including being caught behind the service line or somewhere in the backcourt. The ball may be at your feet, without a bounce, and you can still make a good shot.

To develop this volley I have some interesting drills, for which you’ll need someone good across the net to feed you the ball pretty low, reaching you at a height around knee level or below. You will also need a bucket with a minimum of twenty or thirty balls.

I have included these drills in this chapter, although they belong to an advanced level of play, because I know players of many different skill levels will read this book. At some point you may desire to learn this and it is available here for you to learn whenever you want. Even some of the most advanced players need to polish their strokes, and these drills will help them.

The Drills

The initials FR, FC, and FL indicate each position where your friend will stand to feed the ball to you. FR is your Friend to your Right, FC is your Friend in the Center, and FL your Friend to your Left. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are the positions where you will be, 1) inside the forehand service court on your side, 2) center service line, 3) inside the backhand service court, 4) farther back than your forehand service court, 5) farther back than your center service line, 6) farther back than the backhand service court, according to each particular drill. R, L, and C are your target areas.

R and L are the deep Right (from your viewpoint) and deep Left corner areas of the court, and C is the deep Center area of the court.

Mark these three areas with ropes, cones, or empty cans. On a clay court you can mark them with your foot.

In the following drills, for example, FR to 2, low FH volley to L means your friend stands at FR, you are at 2, he hits a ball to you toward your forehand side at knee level or below, you hit a forehand volley to the left corner area. On another drill, FL to 3, low BH volley to R means your friend is at FL, you are at 3, and you hit a low backhand volley to the right.

Depending on your advancement, do each drill until you hit five, ten, or twenty balls in the area of your intended aim.

DRILL #1: FL to 1, low FH volley to C. 
DRILL #2: FC to 1, low FH volley to R. 
DRILL #3: FR to 1, low FH volley to L. 
DRILL #4: FL to 2, low FH volley to R. 
DRILL #5: FL to 2, low FH volley to C. 
DRILL #6: FR to 2, low FH volley to L. 
DRILL #7: FL to 3, low FH volley to R.
DRILL #8: FR to 3, low FH volley to C.
DRILL #9: FC to 3, low FH volley to L. 
DRILL #10: FR to 3, low BH volley to C. 
DRILL #11: FC to 3, low BH volley to L. 
DRILL #12: FL to 3, low BH volley to R. 
DRILL #13: FR to 2, low BH volley to L. 
DRILL #14: FR to 2, low BH volley to C. 
DRILL #15: FL to 2, low BH volley to R. 
DRILL #16: FR to 1, low BH volley to L. 
DRILL #17: FR to 1, low BH volley to C. 
DRILL #18: FC to 1, low BH volley to R.

After completing these drills, repeat drills 1 through 9 hitting one forehand volley, one backhand volley, another forehand volley, and so on for each drill.

After you are successful volleying these low balls from the 1, 2, and 3 positions, switch to the backcourt.

Volleying from the 4, 5, and 6 positions, repeat drills 1 through 9 with the one forehand volley, one backhand volley routine, aiming to R, L, and C.

As soon as you feel good control hitting your low volley from anywhere in the court, your next step is to learn to hit while moving forward.

Stand on the baseline, behind 5. Hit your first volley at 5, your next one at 2, then get to the net and put the next volley away. For your next try go back to the baseline, behind 5 or 6, hit your first low backhand volley at 6, then a low volley at 2, then a put-away in front of 1 or 3. Mix positions in any way you like, forehand and backhand volleys alike, also mixing your aims to R, L, and C.

When you get good at moving around the court while volleying, add a smash to end each sequence. Some of the most advanced players continue the sequence through several hits. The player feeding the ball draws them back by hitting a deep lob. The next shot is a low one, drawing the player forward again.

I advise you not to try to learn all this in one day, unless you are a highly trained tournament player. Practice while you feel good and strong. When you get tired, save the rest of the drills for another day. Most professionals are so superbly conditioned that this type of tennis seems easy to them, but it causes a lot of physical stress to newer players.

McEnroe

John McEnroe has probably been the best volley player of all time. Although he has slowed down with age, he is still outstanding on low volleys, high volleys, delicate stop volleys, put-aways, smashes, anticipating and cutting off difficult passing shots–anything that he can catch on the fly.

McEnroe’s body moves are very efficient, both in getting to the ball and stroking it. On the volley, he leads and leans with the upper body to wherever he has to go, getting a fast start. When he gets to the ball, he may jump or take a small hop, while his arm hits down and forward. At contact, he immediately stops the movement of his hand.

The combination of these last two features is what makes McEnroe so outstanding. What he achieves is to keep his preferred contact point in the racquet face (the strings slightly above center, so as to better use the torque of the impact to keep the racquet open as needed, as opposed how a groundstroke is met below center to keep the racquet closed) on the line of flight of the ball for a prolonged period of time, still discharging plenty of power into the hit. He avoids costly mis-hits that dramatically affect the accuracy and speed of the shot and he doesn’t depend on perfect timing at all.

Many of the world’s best players mis-hit some volleys under pressure or when they want to put a lot of power into the shot. They either don’t always time the volley properly, or their body interferes with the shot.

Most of these errors come from missing the intersection of the line of travel of the racquet preferred volley spot, a bit above the center, with the ball’s line of flight. The ball stays up while your racquet goes down on your hit. Hit off the preferred point of contact, and your volley doesn’t go exactly where you want.

McEnroe avoids that by lifting his body, which keeps the racquet head on the line of the ball while he strokes. It is interesting to note that, even on his off days, when things seem to go wrong, his volley stays at a high level, and usually saves him from painful defeats.

Stopping the hand at contact with the ball is the other safety feature of McEnroe’s technique. The stopping action will last a few tenths of a second, during which time the ball will hit the strings. On very fast passing shots, it is practically impossible to time the beginning of the stopping action at the point of impact with the ball.

At 65 mph, for example, the ball travels close to 100 feet per second. If your opponent is near his baseline and you are near the net, your distance is forty to forty-five feet. The ball will take approximately 5/10 of a second to get to your racquet. Your stopping action should commence just prior to contact with the ball, and will last throughout. The ball will be in your racquet and out while you are still stopping it.

Therefore, just like McEnroe, you won’t have any difficulty timing your hit. Although it feels different, that fast ball will hit your strings, rather than you hitting the ball. The resulting shot placement will depend on your racquet face angle, which of course you control with the position of your hand.

This type of advanced volleying is easy to learn. First look for the ball, leaning toward it with your upper body or your head. If the ball is hard and stays up, pull your head upward together with your hit, or move your face away from the ball, stopping your hand firmly inches before the hit. If you are moving forward, try a little jump or a hop.

Otherwise, if the ball is a “sinker” (dropping quickly), get down as low as you can, but hop forward as you hit it. On these, as well as on the high volley or a slow passing shot, you can discharge more power. Stop your action during the hit. At least get the sensation that you are stopping your arm. By then the ball is gone from your racquet but your accuracy will improve. On an easy set-up, stop your arm right after the hit.

The results of this technique are astounding. The hits are firm and accurate. With some practice, you’ll hit the ball consistently in the center of your racquet strings, allowing you to develop great racquet control and touch.

Do not stroke too early. While volleying, you should keep your playing hand in front and you should hit in front. But releasing your power too soon or stopping too early will cause mistakes.

Perfect timing results from waiting for the right moment to hit. Sometimes it seems there isn’t enough time. You feel rushed. But with practice you’ll be able to “feel” the difference between too early and too late. You’ll time your stopping action according to the speed of the incoming ball.