The Flowing Tennis Volley Technique And Drills To Master It

Oct 27

The flowing tennis volley technique is the type of volley that you’ll need the most often, yet this technique is not taught much.

The punch volley is likely what you’re all familiar with, but that type of volleying is typically used for finishing the point at the net.

To even get to that position, you’ll first need to set it up, and that’s where the flowing or transition volley is used.

Every time I teach the volley to a player (unless I am working with a young beginner), I have to find ways to “break down” the punch volley muscle memory that has been ingrained in the player.

The punch volley technique in tennis requires the player to step forward and stop while at the same time holding the racquet very firmly and applying a strong, short punch to the ball.

All these processes cause the player to tense up before the contact.

Here are just a few of the disadvantages of the punch volley technique:

Tennis punch volley

Punch volley technique has many disadvantages

  • Inability to adjust quickly to different heights and distances – Tense muscles (limbs) are “locked” into a position, and the player cannot adjust to the ball.
  • Inability to control fast incoming shots – Tense muscles are unable to absorb the energy of the incoming ball, and the player is unable to control fast passing shots played at him.
  • Difficulties playing deep volleys – When hitting the ball before or around the service line, the short contact of the punch motion will not give you good control of the depth of your volleys.

The punch volley is useful only when the player is receiving a slow and relatively high incoming ball and he is quite close to the net.

In this case, the depth is not that important; rather, the player finishes the volley at an angle while hitting the ball quite hard.

The reality of tennis is much more complex, and learning only a punch volley just won’t cut it.

In fact, most volleys in singles and doubles (for the server) will be the flowing volley, which will be the first volley played after the approach or the serve.

This volley will be a transition shot after which the player will close in on the net and have the chance to finish the point with another volley, this time most likely the punch type or with an overhead.

The Flowing Volley Drills

The keys to hitting a consistent and accurate flowing volley are a flowing movement of the feet and a longer contact zone; in other words, we flow through the volley with our hands, arms, and legs.

Note how Marcos Baghdatis in the video above “flows” through the volley: his feet never stop and his hitting zone and the follow-through are longer than with the usual punch volley.

In order to develop the feel and the technique for hitting this type of volley, use the following drills:

1. The bounce volley

This drill can take just a minute or two to refresh your feel and help you transfer the feel from a simple bounce exercise to a volley.

Simply bounce the ball on your strings without letting it drop on the ground. Hold a continental grip and bounce the ball with the forehand and the backhand side.

Bounce volley drill

The bounce drill helps you “volley” the ball with more feel

Become aware of how, when the ball is falling down toward your racquet, you hold the racquet very gently and move the racquet slowly toward the incoming ball.

When you bounce the ball, you’ll firm up the grip just for a split second and give the ball a little pulse of energy.

It’s very natural, and most players do this correctly without any thinking. That’s why instructions on how to bounce the ball are not really needed; only awareness is.

Once you’re more aware of the feel of bouncing the ball, play volley to volley with your partner and apply the same feel to the horizontal plane.

volley to volley tennis drill

Volley to volley drill but this time with extra awareness of the gentle bounce

You should feel that volleying is now much more effortless and with much less tension.

This is the first step in getting rid of the tension and rigidness usually associated with volleying.

2. Volley to volley from midcourt

The next progression is to increase the distance between the players so that both of them stand around midcourt.

volley from midcourt

Volleying with a partner from midcourt is a great drill to improve the consistency and technique of your volley

They will quickly discover on their own that playing volley to volley from this distance requires them to guide the ball longer and extend their follow-through after the ball.

A combination of feel from the first exercise and this task will guide them toward the correct flowing volley technique for their arms and hands.

3. Running through volleys

To give the players the feel and experience of moving through the volley rather than stopping and punching it, use the “running volley” drill.

The coach or partner needs to move backwards, starting at the baseline, and at the same time toss the balls left and right.

Flowing volley drill

Tossing the balls rapidly left and right doesn’t give the player the time to stop

The partner should avoid giving the player time to stop at the volley but rather just move through it.

I usually toss six to eight balls in one run, and ten sets of this exercise would most likely be enough in a single session to give the player some feel of how it is to “flow” through the volley.

4. Approach and volley

The final drill can be any of the many approach and volley drills where the player hits a short ball, approaches the net, and hits the volley.

The key point in this case, of course, is to keep in mind the flowing tennis volley technique where the player simply moves and hits through the volley without any jerky movements.

Transition volley drill

The final goal is that the player is comfortable with the transition volley

With practice, this type of volleying will of course become automatic and unconscious, and the player will use it when appropriate without any thinking.

If you watch the tennis pros closely and keep your mind and eyes open, you’ll quickly realize that the flowing or transition volley is actually a different type of volley than the traditional punch volley and that it is played quite often in matches.

So, I highly recommend you spend some time working on flowing through the volley in your tennis sessions—your net game will definitely become more consistent and effective.

Leave a Comment:

(25) comments

CELSO October 27, 2013

Thanks for your time and efforts, very interesting you are correct it is not easy at first.

Have a great day!!

tim October 27, 2013

Great stuff as usual Tomaz. Feel, flow and reducing unnecessary tension are the hallmarks of your teaching. Really enjoying the inclusion of the students in the videos, hope you do more with them on other strokes, serve etc.

Sue Zetteler October 27, 2013

I so enjoy your ‘Feel’ approach to all things tennis! I am currently working on this type of volley to absorb the pace of hard hit incoming balls. Are you in favor of the lift at the finish…often called the waiter volley since it looks like a tray? It sure seems that the softer your hands the better it works! Reminds me of John McEnroe and his magic hands.
Thanks for all your help, Sue Z

    Tomaz October 28, 2013

    Hi Sue,

    I teach keeping the racquet on the same side of the body while hitting with a little degree of slice.

    The “lifting” part that you notice happens by itself because of the elasticity of the wrist, I would not encourage it or teach it. Especially since it happens way after we have hit the ball. What matters is how we contact the ball.

John Carrizosa October 27, 2013

Hi Tomaz,
Once again you’ve simplified the stroke and made it easy to understand. I couldn’t agree with you more on the “punch” volley, so one dimensional but taught like its the only volley you need. Going to share the drills with my students as soon as possible. Thanks for your insights. You need to put your teaching gems into a book! I’ll order mine right now!!!
Take care,
John Carrizosa

Georgia October 27, 2013

Perfect, I always wondered how Leander Paes hit the volley so cleanly. Thank you for clarifying this vital stroke for me. Your lessons are invaluable.


    John McGinty October 28, 2013

    Is mention of the infamous “running through” the volley appropriate here? The video of the flowing Baghdadis shows his body always behind the ball, not ahead of it as many “recreational” tend to do as they run through the volley with their bodies.

      Tomaz October 28, 2013

      Thanks, John, perhaps this is a key distinction these recreational players need to make then in order to make this volley work.

Robert October 28, 2013

I like the idea of “flowing through” those volleys better than “guiding” the volley, which is how I had been thinking of it before. This really is the way to learn this stroke.

Idebee October 28, 2013

Spot on! I have the affliction of punching and chopping at all volleys and have really battled with unlearning. I like your approach to think of these as two different types of strokes. V useful drills and progressions. I have particular difficulty with low, extreme slice balls. Wondering if you have any points of differentiation for tackling volley off floaty no pace balls, heavy topspin and heavy slice balls?

    Tomaz October 28, 2013

    Hi Idebee,

    Yes, you need to approach each type of the incoming ball differently on the volley:
    – no pace balls – have a looong contact zone and flow through the volley
    – heavy topspin – you’ll need to absorb the energy so very short movement and let the slice happen
    – slice – you need to apply extra slice to counter the incoming slice, otherwise the ball will end up in the net

    All these can be trained separately for a while but eventually they need to become so automatic that you don’t think about it and simply do it.

Kevin October 28, 2013

Hi Tomaz,

Very useful as always. I found very much easier to reach difficult angles and also easier to slice the volleys when your all body is actually following through. But the best was for the drop volleys! The gentle and smooth motion you invited us to try definitely helped me to “feel” these drop volleys. One more thing, I used the same mental image for groundstrokes and found it very helpful too. I really see connections with all you videos like the “minimum effort drill”

Thanks (again)

    Tomaz October 28, 2013

    Hi Kevin,

    Yes, good point, the slice on the volley usually just happens on its own when we move through.

mk October 29, 2013

Great article and drills.

This stroke looks so easy here, but in reality it’s difficult to master… for me, even the punch volley. I often have problem, that the racquet “rolls” around in my hand when hitting the ball (especially lower and no pace balls), and then I start holding it too firmly and then the ball ends in the no man’s land.

But I see a reply to Idebee, so I’ll try to remember it…

Robbert November 14, 2013

Very good article! My challenge with the volley is to become more confident and rely on the stroke.
But when I use the continental grip… it causes a weird feeling and also an unstable stroke (wobbling).

I learned recently that I should take the contactpoint with turned holder and on the same plane level as my hittingshoulder (right)… So not in front (to the net) where it becomes unstable.
While stepping in, moving forward and important… using an L-shape between the hand and the racquet.

Can you recommend a drill that help me with getting this feeling… because I ‘m always taught to push forward it’s difficult enough for me to remember the continental. L-shape, move into the ball, weight behing… In the end it all comes down to muscle memory and having confidence..

Zac November 15, 2013

Another great lesson, Tomaz. The common thread through all your posts seems to be relaxation. When in doubt, eliminate unnecessary tension!

Dennis Prinos February 5, 2014

What a great and usefull explanation Tomaz.Would you suggest thinkink of taking pace off of the incoming ball as you flow through it? What would you suggest as a good drill when warming up for a match? Seems we are always standing in the middle of “no-mans” land and practicing volleying with very little footwork moving forward? Thanks again for the best information on the Web.

Tomaz February 7, 2014

Hi Dennis,

It’s tough to say whether to take pace off or not, it depends on the type of incoming ball. You are looking for depth, moderate speed and consistency. These factors determine how you’re going to hit the ball.

A good drill is to stand in no man’s land, hit a couple of volleys from there, then choose one to move through it and close in on the the net and play out the point with your partner.

John C April 6, 2014

this lesson and the one on ‘developing good hands on volleys’ are two of the best tips out there Tomaz. We all envision and love hitting that punch volley winner without remembering and thinking about how many volleys we have to hit in defensive and/or approach situations, including volleys from mid court and below the net. Volleys are, in fact, possibly the area where your emphasis on developing ‘feel’is most apt and useful. drop shots and short angles perhaps being another area where feel is paramount.

I know one thing that helps me is taking advantage of opportunities to hit rally ball volleys from the baseline when your hitting partner hits long and also stepping in to hit relatively deep and mid court approach volleys on balls that you’d otherwise let bounce and hit ground stroke – either staying back or approaching. If you purposely step in and try to hit that relatively deep ball as a volley and then move forward – playing it as an approach shot you are almost forced to play/hit a flowing volley and sometimes a full swinging volley.

Of course the more you do it the more comfortable you become and it just seems natural and you start hitting it like any other rally ball or approach shot.

Really appreciate your tips and videos Tomaz … keep ’em coming 🙂

    Tomaz April 7, 2014

    I agree on the repetition, John. We really need to do it quite a few times (namely approaching the net) to get a good feel for the transition volley.

    Thanks for sharing!

Ha May 29, 2014

Thanks again for the great stuff up here (for free :-))

I happened to know your website just a week or 2. just by reading and understand your tips, my serve and forehand improve night and day positively in terms of reliability & effortlessness.

I will be working on one handed backhand strikes, which have been below everage for long time 🙂

Just wonder if you have any tips on how to get warmed up quickly in say 5 minutes.

Ha (from Vietnam)

    Tomaz May 29, 2014

    You’re very welcome, Ha.

    Here’s a warm up routine I do often:

Wendell Murray December 1, 2014

Another excellent video in this series. I learned a lot from another video on hitting high balls to the forehand and backhand – strokes that I had not learned to hit well beforehand – so I just checked this one on volleying.

My volleying from either side is not bad, but it is nowhere near as consistent as it needs to be. I am not sure how tight or loose my grip on the racquet is, but I will pay attention when I next practice. I generally have a loose grip, which feels better to me, on all strokes, but I do not pay attention to it.

The technique and drills for the “flowing” volley shown here are helpful, so I will practice them as well. I use a ball machine and generally stand on the service line to volley, setting the ball trajectory either above or below the top of net at that point of contact. I stand at mid-court to practice half-volleys, which again are not bad, but also not consistent enough. I need to check videos on hitting from below the net. Probably there is one in this series.

I might add that the two young players, who illustrate the techniques, both have very nice strokes and movement, so congratulations to them.

    Tomaz December 1, 2014

    Thanks for the feedback, Wendell.

    The grip should be as loose as possible so that it still allows you good control of the ball. Experiment with how “light” you can grip the racquet.

Tarquin Maylam November 24, 2015

Good points about the flowing volley. This will help with my coaching plans (and playing!). Never heard it explained quite like this before, and I was once a world ranked player. Well done and thankyou 🙂

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