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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.