How To Hit A Tennis Volley

Sep 20

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Learn how to hit the volley in tennis correctly by using feel rather than a forceful punch, as is often taught.

The punch is just one of many different ways of hitting a tennis volley, but I don’t recommend this way of hitting the ball when you’re learning the volley technique and the right feel for it.

The optimal volley technique happens when you allow the racquet to absorb the force of the incoming ball.

 

Why Punching The Volley Is Not A Good Feel To Start With

Punching a tennis volley

“Punch” volley is not the best way to learn volley technique

As you’ve seen in the video, I describe hitting the volley as a combination of CATCHING and PUSHING rather than PUNCHING.

Yes, punching is a completely legitimate way of volleying, typically for higher and slower balls.But punching the ball incorrectly – which is how you’ll do it from the start if you haven’t learned the FEEL – will be done with tension and rigidness.

And that feeling can become your long term muscle memory, which will be hard to correct!

I have seen countless tennis juniors and club players who have been taught the punch volley first who were unable to adapt to different balls and were unable to take away the speed of the incoming ball.

Hitting the volley in the court was a pure lottery for them.

Secondly, if you watch a pro warm up, you won’t see many punching volleys!

See Roger Federer’s volleys in the video below – is he punching them? Perhaps one a couple of them – the rest are played with feel and slice…

 

The punch volley is a finishing shot. You wouldn’t learn finishing sitters with a forehand groundstroke in your first lesson, would you? ;)

As is the case with groundstrokes, so must the volley be learned first by playing it with feel, control and accuracy and when the foundation technique is solid should you progress to a type of volley that finishes the points – namely the punch volley.

It is then very easy to transition to a punch volley later once you need it. You will be able to adjust to the incoming ball with a more loose arm and grip so you can firm up on the grip just a split-second before contact to execute a punch volley.

Note: In my experience as a singles player, the punch volley is needed less than 50% of the times when I am at the net. In most cases I need to take away some speed of the incoming ball and simply guide it to the open court, or I need to hit the ball with slice and good depth because I made contact with the ball below the height of the net.

How To Develop Feel For The Volley

The main idea behind the volley is catching the ball. We all automatically move the hands forward when we want to catch the ball; therefore, we don’t swing at it.

Tennis volley technique

“Catch (Absorb) and Push” the ball when learning to hit the volley

We also move very naturally when we catch the ball, and we don’t think about the feet. The feet follow you!

We’ll go deeper into the intricacies of volley technique and footwork in future articles, but for now let’s focus on the moment of contact and how it should feel.

The invisible secret – visible only in super slow motion and only if you know what to look for! – of a correct volley is allowing the ball to move the racquet face slightly backward while at the same time you’re moving your arm forward.

Roger Federer forehand volley technique

The moment of contact and 3 frames after that – Federer is absorbing the speed of the ball. Tip of racquet head moves back as the hand moves forward. (Image credit: fuzzyyellowballs.com)

This verbal volley instruction most likely won’t help you learn it, of course. The best drill I know of is to have someone throw the ball directly into your racquet while you hold it gently in place.

Don’t move your arm – just allow the ball to push your racquet backward.

Sometimes even 10 balls is enough for the player to experience that »a-ha« moment and then be able to move to the next step.

You can also use your other hand to hit the racquet head with the ball yourself – that works both for the forehand and backhand volley .

In the next step, the goal is to move the arm slowly forward while at the same time allowing the incoming ball to push the racquet head back. Hit the ball gently and focus on feeling the racquet head moving slightly back on the contact with the ball.

You’ll soon realize that this movement alone can impart some slice or underspin on the ball, which will give you more control of the volley.

Apply this technique on both the forehand and the backhand volley, and you’ll be well on your way to a much-improved volley.

Volley Drills For Better Feel, Accuracy And Control

In order to develop good feel for the volley and how it feels when you’re simultaneously moving the racquet forward while the ball pushes it back, you need some specific tennis volley drills.

The first three have already been explained above:

1. Hit the racquet face with the ball in your off hand.

2. Have someone throw the ball into your racquet from a close distance. Apply on the forehand and backhand volley. Repeat 10-20 times and move to drill #3.

3. Move the arm slowly forward while allowing the ball to push the racquet back. This can be done again by having someone throw balls into your racquet from a close distance, or you can have someone feed you balls very accurately to your racquet.

Simply volley gently into the service box while allowing the ball to push the racquet head back.

Improve tennis volley by volleying to yourself

Volley to yourself – catch with off-hand. Great drill!

4. Volley to yourself – this is another quite challenging drill at first that eventually becomes fairly easy.

Have someone feed the ball to you and simply absorb the pace (energy) of the ball, volley it upwards, and catch it with your off hand.

This volley drill teaches you to really watch the ball well, move softly and in harmony to the ball, and allow the racquet head to absorb the pace of the ball.

It’s also a perfect drill to learn a stop volley.

5. Volley in the air and volley the ball one more time over the net. This is a more advanced version of the previous drill where, instead of catching the ball, you volley it one more time back over the net.

It will help you develop great hands and feel at the net without any need for verbal tennis instruction.

(All drills in this article are demonstrated with a forehand volley but should all be applied to the backhand volley as well.)

I know that this is just a part of the complete volley technique and dynamic so feel free to ask any questions you might have about the technique or any other aspect of the volley in tennis.

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27 comments

  1. Tomaz, your technical explanation is far superior to any coaches i have had.. I am a 4.5 an still need to review the technical aspects of all the shots because under pressure in a match, they all break down an you need to know how to quickly fix. Let us now when you are in USA to meet up an maybe you can hold a clinic…or two

    • Thanks, Cori! Will definitely mention in the newsletter when I travel to the US or any other country in the future…

      • Hi Tomaz,
        How should we make sure the ball hits the sweetspot when volleying a very fast ball? Usually when it reaches a few feet in front of us it begins to become a speeding blur. Is it my vision problem or is it that we must judge mentally where the ball is?

        And my coach asked me to grip further up the racquet but it makes it even harder to hit the sweetspot as I’m more used to the distance of the sweetspot when holding it at the end.
        Thanks.

        • Hi Allen,

          We cannot make sure we hit the sweet spot since our brain is imperfect and makes mistakes in calculations of the trajectory and timing.

          The key to increasing the chances though is to try and see the ball even when you can’t.

          The most instinctive reaction when the ball is really fast and we can’t see it any more is that we stop trying. We simply look ahead and wait to see the ball leave our racquet and come into our field of vision “on the way out.”

          But resist that and keep your eyes facing the blur and don’t move your head. It has been scientifically proven that our eyes and brain detect images and movement even when we are not consciously aware of that any more.

          That will help you get more clean hits even on fast incoming balls.

  2. A few more tips which I think needs to be thought about.
    If one holds the racquet face slightly to the left it helps in tackling the balls coming to the body better.Also it is better to learn to hit the volleys deep.For the backhand volley the grip will have to change if one need to hit down the line.Or the face need to be changed to give that direction.In the case of high backhand down the line volley shots the grip must be changed to eastern backhand grip or one must turn more if he has the time.

  3. Hi Tom
    I need to ask you this.In the early days players were asked to take a half step to hit volleys while hitting either side.I used to do that I found myself having very good balance and control.I do not see this now.

    • Yes, stepping into the ball is ok, but I see many times that it’s forced. It needs to happen because you lean forward and then the legs follow – and NOT forcing the legs (step) first.

      Watch Federer carefully in the video above and you’ll see that he leans first and then he has to step forward to remain balanced.

  4. Larry Abraham /

    Thank you very much, Tomaz. Excellent! I’m going to try to
    feel the bounce back of the racquet when I practice volleying
    against a wall. I hope it works. Larry

  5. Another terrific lesson. Can’t wait to try it! It was great to see the side view of the arm moving forward and the head of the racquet moving back. It is a good mental image to have.

  6. Larry F /

    I love your lessons. It is difficult for me to use soft hands and control the ball. But I’m working on it. Also, You don’t mention getting more power with your legs stepping into the ball. Does that come next?

    • Hi Larry, I replied to Nasar above who had a similar question. We simply move towards the ball and the legs follow. Only perhaps on finishing volleys with a slow incoming ball can you actually step in first and get some extra power.

      In most other cases stepping in will only cause problems because there’s not enough time. In most cases the step (contact with the ground) happens AFTER the contact.

  7. Hi Tomaz!

    Really great, as usual. You really have the “feel” for teaching!!
    Thank you.

  8. Really excellent detail! Thanks Tomaz !

  9. jaydee /

    Thanks a trillion for your great lesson! I learned one hand backhand from you and now enjoy my one hand backhand with right swing plane and right grip. Also your volley lesson is great. It seems to me that body forwarding to meet the ball in front is the most important part in volley.

  10. Andrew /

    Great job Tomaz, yours is the clearest and best instruction I have seen on the net. Well done!

  11. Henry /

    Excellent explanation. Best instruction for easy understanding. Keep going.

  12. Tomaz! I can’t even begin to tell you how much this has helped my students! Not only did it help their volleys become effortless and more powerful but the accuracy is amazing! I love learning new ways to teach and you are by far the best instructor on the web. It feels like there are a lot of instructors out there that want to help but don’t know how to make it simple to learn. You are now my zen master. Also, I have used this for the slice forehand and backhand and they are making incredible progress by understanding this volley lesson. Best of luck, I look forward to more of your wisdom.

  13. Dennis /

    I’m very glad I stumbled on your youtube video and then this site. The instruction makes so much sense. I can’t wait to get better acquainted with all the videos and start putting your principles into practice on the court.

  14. amit shroff /

    Great Video thanks tom

  15. Suraj /

    This was really helpful. Thanks once again..

  16. eugene mitchell /

    All the lessons i have taken none compare to what you have done for me ,THANKS

  17. Beatrice /

    I have just begun to play tennis and I could really benefit from your advice.

  18. Thanks for excellent lesson. I could never fully understand why I missed so many volleys especially under pressure. I had best luck with a very loose grip- now I know why that was most effective.

  19. Excellent tennis lesson I ever found on the web, especially when English is not my first language. I love the demo video, which helps to understand and “feel” the technique effortlessly. Thank you very much.

  20. Thanks you for the awesome drill. It helped me to understand why I make a lot of errors up the net, because I try to hit the ball instead of pushing at the ball. To get the feeling of pushing the ball , I stand front to the wall and hold the ball on racket and push it to the wall. Plus the other drills you have shown. That helped me a lot. Thanks again.

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