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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.