One of the biggest struggles, yet most important skills, for many doubles tennis players to learn is the ability to serve and volley.
If you aren’t comfortable at the net, struggle to hit the difficult half volley, or are just starting to get good enough at tennis to serve and volley, this lesson is for you.
First, I’ll show you how to think about the serve when you know you want to get to the net. Then you’ll learn some tips on hitting the tough half volley before moving into the net. Last, I’ll cover basic strategies and tactics you can use for playing at the net.
At the end of this lesson, I’ll show you some ways to counter the serve and volley when you play doubles.
Mostly used in doubles, the serve and volley is a tactic players use to get to the net fast after their serve. Really it’s just like it sounds. You serve, and let your momentum carry you forward into the court, trying to get to the net as quickly as possible so that you can hit a volley for your next shot. Here’s an example of a professional doubles team executing the serve an volley.
The key to the serve and volley starts, of course, with the serve.
You’ll want to make sure your momentum goes out into the court, so you can use that to continue to go in.
If you’re new to the serve and volley, start with a slow serve to the backhand side. This will give the opponent a more difficult shot to the backhand, and it will give you time to come in.
I like to hit a slice into the backhand on the deuce side, and a kick out wide on the ad.
For more advanced players who are better at serving, change it up! Try some slices out wide, flat serves into the body, slow and fast serves. The last thing you want is the opponents to get into a rhythm with their returns.
Changing it up will help you generate more errors and easier volleys on your next shot.
The next shot is the dreaded half volley. Master this and the rest is easy. Then you’re just playing from the net.
Many recreational tennis players have trouble with this shot. The mistake I see with the half volley is that players don’t get their racket head through the ball. They end up slicing under it or jabbing at it. This will make you miss it out or pop it up for the opponent to embarrassingly smash it back in your face as you try to jump and turn to avoid getting hit while still trying not to look scared in case people are watching 😉
To fix this focus on getting low and not bringing your racket back too much. The racket should not get behind you. Remember your body’s momentum will generate much of the pace. To put this another way, don’t swing at the half volley!
Simply punch the ball with your racket head moving in the direction you want it to go, usually crosscourt. When you make contact with the ball the strings should be pointed across the net in the direction you want the ball to go (racket head should be close to perpendicular to the court). If the ball is popping up in the air, then your strings are pointed up and you’re probably slicing under the ball instead of hitting through it.
You’ll probably need to have someone watch you do this because you will think you’re doing it right, but you’re probably not.
The ball should stay relatively low and drive deep into the court.
This gives you the chance to close in even more. Since you kept it low, the opposing net player will have trouble poaching. And because it’s deep in the court, the other player should be on their heels in a defensive position.
Keep moving forward into the net for your next shot. You should be able to touch the net with your racquet.
You or your partner should get a pretty easy next shot to end the point on if you hit a good half volley.
The key at the net is to hit the easy volley. Take the ball at it’s highest point and don’t try to go for too much. 80% of your volleys should be crosscourt because it’s typically the easier shot and you’ll be able to generate more power. Force the opponent into the more difficult shots, and keep your racket out in front, punching balls back.
If you get lobbed, then you hit a bad half volley. If you get lobbed again, the opponent is really good at lobbing and you should try a new doubles strategy 🙂
Next, I’ll cover a simple game plan to use against a player or team who serves and volleys. In general, you can use this anytime both opponents are at the net.
I’ll cover several different strategies for returning, volleying, and hitting groundstrokes against the teams who love the net.
When your opponent is coming into the net after their serve, they are at a disadvantage for only one shot. This means your return of serve has to make their first shot, often a half volley, difficult.
From the deuce side, try to keep is low and at the middle net strap.
Keeping it low, will force them to pop up their half volley. This will also make it easy for you to come in behind your return, or give your partner a chance to poach with an easy put-away volley.
Aim for the center of the court, because the net is lower, and it’s to the servers backhand side. Even if the opposing net player poaches, they will have a difficult volley into their body with no angles. The middle also allows your net player to pinch a little more since it will be tough for the opponent to go up the alley on a half volley.
From the ad court, two options can be effective.
The first strategy is to hit a low return, at or left of the center net strap. This gets it to the net player’s backhand volley. Usually, a return here will result in a miss or a weak volley that they pop up. If the net player lets the ball pass them for the server to hit, then the server will have a tough shot with no angles. Your partner should consider poaching here if they see a good low return.
Another option you have is to try to hit it wide and get it to the server’s backhand side. If you’re the returner, you’ll want to come into the net behind it as you’ll often get an easy, high forehand volley. If you’re the net player on the returning team, fake here and try to force the opponent to hit a low percentage half volley up the alley to your forehand volley.
When you’re at the net against a serve and volleyer, you want to create a lot of movement and look for balls to poach on. The key is reading the ball and the other team’s body language.
If you see a low backhand volley, crowd the net close to the ball and look for an easy put away.
You’ll always want to start in the center of the service box. This is important! Actually look at the middle service line and the singles line. If you’re closer to the singles line, move over.
Do NOT hug the alley. That makes the returner see a wide open court to hit into. You need to make them feel like they have to go through you. Make them pass you before you worry about covering the alley.
Once you are positioned correctly, you’ll need to start moving forward as your partner hits their return. I like to start on the service line so I can call the serve if it’s out and move in fast.
After you see where the return is going, you have to make a read.
If you see a low ball in the middle, poach to the middle of the court, running up close to the net for an easy ball to put away. They’ll have to pop it up and you need to be there to smash it back down into the court.
If it’s a wide ball, then fake the poach and try to recover to the alley. This will make them hit a difficult up the line half volley. If you recover fast enough, you can put it away. However, a lot of the time they’ll just miss it since it’s such a low percentage shot.
The key is to remember to move your feet and have your momentum forward. Check out the volley tips checklist to make sure you’re confident at the net.
When you’re hitting groundstrokes against a team that likes to play at the net you need to know your strengths from the baseline and find their weaknesses that match that.
The best place to start is hitting solid, low groundstrokes down the middle. This takes away their angles, tests their communication, and allows your net player to get involved. Hitting clean groundstrokes down the middle works as a strategy against 80% of the teams you’ll play.
Sometimes, however, you’ll have a team that crowds the middle, or maybe they have a lefty and both forehands are in the middle. In this case, I like to go at the weaker player’s backhand volley. I hit my groundstrokes pretty low and can dip a topspin forehand at their feet, so I know this will be a high percentage for me and difficult for them.
If you’re better at lobbing, try hitting lobs to the opposite corner to give yourself plenty of court to hit into.
If you’re on the deuce side you can also try lobbing up the line. Even leaving it short is usually okay because it’s to the net player’s backhand volley. Most USTA players don’t have a very strong backhand overhead.
Be aware of where they’re standing, how they’re hitting their volleys, and where they like to move. If you notice them crowding the net, try the lob. If they’re taking a while to get in, try the low ball. When they hit every volley crosscourt, have your net player poach and make them hit up the line.
It’s worth trying a combination of all these doubles strategies, to prevent the other team from getting into a rhythm and to see what works for you. Remember changing it up is a fundamental principle of tennis that you should always be thinking about on the court. If you’re struggling or something isn’t working, change your strategy.
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