So you want to be amazing with your net play? Here is what you need to do…

  1. You need to be able to generate pace. You actually need to hit both hard and soft but to decisively finish the point in your favor (which is the aim whenever you approach the net) it does benefit to be able to “stick” the volley away and out of the reach of your opponent. Generating pace with the volley is not accomplished with a big swing pattern and racquet head acceleration but with momentum, weight transfer and timing.
  2. You need to absorb and manage pace. You must be able to handle balls coming at you more quickly and with more pace. This requires the ability to take pace off the ball to drop balls short, pop balls up and back, create angles and sometimes to simply get the ball back in play. 
  3. You need to have touch and feel. Volleying at the highest level requires hand skills to absorb pace (as mentioned earlier), subtly change direction, hit acute angles, create underspin to keep the ball low and/or create sidespin to keep the ball away from your opponent. Net play requires soft hands when the need is to finesse the volley and firm hands in rapid, up-tempo volley exchanges.
  4. You must be relentless. You need to be fully committed whenever you approach the net. In executing an attacking strategy or style of play, you need to look for every opportunity to close into the net. And you need to keep on coming in regardless of periodic setbacks (where you get passed or make an error). The goal is not necessarily to win every point but most the points.
  5. You need to be precise. Net play requires precision, precision with your shot location, precision with motor control of your body through the shot sequence and recovery and precision with your balance and footwork. There can be no exaggerated movement and swing patterns. Volleys require a sharp, concise and compact stroke pattern and synchronized, tight coordination of body segments. The arm and racquet need to work to together as a unit with less elbow flexion and rotation than the groundstrokes.
  6. You need to be able to close and feel comfortable playing tight to the net. The goal for every successful volleyer is to finish the point with a shot right on top of the net.
  7. You need to be smart and know the percentages. You must be smart on how and when you approach the net. You can play the odds and come in on everything (off the serve and serve return) but that is tough to pull off. Singles players on the ATP tour come to the net on average seven times per set (more on faster playing surfaces and less on slower playing surfaces). Maxine Cressy who seemingly comes to the net on every point actually closes the net on average 20 times per set. How successful should you be when approaching the net? The best players on the ATP tour pick the right time and opportunity to come in and as a result, win the point (by finishing the point with a winner or forcing a mistake by their opponent) 70% to 75% of the time when approaching the net. The players on the ATP tour with the best conversion ratios selectively come in behind balls which they can aggressively attack. They consistently hit their targets with the approach shot. They follow the line of the ball in approaching the net and with each subsequent volley to close off down-the-line passing lanes. They are quick to move in to pounce on weak replies when recognizing they have pulled their opponent off the court. They are good at identifying and exploiting opponent weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The top players also realize that things cannot always be efficient and clean when approaching the net. Take for example a situation where you are winning on average 45% of the points when you stay back and struggling but persistently winning 55% of the points when you come in. You cannot worry that you are not converting 70% or more of the points at the net, you need to get in. The top players recognize what is necessary to win matches and more often than not make the smart decision.
  8. You need to have a complimentary arsenal of shots and shot options. In addition to the volley, you need to have a strong overhead. A strong overhead allows you to be confident closing tight to the net. You need to be able to execute a half-volley and swinging volley. You need to be able to improvise and adjust your hand position (grip) and angle of your racquet face when out of position in an emergency response to get the ball back in play. There are times where you will need to step back or adjust your footing to take the ball on the bounce to hit a groundstroke (which can be difficult when you have less court to work with).
  9. You need quick reflexes. You need to be able to respond to balls hit at you at 90 plus miles per hour (mph) and react in less than one second in quick volley exchanges at the net.
  10. You need quick feet, dynamic balance and a strong, wide and solid base of support. Footwork requires quick, efficient, and decisive multidirectional movement up, back left and right. This necessitates a strong lower body and core. Court coverage and positioning is not just about closing when at the net. There are times when you will need to move back to defend from a better vantage position or to cover the court in anticipation of a lob.

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