Now, if you lose sight of the ball, it's because you blinked
Few things bring as much joy as the feel and smell of nighttime air on a tennis court. But the perfect game of nighttime tennis cannot be played under poor lighting. You need to see the ball clearly and follow it well in flight-which requires as much light as possible, evenly distributed across the court.
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The Use of the Left Hand on the Volley
This is the fourth and final instructional article of a series on the role of the non-dominant hand in hitting the primary shots of tennis: serve, forehand, backhand, and volley. Remember not to let the title of this article fool you. This is not for or about left-handed players. Nor is it exclusively for right-handers. We will use the word "left" to replace "non-dominant." In other words, right-handers should read this article as is. Left-handers should understand that we are writing about their non-dominant or right hand. Please also keep in mind that this article does not attempt to be a complete instructional manifesto on everything that has to do with the volley. Rather, I will share major checkpoints and emphasize the role of the non-dominant hand.
Define the Volley First
The volley is simultaneously one of the most difficult and also one of the most simple shots in tennis. How can it be both? By definition, the volley is any ball you strike before it bounces or contact directly out of the air. It doesn't matter where you are standing in the court, although most volleys are hit by players positioned somewhere in the service boxes. It requires quick reactions and reflexes, yet the smallest and simplest swing in the game.
Ball Speed Affects Mechanics
The mechanics or technique employed on the volley is directly determined by the speed of the incoming ball. As a general rule, a tennis ball slows to half its original air speed after it bounces on the court. In other words, when you are about to hit a volley, the ball is coming at you twice as fast as the same ball if you were to let it bounce. Why? Because when the ball bounces on the court, it creates friction and dramatically slows down. And, since you are also significantly closer to your opponent, you have much less time to react. In short, as compared to a groundstroke, you have about half the time to react to a ball that is coming twice as fast. This is where the left hand can play a huge role in helping you become a more competent volleyer.
You should also take note throughout this article that I am recommending one grip for the volley. There are two sensible reasons for this. 1) Your reaction time is short at the net and changing grips takes extra time that you may not have. 2) The continental or hammer grip creates a slightly open racquet face on both the forehand and backhand volleys. This is a lifesaver on low volleys since the open racquet face will create the arc you will need to get the ball over the net.
The "Super Ready" Position
Photo #1: The Super Ready Position
You just can’t be ready enough at the net. I like to call it being “super ready.” As explained earlier, the ball is coming twice as fast and you are nearly twice as close to your opponent. Therefore, you’d be crazy not to be super ready. But you see flat-footed volleyers all the time. And, you see those same flat-footed volleyers miss a lot of shots and get frequently passed or lobbed as well. The net is just no place to be if you’re not extremely alert.
This super ready position starts with your weight balanced on the balls of your feet. A good checkpoint is to bend your knees enough so that if you try to look down at the shoelaces on your sneakers, you can’t see them. This is commonly called your playing height.
The correct position for the left hand in the ready position (assuming you are hitting a one-handed backhand volley) is shown in Photo #1. Also note in this photo that the player’s right elbow is several inches forward from her right hip. This will help her quickly set her racquet on both forehand and backhand volleys and keep the ball at the point of contact within her peripheral range of vision. This will be further explained in the next two sections.
The Forehand Volley
Admittedly, you see players on the pro tour that hit their forehand volleys with slightly different styles and mechanics. Some, like former World No. 1 Stefan Edberg was known to have perhaps the best volley in the history of tennis, prepare their racquet face with their wrists. In other words, from the ready position, the left hand helps to quickly push the racquet face to the side, with the wrist as the center of rotation making that pivot possible.
Photo #2: The Forehand Volley
The other option is more like Pete Sampras’ style that, from the ready position, had him prepare his racquet face more with his shoulder. But it is important to consider that veteran tennis analysts will always comment that Sampras’ serve was so phenomenal that his opponents literally fed him many set-up or easy volleys, making precise technique often a secondary concern. This is not to say that Sampras was not excellent at the net. He possessed fantastic reflexes, great hands, and a superlative overhead. My point is that Edberg used more wrist rotation to ready the racquet face on his volleys, while Sampras involved his shoulder. Try moving your wrist quickly from side-to-side and then your shoulder and you’ll immediately see that the wrist is a much faster and easier joint to move than the shoulder.
My suggestion, since few players possess a Pete Sampras serve, is to present the racquet face to the ball on the forehand volley mostly with the wrist. Not only will it be fast, it will also help ensure that you contact the ball more in front of your volley. Contacting your volleys in front of your body has several benefits. 1) The ball remains in your peripheral field of vision. 2) You can much more easily block hard hit balls in front, as compared to further back. 3) You will be less likely to swing at your volley and therefore avoid losing control and making more unforced errors.
Foam Volley Arrow
Also note in Photo #2 that the forehand volley should ideally finish with the strings pointing in the direction you just hit the ball. Since there is no backswing, there is no follow through. The left hand remains in front of your body and near the racquet for balance. Note that we have placed a foam Volley Arrow in the throat of the racquet as a tool for our player to actually check that the finish is where it needs to be. The arrow should simply be pointing in the same direction the ball was just hit.
The Backhand Volley
While most groundstrokes are hit with forehands, you might find that an equal amount or slightly more than half of your volleys will be hit on the backhand side. This is due to the fact that when balls are hit at your body you will generally block the ball back with a backhand volley.
Photo #3: The Backhand Volley
The preparation for the backhand volley is similar to the forehand volley in that the wrist should be the center of rotation for the preparation phase. However, on the backhand side you will leave your left hand on the throat of the racquet until the racquet is released to make it’s short forwards journey to strike the ball. Then, as shown in Photo #3, there is minimal racquet movement with the checkpoint on completion of the shot being that the strings are pointing in the direction the volley was hit.
Volley With “Happy” Feet
It may sound counter-intuitive but, in addition to all the other checkpoints and guidelines discussed in this article, you need to make sure you understand one final point. You need to volley with your feet. No, not literally. But, in reality, if you do not move your body into a solid and balanced position to volley, you'll end up reaching and adjusting your wrist and bending and then straightening your arm differently on each shot. Not a good way to become a solid and consistent volleyer. Instead, if you can keep your feet "happy" and active and adjust your body position to have a consistent and controlled hand and arm position, you'll end up being more controlled and consistent at the net. Plus, if "happy" feet give you a happy face, it's worth the extra effort. Happy volleying.
NOTE: On these 3 photos, the Oncourt Offcourt Angle Doctor is being used since it helps position the hand in the right place for solid contact on the volley. Click here if you are interested in this product.
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The Head at Contact
One of the things that make Roger Federer such a great champion is his uncanny ability to keep his head still and his eyes focused on the contact point, before, during, and after the ball leaves his strings. It sounds so simple but this is actually a big problem for recreational players and even some pros, especially on the forehand side. Here, former touring pro, Jeff Salzenstein, talks about this issue and provides some drills that just might keep you more focused on your own stroke.
While doubles matches at the 3.5 level and below can often deteriorate into a race to see which team misses enough shots to lose first, high level doubles teams rarely beat themselves. That being the case, one of your team’s biggest challenges is to solve the many strategic puzzles that your opponents bring to the match. Much like the wildly popular game Suduko, this requires a careful analysis as well as the ability to think ahead and put together a strategy for victory. - Greg Moran
ProStrokes 2.0 – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Forehand
On the tour since 2001, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has been a top 10 world-ranked pro for most of 2011 but was really knocking on the top-ten door since 2008 when he had his ‘break-out’ season reaching #6 in the world late in the year. A very physical player, Tsonga possesses a serve that limits attacking opponents, on top of having one of the best second serves on tour. Tsonger plays an all-court, attacking game, covers the court well and pops a formidable forehand, and a two-handed backhand that is as consistent as it is conventional, Tsonga is a great player to watch and emulate!
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