Dominant on Clay. Winners on all Surfaces
Who are the 5 greatest men's clay court players of all time? The names probably won't surprise you but the success these players have had on other surfaces might. Although each of these players was dominant on clay in their day they combined to win multiple Grand Slam titles on every surface. What it shows is that clay court skills have long been the pre-requisite for success in professional tennis, the US has been just been a little slow to catch on. Click here to learn more.
Ockham's Razor: Simplifying the Backhand Volley
David W. Smith Senior Editor, TennisOne
For many club and recreational players the execution of the backhand volley generates a level of trepidation or even fear. It must be understood that while these qualms are nearly universal at the lower levels of the game, the fact is, the backhand volley is biomechanically very simple.
So why do so many players detest this shot and even avoid hitting hit whenever possible?
I always enjoy the concept of expanding one's vernacular, especially when terms or phrases can be applied to the act of teaching and learning tennis. One such phrase is "Ockham's Razor," the principle of the 14th century philosopher William of Ockham which, when simplified, states "the simplest explanation or method is best."
if we compare the professional volley to the recreational player’s volley, it is common to say, "the pros make it look very easy." And, in fact, they do. So let's break down the backhand volley in terms of simplicity and look at the foundation principles of a skilled backhand volley.
One of the things I see in my clinics is the tendency for players to add, modify, or overdo many elements of a stroke. For example, players add loops or large backswings to their volleys; many roll the racquet, flip the wrist, or over-rotate their bodies. Let’s apply Ockham’s Razor (keep it simple) to the backhand volley and see if we can simplify this commonly missed or poorly hit shot.
Click photo: Here a student has been taught to hit the ball "out in front" using a slight eastern backhand grip. Compare her contact point to that of Ernests Gulbis hitting a backhand volley with the correct continental grip. Note also how much more sideways Gulbis is throughout the volley.
The preferred grip for the backhand volley is the continental grip. Players who use the more rudimentary eastern backhand grip tend to struggle with a variety of problems.
The Eastern Backhand grip:
- Takes the racquet back too far when the player turns sideways. This results in the player rotating back to facing the net, and in turn, causes the player to swing to square the racquet to gain direction. This effectively prohibits these players from developing angle volleys, drop volleys, touch volleys, and control.
- Causes players to hit flat or even topspin volleys.
- Makes lower volleys more difficult to defend.
The use of the continental grip allows for variety and imparts a natural underspin action on the ball. Why is underspin so important on volleys? This can be discussed in a variety of situations:
- When a ball is hit towards a net player, it is often on a downward trajectory. The reflective angle, if we use a flat racquet face, is equal to the incoming “incident” angle, not counting gravity or spin. This explains why so many recreational players hit volleys into the bottom of the net when standing close!
- When faced with a low volley, the ball must be hit up to clear the net. If the ball is hit with a firm, flat stroke, the upward angle will usually result in hitting the ball out. Instead; hitting with slice allows the player to hit a firm volley but the spin slows the velocity of the ball enough to allow gravity to bring the ball down inside the court.
There is a commonly used phrase in tennis teaching circles that is often abused or misinterpreted. The phrase is, “hit the ball out in front.” While it is detrimental to hit balls late, the volley, and especially the backhand volley, is seldom hit way out in front. When a player turns for a backhand volley, the hitting shoulder becomes the front shoulder. So, if we are using a continental grip and simply make a unit or shoulder turn to the side, the racquet not only is automatically squared towards the target, the position of the arm is usually right off the front knee. And this is essentially where we want to make contact. Even when players are trying to learn the continental grip and hitting the ball well out in front of the body towards the target, we will tend to change the grip to accommodate the racquet’s position.
The hitting arm of skilled players hitting backhand volleys should be either straight from the moment they make the unit turn, or straightened well before contact. Pros tend to time this straightening of the arm, if they have any bend at all, smoothly. However, recreational players often try straightening the arm right at contact, almost as if they are trying to “karate chop” the ball using the shorter forearm to make this chopping motion. Instead, players who keep the arm straight have the advantage of leverage. That is, they use the longer lever of their whole arm to use as the driving force of the backhand volley.
The skilled backhand volley has not changed much over the years. This also applies to the footwork patterns. While pros can occasionally be seen hitting volleys off different footwork positions, most adhere to conventional footwork patterns when possible.
Click photo: Notice the difference in grip and contact point here. The same student is now more sideways during the stroke, slices better through the ball, and has a better finish. Notice too, the off-arm being used better to separate, helping the body stay sideways.
For most right-handed players, the backhand volley is best hit with the weight on the front (right) foot. This footwork pattern allows the player to remain sideways through the shot. When players step with the opposite foot, the hips rotate towards the net. This opens up the shoulders and causes the player to face the net during the volley. If you watch the accompanying video clips as well as review the hundreds of clips of other pros hitting backhand volleys, you will unquestionably see this sideways position.
There are reasons most teaching pros recommend the continental grip. It provides the foundation for all the other elements to occur naturally. Of course, players need to initially recognize and practice these additional elements to make them simple and automatic.
Developing a good backhand volley requires an understanding of all the elements working in a simple, coordinated motion. While it might be thought of as a complex shot, in reality, it is one of the shots that use the least amount of extraneous movements - when executed correctly! So, next time you are faced with the dreaded backhand volley, think about Ockham's Razor and keep it simple.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
Is "Stepping In" Holding You Back?
Besides "keep your eye on the ball," one of the most time honored adages of teaching tennis is "step into the ball." Stepping into the ball has always been associated with good preparation, good footwork, and confident, aggressive stroking. Even with the predominance of the open stance forehand, we still hear announcers commenting consistently on the merits of stepping into the ball, but surprisingly, Doug King thinks it may be holding you back.
Chip and Charge Return
Many players do not have the ability to move in and take the ball early on the return of serve. One common reason for mistakes on this shot is because when players move in (creating momentum) they forget to shorten their swings, which is the other part of the equation to succeed with this shot. Here, Jorge Capestany and former French Open doubles champion, Luke Jensen hand you the keys to the chip and charge return.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Caroline Wozniacki Serve
Caroline Wozniacki cuts more than just an attractive appearance on the court. One of the up-and-coming young women on the WTA tour, this 19 year old Danish sensation is posing a serious threat to top-ten players. 2008 was a breakthrough season for Caroline highlighted by her first three singles titles. Wozniacki plays a powerful baseline game featuring a powerful two-handed backhand that can produce winners from just about anywhere on the court. Check out Caroline Wozniacki's game in the all new TennisOne ProStrokes Gallery 2.0. New this issue, Caroline Wozniacki's serve.
The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
If you wish to be removed from our newsletter list, please send an email to email@example.com and leave the subject line blank. A confirmation email will be sent to you, and you will be removed from our newsletter list once you reply to that confirmation.
Copyright Notice: The contents of the TennisONE web site and contents forwarded to you by TennisONE are intended for your personal, noncommercial use. Republishing of TennisONE content in any way, including framing or posting of these materials on other Web sites, is strictly prohibited. See our full copyright statement.