The Serve and Volley – A Dead Art?
How times change. For decades tennis players were obsessed with trying to get to the net and the serve offered the perfect opportunity to do this.
Indeed, the pro game was built on the serve and volley tactic, and it’s only in more recent times that the baseline game has taken over.
Does this mean the serve and volley has had its day though, or is it still a useful tactic?
If you watch the pro game, then you could be forgiven for thinking the art of serve and volleying is dead, but here at thetennisbros.com that’s certainly not our belief.
While we might no longer see players basing their entire game around the serve and volley, it’s still a useful tactic that gives players another weapon.
The more skills you’ve got in your locker the better it is on the tennis court, and the serve volley is one that can help you win matches.
Why the Decline in Out and Out Serve Volleyers?
Tennis has moved on a great deal since its inception and the technology we have in our rackets today is far removed from those even thirty years ago.
The upshot has been more power, more spin, and easier timing.
If you’re looking to pass someone at the net, then these three ingredients are key, which means the net can be a dangerous place to be in the modern day.
Of course, because of the power of the serve, it’s still an effective shot to come in behind, but the problem is, the racket technology has made returning so much easier.
These modern sticks have such big sweet spots, and allow you to control power so well, that returners just aren’t phased by big serves and they’re able to get their returns down low to the volleyer’s feet.
When you’re serve and volleying off every point, or even the majority of points, it’s too predictable, and returners can and will punish you for it.
Of course, there are still some players out there with great serves who are going to rely heavily on the serve volley, but they are few and far between.
Much more common to see is players using their first serve to set themselves up with an attacking forehand for the first shot, known as the serve plus one tactic.
How Can the Serve and Volley Be Used Effectively?
The serve volley is still alive and kicking in doubles, but in singles, most people will find their opponent’s return is just a little too good to consistently come in behind the serve.
However, while it might not be the tactic you base your entire game around, it can still win you lots of points.
So, when should you be looking to the serve and volley, and how can you use it to help you win more matches?
Mix Things Up
Serve and volley might not be your bread and butter anymore, but it’s a great way to mix things up.
We always say that the one thing returners truly love is being able to get into a comfortable rhythm, and when you throw in the serve and volley you take that away from them.
When you rock up at the net after a serve, you change all the angles of the court and you take the middle away from your opponent.
Even if you just use this tactic occasionally, it puts a question mark in your opponent’s mind, because they never know when you might turn up at the net.
The knowledge that you can serve volley at any time might cause your opponent to go for slightly more ambitious returns resulting in more free points for you.
Take Time Away from Your Opponent
Another thing your opponent wants to feel is that they have time – both time on the ball and time to settle into the point. The serve and volley robs your opponent of both of these.
As we know, it might not be wise to use it too often in the modern game, but serve volleying is an excellent tool to help you rush your opponent.
Your serve should be one of your biggest shots, which means your opponent doesn’t have much time to think, as they fight to get the ball back in the court.
The last thing they want is to look up and see you at the net ready to put away an easy ball.
It makes it so difficult for them to settle into the game, and can be a quick way to swing momentum your way.
Maximize Your Strengths/ Hide Your Weaknesses
If your strengths lie in your serve and volleys, then you want to get them into the game as much as possible.
While it’s difficult to hide poor groundstrokes these days, you can limit the amount of time you get into long, drawn out baseline rallies by mixing in the serve and volley.
You really want to analyse your own game and find ways of making sure you’re regularly playing the kinds of points you want to play; if those involve you getting to the net, then the serve volley is likely to be an important part of your game.
Equally, you want to think about the kind of points your opponent doesn’t want to be playing.
If they’re struggling with the return, and would rather get involved in a baseline slog, then make them play those short points they don’t want to be involved in.
How Can You Be More Effective with Your Serve and Volley?
If you’re going to incorporate the serve volley into your game, then you want to make sure you get the most out of it.
This tactic is very much a one-two punch, which means there are lots of different areas you can work on to make it as effective as possible.
Get As Close to the Net as Possible
The closer you are to the net, the easier your volley is going to be.
As soon as you get stuck on, or just behind the baseline, you’re going to be playing volleys off your feet and this is difficult no matter how good you are at volleying.
This means you want a clear focus on making sure your movement is good and you’re closing the space down.
Make sure your plan is clear in your mind and you know you’ve got to start taking those first steps right after the serve.
Any hesitation can cost you, so make sure you know what you’ve got to do.
At the same time though, don’t compromise your serve technique by rushing through.
Finish the serve, and then set your mind to getting to the net.
The Split Step is Essential
It’s really hard to change direction when you’re moving quickly.
You want to get to the net as quickly as possible, but at the same time, you’ve got to be able to change direction to explode to cover each side of the court as needed.
This is where the split step comes in and is an essential part of the serve volley.
You want to do a strong split step right when your opponent contacts the ball and use it to continue to push towards the net, but at the angle that allows you to cut off where the ball is going.
Not only does this allow you to cover side to side, but it also gives you some extra time to play the volley because you’re not running full pelt at a ball that’s already coming at you quickly.
It’s your opportunity to steady yourself and prepare for the volley you’re going to hit.
Think About Serve Placement
If you’re going to serve volley, then you have to think about what you’re doing with your serve.
As we mentioned, one of the things returners thrive on is rhythm, and if you keep giving them the same serve, then they’re going to start firing returns by you.
You’ve got three main options when you come to the serve: outside, body, and down the T.
Make sure you’re making use of all of them, and are really thinking about each serve.
Remember, returners follow set patterns for where they return, so you can figure out where they’re most likely to hit the ball.
The more you drag them out of court, the more angle they have to play with, so the down the T and body serves can be effective weapons when it comes to the serve volley.
The more thought you put into where you’re going to serve, the more likely it is you’re going to get a manageable volley rather than see the ball sail past you.
Vary the Serve Speed
It’s really tempting to think the bigger you serve the easier it’s going to be to serve volley.
The problem is, the harder you hit it, the harder it’s likely to come back, and the less time you have to get to the net.
This is why the full-blooded flat serve isn’t always a great option when serve volleying.
It might pick you up some free points, but if your opponent gets anything on it, then it’s likely to bullet back at you.
For this reason, you often see a lot of players serve volley off an aggressive kick serve.
This serve still gives your opponent a lot to think about, but it gives you the extra time to get to the net to make your volley easier.
Again, it’s important that you don’t let your opponent get in a rhythm on the return and you mix up your serve pace, but remember the more time you have to get to the net the better.
Play the First Volley Back Behind
Once you’ve got into the right position, the question is always where you play the first volley.
One great option is to play the ball straight back where it came from behind your opponent. There are two good reasons for this.
The first is that changing direction is hard.
When you play it back where it’s come from, you simply have to put your racket behind the ball and poke it back to whence it came.
As soon as you start changing the angles things become more tricky.
The second reason for playing back behind your opponent is that it forces them to change direction quickly.
As soon as your opponent hits the return they’re going to start recovering to the center of the court, but when you play it back behind them, you’re forcing them to change direction quickly.
They’re already short on time because you’ve cut half the court away, and now they’ve got to turn around and prepare all in a short space of time.
This isn’t easy to do, and it means you will often get a weak return setting you up to put the second volley away.
Don’t be Put Off if It Doesn’t Work First Time Around
You lose so many points in tennis! Even when you win you’re losing lots of points.
When it comes to trying something different though such as serve volleying, we often give it one try and if it doesn’t win us the point we decide it’s not worthwhile.
If you’re going to develop the serve volley as a weapon, then you’ve got to accept that you’re going to lose some points.
However, the positive thing with this tactic is that even if you lose the point, it can have a big impact on the way your opponent plays.
As soon as you mix the serve volley in, your opponent is going to wonder when you’re going to do it again, and this will have an impact on how they return.
Don’t be too quick to judge this tactic!
The simple takeaway is that the serve volley isn’t dead and it is something you can incorporate into your game.
It might not be something you want to do over and over again, but it’s certainly something that can benefit you when you mix it into a wider gameplan.
Like any tactic though, if you’re going to take it on, then you want to give yourself the best possible chance of success.
When you’ve got the ball in your hand ready to serve, you’re in complete control, and that means you’ve got the ideal opportunity to plan out the point and stack the odds in your favor.
If you’re planning your points well, and mixing the serve volley in at the right times, then there’s no reason it can’t win you plenty of points.
Mar 21, 2023 • Tactics Tennis Games Tournaments
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