Even the best volleyers will have a relative weakness, and I will use an extreme example to start. Daniel had a world class backhand volley, meaning that if you hit to that side, it better be a clean winning pass, because if he got a racquet on it, you were going to be in trouble, and he often immediately hit winners. He also had a great overhead. While his forehand volley was very good, strangely enough high volleys to his forehand volley, he could not finish the point very well, because he seemed to push the ball in the air. So even though this was still a good shot, and he was capable of hitting winning volleys on that side, the strategy against him was to avoid his backhand or overhead, going up against the shot that was least likely to end the point immediately. When the ball went high to his forehand, sometimes he hit the ball weakly enough that it created an opportunity for a passing shot to the other side to win the point for the player passing. This strikes at the heart of percentage tennis. If you have a 25% chance of winning the point by going to his forehand, but only 12% chance by lobbing, and an 8% chance by going to the backhand, then the choice is obvious. By getting the ball up to his forehand, he could also be pulled to one side of the court, and an opening created for the next shot. So it is with the volley. It’s easy to think that the only way to beat the net player is to pass them cleanly, and that will actually play into their hands, because they are hoping you miss some shots by going for too much. It’s far better to find their relative weakness, and play to that shot, while accepting that you might end up passing them cleanly, rather than trying to pass every time, sending some balls wide and into the net. You want to balance making the opponent play the shot, reducing your errors, while trying to create an opening.
Too often players run into the sharpest teeth of the buzz saw, instead of trying to find that which is not quite as sharp.
It takes time, effort and thought to do the more intelligent thing. Taking mental notes to identify the relative weaker volley, overhead, height of shot or type of spin that makes things more difficult for your opponent, will pay off as the match goes along. This partly explains players who are able to come from behind having lost a set to win the match.
Sometimes it’s when you hit a ball or two right at them, and they get squeamish to come to net. We call that “popping their bubble”. Some players will not venture to the net any more after having their bubble popped a few times. That way you can soften up their offense, by making them more reactive than proactive. A ball hit at your opponent is much less likely to go out than any other passing shot. As someone who came to the net a lot, I dreaded having to make 2 or 3 volleys to win a point, even more than being passed cleanly. This is because the intensity of play at the net challenges a player’s fitness more than at the baseline. One study showed that challenging baseline points can take players often into the 160-180 beats per minute range, but a relative challenging point at net can take players into the 180-200 beats per minute and even maximum heart rate range, which can be a a scary experience for some people.
It seams reasonable that some players don’t come to the net more because of the relative discomfort they have with extreme heart rate outcomes, which is understandable. The adrenaline junky on the other hand may really love it. The more often you can force the net player to make multiple shots, the more often they will miss. The more you can move them to their weaker side, the more often you will be able to find an opening for a clean pass, and the less often you will be forced into an error. In general, a topspin shot low (not more than 2’ over the net) and down the line 2’ inside the sideline, can force the opponent to volley up. When your opponent is forced to lift the ball over the net more without much penetration in the court, that can allow you to move forward for your next shot.
Take Hit High And Forward
One key to passing shots that really helps is to move as much forward as you can to take the ball as close to your opponent and the balls highest bounce as possible, this will give you the best possible chance to take time away from them, and get the ball low to them.
One of the grave errors mentally is when people think of lobbing the player at net, but what often happens is that they give them a fairly friendly lob. Instead, you want to lob all the way to the baseline, and when your lobs land within the last three to five feet of the court, then you will send that player all the way back. This in turn can keep the opponent from crowding the net so much, because of the fear they have of being lobbed.
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