To Serve Or Not To Serve and Volley

Even in doubles, where it's harder to be passed, it's a pretty scary proposition to serve and volley.  It can seem like every time you do, you wind up untangling the return from your shoe laces.  So why not stay back and, you know, work your way in?  Because if you don't take the initiative to get in right off the bat, you have to wait for the invitation of a short ball, and there's no guarantee you're going to get it.  The result?  Players "kind of" serve and volley, moving forward but just a couple steps into No Man's Land, where unforced errors live and breed.  And if you stay back all the way behind the baseline, you've split your doubles team, leaving you in a defensive position, the space in front of you exposed to a short cross-court angle, and the space between you and your partner at its greatest.  So, even if you don't feel comfortable serving and volleying all the time, it helps to come in as often as you can.

Here are some tricks that can get you to net.  If you can place it, try serving directly at the receiver.  Jam her, and the return won't have as much stick on it.  At least keep the serve toward the T to minimize the angle of the return, or make sure you serve to the receiver's weaker side.  Or, try to slow your serve down.  It takes some courage to do that, but a slower serve gives the receiver less ammunition for pace, and will give you an extra step to get forward and keep your feet less exposed.   Or, pick your opportunities by score:  yes at 30-15, no at 15-30, for example.  Or, come in against the receiver that just blocks the ball back with a short stroke but not against the receiver that smokes the return.   And what about varying how far you come in?  No rule says you have to get all the way to the service line.  If every time you do, the ball's at your shoe tops, serve and volley but stop when the receiver hits.  She'll think you've moved to the service line, but your early stop will give you a comfortable ground stroke approach.  Next time, run all the way in, after you've got her thinking you're further back in the court.  Just maybe you'll get a high sitter.

If the lob is what stops you from coming in, solve that as a team.  Have your partner poach backwards as you serve and volley.  Or, call an auto switch, where your partner poaches across to track down the drive, and you cut behind her to take the lob on the fly.  Even if the ball is high on your backhand, that's a lot easier volley to hit than the one down on your toes, and you've found a way to get to net! 

c Keith Shein