Volleys:  Kill Softly

If we think about being aggressive on court, it's almost impossible not to think about pace.  In fact, particularly on the forehand wing, it often takes a counseling session or testosterone reduction before players can think about anything other than pace.  But the power of net play has often nothing to do with pace.  In fact, the kill comes softly. 

The strategic advantage gained by advancing to net is that you can attack the front of your opponent's court.  From behind the baseline, that nasty old net precludes such an assault.  But once you loom large above the net, you can hit angles in front of your opponent that are clean putaways, shots that really can't be hit from any other part of the court.  I'm not suggesting that this is the only virtue of net play.  After all, the overhead isn't a touch shot.  What I am saying is that the real hurdle players need to jump to become good net players is to back off pace and start thinking about angles.  If you imagine a target about three feet up from your opponent's intersection of service line and sideline, hit usually cross-court, comfortably a foot inside the sideline, you're imagining a clean winner.

But how do you hit a screaming ground stoke and take pace away?  First, lighten your grip.  To get a feel for how light you should hold the racquet, have a friend hit you a ball and try to catch it on the fly on your racquet face.  Instinctively, you'll relax your hand.  Second, lighten your step.  Many players feel that they should pull away from the ball to hit it lightly, but that only results in popping the ball up.  You want to be well out in front for contact on a sharp cross-court, but do it lightly, as if stepping down a stair.  Finally, if you're an advanced player, learn to cut the volley with underspin.  There's no better way to take pace off the ball.

Practice!  Put some balls as targets on your partner's court, where I've suggested above.  I call these balls The Islands of Happiness.  Have your partner feed you shots.  Angle them off to get to winner heaven.

c Keith Shein