Volleys: Fear and Loathing at Midcourt
The T appears to be a simple intersection of lines, but it might as well be a minefield or a pool full of sharks. Venture from behind the baseline toward the net, and even if you're Mercury, you don't get all the way in. No, you've got to suffer a ball low and hard at your feet, and usually you're tangled like a pretzel just to make contact. The usual result? Mayhem. Your eyes come off the ball, and what started out as an aggressive move forward to capture the point becomes an unforced error. Your muttered expletives are kept to yourself, but you shout to the heavens that you're never going to net again.
Buck up. The mid court volley is precisely the risk of coming forward to net. You're not going to win every time you do, but you're investing in the future of the match. Keep coming in, pressuring your opponent when he hits short, and your aggressiveness will pay dividends. To survive midcourt, keep a couple things in mind. First, the fact that the ball is at your feet isn't a reflection of your lack of effort or poor foot speed. It's the nature of the beast, and you can't run faster to avoid the predicament, But you can live to see another ball if your goal is poise rather than progress. Do a split step just before your opponent hits, and I mean on the balls of both feet, stopped. And now, here's the hard part. There's a second stop right after your contact. Even though you want to look up and see your shot; even though you want to get going and run all the way in. Don't! Right after you hit the ball, still see the contact point. If your racquet has stopped at contact, proper for a volley, you'll see that beloved stick of yours--but nothing else. Stay down. Stay quiet.
I learned this skill in a drill my coach called Terminal Volley. I'd hit an approach, move forward and hit a volley at midcourt, but I was not allowed to look up and see if it was in. In fact, I wasn't allowed to move at all, not until he told me to. The first volley was the last thing I was going to do. His point was that if I didn't dedicate that much concentration toward being set on the first volley, it was literally going to be the last thing I was going to do. I was going to lose the point, and no one likes to do that. Get set. Conquer midcourt!
c Keith Shein