The Art and Science of Victory
Serve and Volley Style

The practitioners of the serve and volley style are impatient people - they would rather make an error than wait for one. They live at the net, which as we all know is a very dangerous place. Get too close, and you get the lob. Too far back and you fall pray to potent passers. Hit a short approach or volley and its bye-bye; the least adept player can just shove the ball by you.

On the other hand you are never more powerful than when your tounge is hanging over the net. even a mis-hit can be a winner from that position. You can use the drop, the slam, or the extreme angles to hit winners that even Nadal couldn't run down.

The trick is to get to net without falling victim to the above mentioned bear taps. This is where the strategy comes in...everyone knows why we go to net (to hit winners) and what to go when we get there (duh...hit the winner). The important questions are when to go, where to stand and how to get there. Those are a bit trickier.

The Where - Up or Back

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This is the simplest question and the answer is a prerequisite to determine the when and the how.

First we consider the regions of vulnerability at the net. If you are very close to the net it does not take much of a lob to beat you. Conversely, if you are too far from the net, it doesn;t take much of a passing shot to beat you - you can cover considerably less angle and it is easier for the passer to target your ankles. You will also make more volley errors the farther you are from the net because you have to hit the ball up or level instead of down at the court. and you will hit a less effective volley for three reasons:

  1. You have less angle open to you.
  2. You can't safely hit the ball as hard.
  3. You are farther from your opponents court. This gives your opponent a few extra precious milliseconds to react to and move to your ball.

So your goal is to get as close to the net as you can get...but not get beaten by the lob. This means that the ideal position depends completely on how likely you think your opponent is to lob. If you are reasonably sure they won't lob, then close on the net. If you are reasonably sure they will lob, retreat to a position one step inside the service line. From the service line almost anyone (height challenged or not) can cover almost any lob even if you are cursed with a pretty mediocre overhead.

Never, never, NEVER retreat behind the service line. The zone immediately behind the service line is called "no mans land" for a very good reason - it is the weakest place on the court both offensively and defensively. (The one very narrow exception is is a style I call the "septegenarian style").

 

The Where - Left, Right or Center

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You can't cover the entire court from the center of the net, so you have to choose which side to stand on. Generally you follow your approach shot or volley; ball goes left - you go left. Ball goes right, you go right. Ball goes middle, you go middle.

The goal is to cover the greatest number of returns remembering that the down the line passing shot has to go a shorter distance to get across the net so to have time to cut it off you have to shade towards the down th line side about a half a step. Note that a shot down the middle results in the largest angle to cover so in general you will be hitting your apporoach shots down the line.