More often than not, junior players tend to plant themselves on the baseline and go for broke with big forehands and backhands. While you’ll end up with strong groundstrokes playing like that, a huge and underappreciated part of the sport will get lost: the net game.
“The game has become so homogenized that there is a calling for more variety,” says former pro Justin Gimelstob. “I think serving and volleying is a viable tactic now.”
Any player—especially younger players who have grown up watching their favorite pros swing away from the baseline—can benefit from mixing it up and throwing in some volleys every once in a while. Honing your skills at the net will not only help you round out your game, it will allow you to become more unpredictable. With all the one-dimensional tennis out there, an effective net game will make you stand out from the crowd.
How to make your move
Old-school approach: On a midcourt ball, a deep slice is an effective approach shot. This is a compact stroke, so it’s easier to hit—and it keeps the ball low, making it harder for your opponent to do anything with it.
Sneak attack: During a baseline rally, if you’re able to pull your opponent off the court with a punishing groundstroke or sharply angled shot, try sneaking forward to the net at the last minute. If you pick the right time and move in quickly enough, you’ll have an entire court—and a helpless opponent—at your disposal.
Serve and volley: If you hit a first or second serve that’s difficult for your opponent to handle, follow it in. With the way the game is played today, serving and volleying definitely qualifies as a surprise tactic, and the unpredictability will win you some quick points.
Making your next move
Stick to the basics: Keep your racquet up, punch through the ball and get your weight moving forward.
The ball is your guide: When you charge the net, follow the line of your approach shot. If you hit a crosscourt approach wide into the deuce court, for example, come in to the net on the left half of the court. Your opponent will be pulled to your left to retrieve the shot, and he or she will be forced into a low-percentage, down-the-line return.
Pick your spots: It’s not enough to get to the net—you need to be deliberate once you’re there. If you’re playing a quick retriever, try to wrong-foot him or her by volleying behind them. Facing someone a little slower? Try a shorter volley.
Beware of the lob: Be prepared with a counterplay—your overhead. But no matter how good your smash is, don’t crowd the net.