Ever hit a great approach shot and come to the net but can’t seem to consistently finish the point? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve hit what I thought was a great, firm, deep volley only to have my opponent defeat my good intentions by easily reaching it and then pass or lob me effectively. A great solution to avoid this dilemma and win more points at the net is to hit short volleys! Sound counterintuitive? Perhaps, especially when the common thought has been that hitting short volleys is bad since it would set up your opponent and give them an easy passing shot. However, it all depends on how you hit that short volley. The truth is, if you hit a short volley well it can be far more effective and reliable than a deep volley at winning points. In this article, I’m going to share with you the secrets of the short volley, including how it works, the mechanics of the shot, and some drills to practice your execution.
Defining the “Short Volley”
But before we go further, let’s define what a “short” volley really means. The short volley category includes the “drop volley” but doesn’t have to since, unlike the drop volley, a short volley does not need to be “perfect.” Basically, an effective short volley is hit with backspin and is hit softly. It bounces no deeper than halfway between the net and the service line and the second bounce (if your opponent does not get to the ball) should be around the service line on your opponent’s side of the net.
WHY TO HIT SHORT VOLLEYS
It’s simple geometry. If you hit a deep groundstroke to push your opponent back and then slide in to the net, you will make your opponent run more (and most likely not get the shot) if you follow-up that deep groundstroke with a short volley. And don’t we all love making our opponents run? So, basically, short volleys are most effective when you have your opponent pushed back. You can take this simple geometry lesson to the next level by integrating angles. That is, simply place your short volley on the opposite side of the court at a diagonal from where you hit your last shot. For instance, if both players are right-handed and if you hit a backhand groundstroke down-the-line to their forehand and then get a volley, you could hit a short volley to their backhand side of the court. But even if you just keep it simple and think only about the up and back concept rather than worrying about angles, short volleys are still a very effective way to win the point.
WHEN TO HIT SHORT VOLLEYS
Okay, so short volleys can be very effective tools, but can you hit them off every shot? Well, it’s important to note that it’s much easier to hit a short volley off a low ball than a high ball. A good rule of thumb is to hit high balls firmly and angle them away, and to hit low balls (that is, balls net height or below) as short volleys. This is simply because it is easier to take the speed off the ball and get that effective backspin on a lower ball versus a higher one. One primary reason is that low incoming balls when you are at the net typically have less speed, making them easier to control. A second reason when volleying with a continental grip is that the racquet face is naturally more open on lower balls as compared to higher ones, a fact that makes short volleys easier to execute.
HOW TO HIT SHORT VOLLEYS
Soft Hands, Open Racquet Face
All right, now that we’ve covered why and when you should hit a short volley, let’s look at how to actually hit them. First of all, forget everything you may have been told about firming up your grip on the volley – that’s a good tip to remember if you want to hit a firm volley. But for short volleys, you want to do the opposite. That is, soften up your grip so the racquet absorbs more of the incoming ball speed. This will result in racquet recoil, which effectively takes the speed off your volley to keep it short. As important as softening up your grip is the need for an open racquet face. This is absolutely essential. An open racquet face is what creates the backspin or underspin necessary to hit an effective short volley.
The Grip Question
Now we know that an open racquet face creates backspin which you need to hit a short volley. But, what about grips? Well, the easiest and most natural way to create that open racquet face is to use a continental grip. In fact, trying to create an open racquet face with an eastern or semi-western forehand grip will be nearly impossible without breaking your wrist! To hold the continental grip, simply pick up the racquet by the grip with your dominant hand as if you were picking up a hammer and there you have it. If you’ve never tried using a continental grip before it will take some practice to get used to. So now let’s move to some easy drills to learn the continental grip and therefore be able to execute short volleys.
Finally, now that we’ve covered the tactics and mechanics of a short volley, let’s look at some easy progression drills for getting a feel for the short volley.
Volley Catch Drills
The first drill is called the Volley Catch Drill. Here all you are doing is gently spinning the ball to yourself in the air. The easiest version is to spin the ball (with underspin or backspin) just once and then catch it with your non-dominant hand. Then, as you get comfortable with that, you can progress to trying to spin several in a row. To make it even more challenging, try alternating forehand and backhand volley catches – this is the real test to see if you are maintaining that continental grip since you should be getting the same good amount of backspin on both your forehand and backhand volleys. Once you’ve mastered this drill, take it to the next level by hitting with a partner. You and your partner can alternate volley catches and hitting the short volleys across the net. This exercise is called the volley catch-and-hit. The next step to increase the difficulty level even more is to alternate the catch-and-hit between your forehand and backhand volleys. Master these skills and you’re ready to go up against a groundstroke. It’s the same technique but now you’ll have to focus even more on softening that grip since, unlike when you were self-tossing or hitting short volleys with a partner, the ball is now coming in faster! It’s very important to remember not to squeeze the grip too much! A good check is to take your dominant hand off the grip between shots; this exercise has the added benefit of challenging your ability to quickly find that continental grip!
Catch or Hit Drill
Another useful exercise is the catch or hit drill demonstrated in the video at the end of this article. First have someone toss balls to you and call out “catch” (when your partner calls out “catch,” you would “catch” the ball just like you did in the previous Volley Catch drill) or “hit” (actually “hit” the short volley over the net). Once you have a feel for the exercise and short volley at a slower pace, it’s time to speed up the feed! In no time you should find yourself developing control and a much improved feel for the ball.
Hopefully, with a little experimentation and practice, you’ll be ready to try out the short volley in a match. Remember to push your opponent deep, slide into the net, and then soften up those hands and create the backspin needed to execute the perfect short volley! Then, who knows? Maybe you’ll even be able to pull a Manolo Santana! Years ago, in 1976, I played a doubles exhibition in Honolulu with former World No. 1 Manolo Santana, who was uniquely able to hit short volleys that not only landed short, but regularly bounced back onto his side of the net! Talk about a great short volley!
Joe Dinoffer is a Master Professional in both the USPTA and PTR, has been recognized with numerous national awards including the 2019 City of Dallas Humanitarian Award for contributions to inner city tennis, and has conducted clinics and exhibitions in over 50 countries. Joe is the author and editor of 9 books and more than 20 DVDs, has more than 300 published articles in various tennis and pickleball magazines, and has aired many instructional tips on the Tennis Channel. Plus, Joe’s YouTube channel has more than 2 million views and growing! His latest book “Words, Wisdom, and Whimsy” is the second volume of an illustrated series called “Poems from the Heart.” In 1994, Joe founded OnCourt OffCourt, Ltd., a company dedicated to serving the tennis, pickleball, fitness, yoga, and physical education industries with innovative training aids and educational tools. Today, he has designed and manufactured more than 150 creative products being distributed and used in 100 countries worldwide.