As a tennis player, I never understood why someone would spend time blasting the ball back and forth from the baseline when he could just end the point at the net. Of course, with slower playing surfaces, lighter racquets, and superior string technology, tennis has become a power game from the baseline instead of the touch game at the net.
While I don't expect to see the next Patrick Rafter or Pete Sampras rise among the ranks, I would like to see more players finish points at the net. In recent years, top American Andy Roddick has ventured to the net with a decent amount of success.
No doubt Roddick has improved his volleying skills. However, the problems occur when Roddick comes in off a poor approach shot. Either his opponent passes him at the net or he is forced to hit a difficult volley.
Roddick is not the only player to suffer from such poor decision-making at the net. Perhaps in the days of wooden racquets a player could get away with hitting an okay approach shot, but with the new technology you must really hit a solid approach if you want to follow it in for a volley.
Too many professionals try to blast winners from the baseline instead of hitting precision approach shots and winning the point easily from the net. In the case of Andy Roddick, he is completely capable of hitting a solid approach, but he rarely recognizes which ball he should follow into the net.
If your opponent gets pulled off the court or pushed back into a defensive position, that is the ball to approach on. Don't give your opponent a chance to set up for a passing shot because with the talented players on the tour today, they are most likely to achieve such a feat.
Now once a player has made it to the net, he needs to understand how to win the point with a volley. The first volley following the approach shot may not be the one to end the point, depending on how good the approach shot was.
For the most part, the first volley is a set up volley. The player should hit the volley deep and low to his opponent. If the volley is effective, the opponent will either miss the ball or hit a high floater at the net that the player can angle off to win the point.
Even with the hands-on training and coaching, many professionals swing at volleys in an attempt to crush the ball. Swinging at the volley is completely unnecessary and highly ineffective. Instead, the player should merely take a small stab at the ball and angle it off the court.
The volley is such an underrated shot in today's game, but if I had the choice between a 20-ball rally or a five-shot rally ending at the net, well, I'd choose the latter every time.
Surprisingly, Rafael Nadal has a great sense of composure at the net. He knows how to cut off a volley and hit a solid approach shot. Roger Federer also hits great volleys, and he could probably benefit even more if he were to further develop that part of his game.
While there is nothing wrong with hitting a winner from the baseline, let's not forget about the existence of the net. The most offensive position in tennis occurs when a player stands at the net ready to pounce.
I, for one, am always ready.