Tennis strokes | How to play and improve your volley

The volley is a technically difficult shot that has a huge payoff if you can get it right. The idea is to return the ball before it hits the ground, breaking up the tempo of the point by catching your opponent off guard. The technique requires great composure and anticipation, along with a good understanding of positioning on the court.

What is the volley?

The volley is the one shot in tennis that sees you strike the ball before it bounces. A great volley is a must have in the modern game, as a lot of points are spent moving between the baseline and the net.

The volley is a risky shot that has a huge payoff if you get it right. Because a bounce takes some of the momentum off the ball, striking it mid flight can make placement tricky. This makes composure and patience key when playing the shot, as rushing leaves you susceptible to poor contact and miss-hits.

How do I volley the right way?

Hitting the ball without the aid of a bounce can be tricky. Composure and anticipation are key when playing a volley, as the way your opponent returns the ball dictates when you can use the shot.

  1. If you anticipate that you’ll be able to play a volley based on your opponent's shot selection, move up the court and hold your racket slightly higher than usual
  2. Get ready and keep your cool. If you rush the volley, chances are you’ll whiff your shot and lose the point
  3. Because you’re closer to the net, you have less time to react before playing a volley. The volley is a single hand stroke, so move your arm and body toward the ball and allow your feet to follow
  4. The volley is unique because the lack of time prevents you from fully swinging your racket. The shot is short and punchy and should see your wrist and forearm snapping the racket down in a quick, short action
  5. Your racket should follow through in the direction you want to send the ball.

What does a good volley look like?

We’ve worked with ATP tour professional Paul Jubb to learn more about the volley and how you can improve yours. Take a look at the video below to see Paul in action and to learn more about the fundamentals of the shot:

Top tips for a great volley

  • Stay composed: striking the ball in mid-air is a difficult technique that isn’t easy for beginners. Take your time and follow the flight of the ball right onto your racket
  • Positioning is key: positioning is the most important aspect of the volley. If you aren’t in position, you can’t play the shot. Move up the court and focus on getting as close to the net as is comfortable
  • Practice at a slow pace: if you’re a beginner, slow the game down and have your coach or partner send a few fully pitched balls over for you to practice with. This helps you get the fundamentals dow without the pressure of points to win throwing you off your game
  • Don’t force it: fixating on playing a certain shot does your overall game no favours. The idea of having a wide range of shots in your arsenal is that you use the most appropriate one for the circumstance you find yourself in. If the volley isn’t there, don’t force it.

Can I play a volley backhanded?

Yes, you can. You may be forced into a position where you anticipate the return on your strong side and your opponent sends you a full ball onto your weak side. To backhand volley in this situation, follow the steps above with your racket on your weak side.

When will I use the volley?

The volley is a low percentage shot that you won’t need to use all that often as a beginner. Because a lot of the game is played from the baseline (the line that you serve from), the forehand and doublehanded backhand should form the bulk of your shot selection.

Looking for information on these other shots? Take a look at our guides below:

Last updated Wednesday 11 October 2023

First published on Wednesday 11 October 2023