The Half Volley

With Hank Irvine

It is a shot you don’t want to have to hit, but we all get stuck having to do it … the half volley hit when the ball is at your feet.  One pro has advice on how to master this stroke.

Don’t Do It!

But before we get to the “how to,” advice from my pro partner Hank Irvine says, “Don’t allow yourself to get stuck hitting a half volley.”  What he suggests is that, when you are coming forward (the usual time you get faced with this), that you either force yourself to take that EXTRA STEP and take the ball in the air; or you stop, allow the ball to bounce, and hit a ground stroke instead.

Gigi Says ..

In the April issue of “Tennis Magazine,” 17-time Grand Slam doubles champion Gigi Fernandez says, “This shot is an abbreviated version of the traditional volley, with the distinction that it’s hit right as the ball touches the ground.

“The keys to hitting this shot effectively are:

  • Take a short backswing with a continental group

  • Move through the ball with your body more than with your arms – the upper body must stay still.

  • Stay low: bend your knees while executing the swing.”

From the Other Side of the Net

Hank Irvine also preaches: when you see your opponent faced with a low ball at their feet, be aggressive and move in and toward the net ONLY IF they are taking it in the air.  Because if they are hitting a half volley, they will probably have time to see you move and hit the ball behind you.

What are your factors in hitting the half volley or defending against it?

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9 thoughts on “The Half Volley

  1. Many players with good volleys actually prefer to hit a half volley as opposed to the dreaded in between bounce or shot right at their feet. The half volley is easier to control and time than the in-between bounce. If you can move in to volley or stop sooner for a higher bounce, it is preferable, but don’t shy away from a classic half volley.

    Steve, and congrats on being the Sunday Morning First Responder! See you tmw. george

  2. I find myself often having to hit the half volley while traveling through “No-Man’s land” on my way to the net since I almost exclusively play doubles. I actually love hitting a clean half volley but it occasionally I’ll get trapped when I should have stretched forward to take the ball out of the air.

    Jim, yes, as we age, we slow down on our “charging” to the net and it ends up being further back. My problem frequently is on my return of serve, where i hit an offensive shot but end up in No Man’s Land hitting a half volley on my opponent’s deep return of my return! george

  3. Great to hear from Hank. He has one of the best half volley’s in the senior tennis game!

    Drew, yes, and he tells ME not to hit it! thanks, george

  4. Hi George,
    Half volleys are like Jeter taking a grounder on the short hop and throwing the runner out at first. If he backs up, may not get him. We can be somewhat like him, if we, like Jeter, practice that shot over and over again until it becomes second nature.
    All the best!

    Phil, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, NY, i can remember practicing catching short hops with the “Spaldeen” pink ball off a wall! thanks, george

  5. Half-volleys can turn defense to offense very quickly. When in no man’s land, many balls are coming in low, therefore you must bend low and have the racquet strings meet the ball just as it begins its upward flight after the bounce. Be sure to transfer your weight forward into the shot. A good half-volley can also take time away from your opponent,
    by staying low over the net and giving you the advantage to put away the next shot. Half volleys can be difficult shots to time, so I like to practice against a wall to help develop tecnique and timing.

    Glenn, The Wall is a great teacher! Thanks. George

  6. If there was ONE instance where it is imperative to watch the ball hit your racquet, it is on the half volley. I know every time I miss one, it is because I did not watch the ball the whole way. Then if they have also come in, the toughest part is to hit it minutely above the net which is really an acquired skill but a great feeling when you pull it off. If they are back, it’s either a drop shot but usually also keeping it deep hopefully at their feet.

    Dave, yes, it is so tempting to look up to see what your opponents are doing! thanks, george

  7. As I teach tennis to beginners and intermediates, they want to stay at the base line and hit big strong groundstrokes. Their friends have discouraged them from coming through “no-man’s-land”, especially because of these “dreaded” half-volleys, and additionally because they have not learned volleys and overheads with skills equal to their groundstrokes. I say to them that all of these different shots are “learnable”. An effective teaching paradigm for behavioral skills is a “Tell, Show, Do” model. So, I start with Telling about all the components of the shot. Then I let them hand-feed me balls, and I Show them a variety of ways to hit the shot. Then I feed them balls, up close, so they can Do and practice. I try to make it so easy that they experience success. Learning tennis is typically done with progressions: so as they do well, we increase the distance and speed. It does not take long before people can even do half-volleys back near the baseline. I agree with Hank Irvine that it may be preferable to position yourself for a different shot, but there will be plenty of times when the half-volley skill will be needed. It is a “learnable ” skill. In addition to someone feeding balls near your feet, or positioning yourself near a hitting wall to practice (as Glenn Morse has suggested), a ball machine is perfect because you can stand right where the ball hits the ground. Then follow Gigi’s guidelines. Swing on the groundstrokes; block and punch on the volleys and half-volleys.

    Wendall, great stuff! thanks, george

  8. great comments above, and totally agree on two points: have to stay low to the ball; and you must keep your eyes down on the ball. If I’m up at net and see my opponent about ready to hit a half volley, I get aggressive and head to the middle…unless you are Hank I or Doug Welsh, it’s a tough shot to control. Stay safe everyone…wear a mask indoors! Scoot

    Scoot, maybe your pickle ball experience helps on the shot! Thanks. George

  9. Like Steve Diamond, and especially in doubles, I actually prefer hitting a half volley instead of (1) trying to reach a half step forward and catch the ball in the air for a real volley, or (2) trying to stop abruptly and hit the ball as a ground stroke before further advancing to the net.

    In the (1) situation, very often the opponent’s ball is hit very low, at one’s ankles, which is of course why a half volley is even an option. In that case, I usually find it much easier to time the ball as a half volley that I can ordinarily hit with good direction and instead of trying to lunge forward for a low true volley that I may only be able to dribble over the net short or, worse still, pop up into the strike zone of my opponents to give them a put away winner. By contrast, most times my half volleys travel low and skim over the net themselves, making for a more difficult volley from the opponents. Quite often, a half volley hit skimming over the net by me will draw a volley into the net from the opponents.

    In the (2) situation, unless I am particularly quick to stop on a dime and get my feet into proper position to hit a ground stroke (which becomes increasingly difficult to do as I age), I find I am often hitting a cramped ground stroke with not much pace and this can also put the ball into the strike zone for the opponents for a put away shot up by their shoulders. Hitting a lob over their heads is always an option, of course, but lobbing deep but still in (and especially with a little topspin if that is even possible) is a much harder shot for me to hit in this situation than would be the case if I had just half volleyed the shot to begin with.

    So, while I certainly agree that a normal volley or a ground stroke may be a better overall shot in many situations and for most people, I will not shy away from hitting half volleys when advancing to net a lot of the time.

    Marty, foot movement is surely the critical factor in making the right choice and then making the right shot! thanks, george

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