Bye, Bye Volley?

Crootof photo

Do you charge the net after serving? Remember the “good old days” of tennis when players used to come to the net regularly and hit volleys?  Well, “the times they are a changing.”

The Old Days

Aussie legend and multiple Wimbledon winner, Roy Emerson said, he doesn’t recall ever serving and not coming forward to the net on either his first or second serve.  But if you watch most all pro matches and observe your friends playing singles OR doubles, you will see most players staying on the baseline.

Why is it disappearing?

It used to be that most of the top pros hit a one handed backhand; but now, the vast majority hit with two hands.  That change in stroke has generally taken away “the weaker side” and allows the players to come over the top of the ball with two hands and hit much stronger passing shots.

Also, the changes in equipment have aided in the demise of the volley.  Lighter and livelier racquets, equipped with new string technology that imparts much more topspin, have made the passing shot much more difficult to catch up to.

Good or Bad?

Former pro Hank Irvine once told me (after beating me in a singles tournament match!), “You have to serve and volley at least enough times to make your opponent not know when you will be coming and when you will be staying back.”

For me, I like to watch baseline rallies better than serve/volley tennis; but baselining moon ballers can take that to the non-entertaining extreme.  So, has changing the game from serve-and-volley to more baseline rallies made it more or less interesting for the tennis fan?  And in playing our own games, I try to follow Hank’s advice in both singles and doubles and come to the net enough so not to give my opponents a regular pattern.

What’s your opinion… charge the net or stay back?

To read a detailed article on this subject by noted writer Joel Drucker, just click HERE

Know someone who should read this?  Send them a link and if you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at

My Book: if you’d like to get a copy of “Senior Tennis”, just click on the link on the upper right of this web page to go to, look at the list of places under “My Book” on the bar above, or ask me what clubs are carrying it!

10 thoughts on “Bye, Bye Volley?

  1. I, too, find it boring to watch the constant baseliners today. Enjoying more of the woman’s game presently i.e. Kenin going to the drop shot in last matches to change things up.
    And, yes, serving and volleying to mix it up good idea for surprise and to keep opponent off balance.

    Howie, (congrats to the Sunday first responder!) I also enjoyed seeing Kenin win 14 out of 14 drop shot points in one match. thanks, george

  2. In 2002, I watched senior legends Fred Kovaleski and Bob Sherman win both singles and doubles gold balls at the National 75,80 clay held at Army Navy CC – Fred at 79 in the 75’s and Bob in the 80’s. Between the two are 200+ gold balls. They both played the same serve and volley style in singles and doubles: Serve wide and move in several strides and prepare for the return (split-step); hit the return deep to the opposite corner in singles, doubles more flexible direction depending on the quality of the return but in all cases again move forward several strides and prepare for the next shot. They were incrementally “charging” the net but staying under control AND AVOIDING INJURY BY NOT STRAINING, AVOIDING MAXIMUM PHYSICAL EXERTION. A significant skill each had was playing volleys and short hops in “no man’s land”. They did not seem bothered when a passing shot got by them on either sideline – didn’t dive for it, just turned around to go back to start the next point silently saying “do it again if you can”.

    Winder, like you, i had watched two 90+ singles players “serve/volley” by serving, taking two steps in, hitting, and taking two more steps in! thanks, george

  3. It used to be that the volleys and overheads were more powerful and aggressive than groundstrokes. Now, with improved technology and strength of players and speed and power of the groundstrokes, they are the more overpowering shots.
    To use a prevalent quote in today’s environment, “It is what it is”!

    Steve, is it like skinny/fat ties… they will eventually come back in fashion? thanks, george

  4. In the last few years there has been an increase in the use of the serve and volley in professional tennis. Although we will probably never see a return to the kind of tennis that Roger Federer and Pete Sampras played against each other in 2001 Wimbledon when each player came to the net on practically every serve, still players have learned that they can win key points with that tactic against baseliners that stand 10 feet behind the baseline. Using the serve and volley as a tactic rather than a strategy has brought an entertaining factor back to pro tennis. I find it enjoyable to watch.

    Dan, and watch for the surprise underhanded serve vs the returner hugging the back fence! thanks, george

  5. Long ago during my singles career, I was a first and second serve net rusher. I still play that way in doubles today, but find that I hold my serve with about the same frequency as baseliners with weaker serves.

    George, and to make your own life more challenging, you switch hands on the raquet as you charge the net! thanks, george

  6. As a senior doubles player I generally come to the net behind my serve and look for a short ball to come in behind when receiving. I like it best when my partner does so as well. But a number of very good players that I team with in fun matches stay at the baseline almost exclusively. I find it difficult to be effective at the net in most cases when my partner stays back because their ground strokes are not penetrating enough for me to be comfortable to poach aggressively. I feel like I am not as involved in the match and hitting less than a third of our teams shots when teamed with a baseliner.

    John, i had that exact experience last week when my dubs partner and our opponent hit cross court ground strokes, while i bounced around at the net trying to be relevant! very frustrating indeed. thanks, george

  7. I agree with John concerning a partner who plays almost exclusively from the baseline. It’s never a winning strategy. It’s very frustrating and a waste of energy. The partner’s thought might be to go for too good of a shot or try to match power with power thus producing an unforced error. A better idea might be to match power with spin or change of pace from the partner. Never play the return the same way making it easy for the opponents to see a familiar pattern. Nevertheless, both members of the team should be at net at every possible opportunity, especially any second serves and short balls. A good tennis coach/friend of mine always believes that any ball taken on the volley gives your opponents less time to prepare and gets you on top of the net that much sooner. If you let the ball bounce, you are playing a defensive game. Attacking the net behind a good forcing return with depth forces errors, thus providing a tremendous advantage for the returning team. Remember the adage: “Percentage Tennis.” “Do what you do best.”
    Be patient with your game. Don’t end points in a rushed, hurried way. Always stay positive.

    Glenn, good stuff! thanks, george

  8. I agree with the guys who do not enjoy playing with a partner who stays back basically for almost all of the match. I call it “one up, one back” doubles. And as one said, you hit a much smaller percentage of the balls if you are at the net watching the ball go by every time. To me every time I have that experience the bottom line is that its just not “FUN”. The last time I checked the real object of Senior Tennis is to have fun.Playing doubles in the pros is for money and standings so that is a different thing. Now playing with someone who comes in at opportune moments like a great deep hard ground stroke and keeps the opponents guessing can get me more involved and I find myself enjoying the game more. I can think back to every match I have had playing with a partner staying back and I walked away feeling that I did not have a good time whether winning or losing.

    Dave, my feelings exactly! thanks, george

  9. One of the many things I love about living in Naples is that I NEVER have to wear ties, “fat or skinny” (see comment above), and I’ll watch Sophie Kenin hitting drop shots, or staying on the baseline, or washing dishes! And alas, I usually serve and stay back, but it’s an old habit that needs changing!! Stay safe and watch Roland Garros!

    Scoot, and with your excellent volley! thanks, george PS Good luck to your Falcons tonight.

  10. Regarding the “one up one back” style of play favored by some baseline huggers, I agree that this is a bad strategy or position for doubles.

    I was always taught that, in doubles, you should imagine that the two teammates are tethered together with an imaginary 10 to 15 foot rope tied around both of their waists, so that when one of the partners approaches the net the other partner moves forward in tandem on more or less the same plain relative to the net — and vice versa if one of the partners has to move back, such as to cover a lob. Maintaining this positioning relative to each other allows the team — as a whole — to take command of the net, which should be the goal of all serious doubles players, and it also cuts down on the angles into which an opposing player at net can hit the ball, usually off a volley, to split the opponents in two and punish the ball for a winner.

    It is true that there are some modern doubles teams, mainly at the pro or close to pro level, who can pound their ground strokes with sufficient power and pace that the teams can still win doubles matches with one up and one back. Jack Sock comes to mind as a strong practitioner of this genre. But someone like Sock can get away with this because his incredibly strong and fast topspin forehand is such a killer shot that he (and others like him) can win points outright from the baseline. Very few, if ANY, senior tennis players can hit the ball even a fraction of the speed of Sock’s forehand, or with his enormous topspin, and, thus, anyone in our age group trying to play doubles this way is, IMHO, thoroughly self delusional.

    I also agree that it is damn frustrating to be the net person paired with a dyed in the wool dedicated baseliner as one’s partner who absolutely refuses to come to the net for any reason but who insists on standing back and hitting endless cross court groundstrokes to the opposing player, while you as the net person try to track the ball back and forth as it whizzes by your head hoping in vain to find an opportunity to time it just right so you can move diagonally forward and try to intercept a ball for a winning poach. Nine times out of ten when I am in this position I either wind up shanking the volley because my timing on the intercept is not 100%, or I have to give up on the poach altogether because I realize in the last millisecond that I just cannot reach the ball for a good poach. So, what usually happens is the point becomes a war of attrition between the two crosscourt hitting baseliners and the two net people just stand there watching the point like spectators in their own tennis match until one of them hits a ground stroke long, wide, or into the net. To be at net when this is happening is NOT fun and, to be honest, I have sometimes gotten so frustrated when this happens that I start to think about whether murdering my partner would be considered justifiable homicide. (Just kidding, almost.)

    However, one even bigger pet peeve when I have been stuck in this situation at net is when my partner decides that he is not just going to keep hitting crosscourt baseline ground strokes — which is bad enough — but he is going to try hitting his crosscourt baseline shots with even MORE angle. This, to me, is the absolutely stupidest shot imaginable, because not only does my partner’s sharp angle make it even HARDER for me to try to position myself for an intercepting poach at net, but the extreme angle now gives the opposing returner not one, two or three, but FOUR different options to win the point outright.

    First, the opponent baseliner can continue hitting crosscourt baseline shots with my partner until one of them misses. Second, he can try lobbing one of those shots over my head to break up the rhythm and maybe draw an error from my partner in retrieving it. Third, he can attempt a surprise and sharply angled drop shot at the net in the opposite serve box from where I am standing, which both my partner and I will likely have trouble reaching in time. Or fourth, my partner’s sharp crosscourt angle now has given the opposing player a PERFECTLY set up shot right up the line into the alley next to where I am still stuck at the net, for a clean winner. Most of the time, this fourth shot is what the opposing player will hit, or at least try.

    This kind of foolishness on the part of my stay at the baseline partner drives me absolutely crazy. I am not the kind of person who usually shouts at a partner or complains about him while still playing together on the doubles court because I always think “there but for the grace of God go I,” and I realize that we all make mistakes. But there are stroking errors and there are strategic errors. The former can be tolerated and even excused; we all have bad days. But, quite frankly, the latter are inexcusable in my view. And playing one up and one back is one of the worst strategic errors that can be made on a doubles court, IMHO.

Comments are closed.