The New Volley Paradigm

We see the beginning of this trend with the emergence of the swinging volley. I think that's a big plus, and I'm glad players are coming off the baseline and taking balls out of the air.

But there's a downside. The swinging volley is really more like an advanced ground stroke--it's really not volleying in my opinion. It's a ground stroke that you hit in the air.

In a way, I think this has actually hurt the development of the game. Players don't see traditional volleying as a winning overall strategy. They may add the swinging volley, but they are giving up on learning all the subtleties involved in playing the net, and developing all their potential weapons.

And I think this is a huge mistake. But it's also an opportunity for the next generation of players. Because the kind of player I'm talking about will do both: hit the swinging volley when appropriate, but be able to do hurt their opponents every other way as well.

With my players, we spend an enormous amount of time at the net. This isn't a new idea for me. The net was the first thing on the menu with Venus and Serena Williams. Early on, I saw how that could have gone with their athleticism. We would work an hour a day just at the net, everyday.

This all-around-attacking style was what I was hoping they would bring to tennis. I was with Venus when she made her pro debut. She came to the net more than 30 times in her first match--and this was as a 14-year old girl.

I remember when Venus played Steffi Graf the first time, she lost four and four. She was taking Steffi's serve, jacking it down the line and coming in--all as a 15-year-old. You never see her do that now. And sure, I can't help wondering what might have been. The problem was that over time things changed, and I never got to finish the job I started.

Venus and Serena Williams both exhibited an all-around attacking style early in their careers.

I think it's only a matter of time though until an athlete with the ability of a Venus or Serena walks all the way down that road. The fact is, the most delicious thing on the plate in women's tennis is the second serve. That's the tastiest thing you've got. You know where it's going.

Against some players, it's almost like playing T-ball. And in club tennis it is like playing T-ball. With the right training and practice the average club player could win literally dozens of points on second serve returns followed by solid volleying.

Most pro players train themselves to bang that second ball, but then they hang back. Why not train yourself to bang and go in? I predict that you are going to see this in the women's game. Players are going to go into the net 15, 20 or 30 times in a match, coming in on returns, sneaking in off the ground, and using a sprinkling of serve and volley.

If you train players to attack this way at a young age, can it have a negative impact on results in the 10s, 12s and the14s? The answer is yes. But nothing beats the place of on-the-job training. The value of making your net game work in match play at that age is priceless.

When it's break point against you and you can take a one-handed backhand volley and knife it down the line for a winner at 12 years old, that changes who you are as a player. You learn to believe.

It's one thing for me to just tell players this, but when they do it themselves in combat, it's huge. And can you play like that all the time at that age? No, because if you do, 50 or 100 balls are going to go over your head. But when the right opportunity is there, I want my players to immediately change the channel, chip the ball and go in.

Calmness

When it comes to actual teaching of the volley, I think we do it completely backwards in this country. The belief is that when you're at the net, you're supposed to tear the guy's head off.

The student is already standing four feet from the net. He doesn't have to complete a pattern and go in. He just stands there and the coach feeds him an absolute duck, and the player kills it. It's impressive. The coach says, "Great!" The player is pumped. The parents are on the sideline clapping and cheering.

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