We all know we should try to volley whenever possible, but what volley should you play from each particular situation. Here are some general answers:
Return of serve:
Lob serve: Volley straight whenever possible. It does not need to be hit hard, a medium or soft pace is fine. The softer you hit it the higher you need to aim on the front wall. Slightly slice around the outside of the ball to help control your shot. Your main objective is not perfection or a winning shot, but to make the ball go straight and tight so your opponent cannot volley the ball. You want the ball to land behind the back of the service box and carry to the back wall. This will move your opponent off the ‘T’ and into the back corner, and you will move forward to occupy the ‘T Position’.
If you are not comfortable hitting straight, hit a high cross-court lob volley. You must get it over the servers head otherwise you will be “feeding” him for an easy forehand volley. Height is more important than width, but obviously you want both. The ideal width is to hit the side wall high and level with the back of the service box.
Hard serve: Be more aggressive with your volley return in this situation. You will be stepping forward into your shot which gives you the opportunity to hit hard. Again, try to hit straight. An aggressive length landing in the service box will be good.
If you are not comfortable hitting hard and straight, and it is difficult, hit hard and cross-court, but wider, so you hit the side wall before the back of the service box.
Once a game consider going short with a straight or cross-court drop shot. Do not over play this shot.
Several factors come into play here. It depends on how “loose” or far away from the side wall you are. How balanced you are. How close to the ball you are. The height of the ball. Let’s try to look at all of them.
From a reasonably tight drive: I think this is a good situation to straight volley drop. Your footwork needs to be a decent sized but controlled right leg lunge to the ball. Keep your left leg near the ‘T’ for your recovery step.
You do not have the angle to hit the nick which is a good thing, so all you need to do is volley the ball along the same line it has come to you on. Take pace off the ball and just hit it soft and straight. Your aim is to roll the ball in about 4 inches above the tin and tight to the side wall.
If you feel over-stretch or off-balance in any way, a high cross-court volley lob is your best option.
From a looser straight drive: Now you have an angle but that can be a dangerous thing. If you play a volley drop or kill shot you have to hit the nick otherwise the ball can come towards the middle and you give away a stroke.
This is a good situation to hit straight and deep. Your opponent will rush forward in a panicked manner when they see how “loose” their shot is. They will often run behind you to get near the ‘T’. This will leave a big gap in the backhand back corner, so hit into the gap.
From a high straight drive: This is probably best to hit a high cross-court volley.
From a forehand cross-court: The backhand volley when the ball is coming across your body is more difficult.
If it is an easy height for you – the straight volley drop shot is a good shot to use. Do not feel you must get your right leg across because often you will not have time. Just make sure you have a solid base and are well balanced.
Do not aim for the nick. It doesn’t need to be that perfect. The ball just needs to go straight, hitting the floor before the side wall.
If it is not an easy height or is too fast but you still want to volley – hit it straight and deep. Do not hit too hard. The harder you hit this shot the harder it is to control, and you will probably hit into the side wall or too short. Simply push at a medium pace, avoiding the side wall, so the ball travels in a direct line into the back corner.
This is used a lot in the professional game and is a superb working pressure shot.
A nice variation on the backhand side from any of these situations (apart from a lob serve or lob from the front) is to play a volley boast. Once or twice a game, it offers nice variation so keeps your opponent guessing. Again, do not over-use it. Use it sparingly as a wrong footing shot.
I would say the options are the same as the backhand but with the addition of a low and hard cross-court volley from any situation. I find this shot quite simple to play on the forehand and can be an easy, low-risk way of winning the point.
Because we can all hit the ball harder on the forehand volley compared to the backhand volley, we can hit cross-court with more speed and aggression, so there is less risk of sending the ball across the court and through the middle. This is an especially useful shot when intercepting a straight drive. You are aiming to hit the ball hard and low to the backhand side before your opponent has time to get forward after their shot. It’s good to aim low, but not too low as this shot doesn’t require that much risk. Hopefully you will send the ball into the back backhand corner and make it bounce twice before your opponent can get anywhere near it.
Again, do not over-use. You still need to play some forehand volley drops, straight drives and boasts too, so you do not become too predictable on your forehand volley.