The main objectives of playing the net in doubles is to be helpful to your partner, be a threat to the opponent and to finish points. But it can also turn into something else: YOU being a target. Getting hit at the net or being attacked by the opponent can be dangerous and a real problem. Sometimes players even fall down trying to dodge being hit. There are a couple of solutions to this problem, three requiring positioning and tactics and one that will require some technical help.
Typically, players get attacked or hit at the net for one of the following reasons:
1. Poor ready position (Positioning)
2. Standing too close to the net (Positioning)
3. Too many weak balls to the receiver or attacker (Tactical)
4. Volleying with a forehand grip (Requires a technical change or component)
1. Poor ready position
Look around. Most players stand at the net with the racket tip across the body, their hands in close to their body and the racket held low. For a right-handed player, this would mean that the racket crosses the body and the tip is across and in front of the left shoulder, and that the left hand is uninvolved.
With this stance, only a floating ball will give the volleyer time to respond. They will have a very difficult time handling and controlling any other volley.
To fix this, players need to have both hands extended out forward and at least one foot from the body. The tip of the racket, the nose on your face and the toes of both feet all point in the direction of where the ball is coming from. The feet are shoulder width apart with body weight slightly forward. The knees and ankles are flexed to provide a powerful push off.
Now, a player can be effective at net and will be able to defend with a prepared stance.
2. Standing too close to the net
Many players think that standing very close to the net is a good thing. Sometimes it is because players can intercept more volleys from this position. If it’s working, then go ahead, but if the opponent is attacking you, then it’s not a good move. Players standing too close become either automatic targets for a lob, or a target for a big-hitters’ return or groundstroke. You might only start and stand close to the net if your partner has a very big serve that produces a lot of weak returns. You’ll never stand close to the net with a weak serving partner. That’s a recipe for getting hurt and for unnecessarily losing lots of points.
If you like to stand in, okay. But if you are getting abused at the net or lobbed, then you must take a step back to allow some reaction time. The best place to start (when you partner is serving) is smack in the middle of the service box. From there, you can adjust to what the opponent is receiving, move closer, shift to the left or right, poach, or go back for an overhead.
No sense in standing there and getting killed. You have to adjust. This brings us to point number three.
3. Too many weak balls to the attacker
Sometimes, you cannot help the fact that your opponent has received a weak serve or shot to their big forehand. If this happens, and the player likes to come at you, then you better adjust position and be in a great ready stance. A great solution is to simply get the ball deeper so that they cannot attack so easily.
On groundstroke rallies, make sure the ball goes deeper into the court by aiming higher over the net. Balls don’t need to cross low over the net, they just need to be away from the net person. The same goes for the serve. Hitting a serve that crosses the net with more margin automatically drives the opponent back and doesn’t allow an attack.
If you are or your partner are serving and have a particularly weak second serve, the net person has a few choices. First, the net person can start in the middle of the service box in ready stance to hold their ground for the volley. Second, the net person can move all the way back to the baseline, or 3/4 of the way back. This will give more reaction time.
Lots of players like a target, so the net person standing in is easy to aim for. If the net person moves back, then the opponent has no target and they also have more time to react to the ball.
4. Volleying with a forehand grip
This is the biggest factor and ties directly into the first three problems …
Most recreational players hold an incorrect grip (forehand) for the volley. This may make it possible to hit some successful forehand volleys, but it makes it impossible to hit backhand volleys. Technically, we should hit more backhand volleys than forehand volleys in the game of tennis.
If you are a right-handed player, then every volley that comes to the left of your right shoulder/hip line should be a backhand volley. So that means all balls at your body should be hit with a backhand volley. You cannot hit backhand volleys with a forehand grip. This is the major cause of players leaping out of the way of balls coming to the body.
If you are being attacked to the body, you must handle this as a backhand volley. Otherwise, you will be throwing yourself out of the way to avoid getting hit. This can cause dangerous falls and accidental injury. A body volley is relatively simple to handle with a good grip and a little practice. Not only will you handle uncomfortable volleys well, but you will also maintain better court position.
Most players are unaware that they are “looking for” forehand volleys because of their grip (forehand). Learning to use one grip for forehand and backhand volleys can be a challenging proposition. Both the forehand and backhand volley need to be hit with the same Continental Grip. There is not enough time to adjust grips from forehand to backhand or backhand to forehand for the volley.
Hopefully, players can see how all four elements work together. Your stance, with the racket across the body, is a clear sign of an incorrect grip; standing too close to the net is an aggressive position dominated by forehand volley thoughts; weak balls to the opponent provide easy opportunities to the attacker; a forehand volley grip won’t allow any ball (to the left of the righty shoulder or to the right of the left shoulder for the lefty) to be volleyed well or at all.
Stop stalling and get some help with the volley grip. The correct grip is needed to be successful in all volley situations.
Your club pros know all about this so take a lesson on using the correct grip for the volley. You will quickly become the aggressor at net instead of the target. Practice receiving some volleys that are right at your body, learn a better stance and court position, hit some deeper shots and you’ll find a lot more safety and success.
The other bonus of learning the correct volley grip is that you’ll start to serve better. Most players with a forehand volley grip also use that grip for the serve, which is also incorrect. If you have been trying to change your serve grip to Continental and are not having success, it’s simply because your hand doesn’t like the feeling of that grip. If you use it for the volley, too, then your hand will have more experience with the grip and it won’t feel so strange.
Give it a try! You’ll be a volley attacker before you know it.