The half volley is a shot that you may not hit very often and so you may not practice it very often. But a good half volley is a great shot to have in your so-called arsenal of shots. It is something you can work on. And, even if its not something that you're practicing on a regular basis, just a few tips can help you hit a better half volley.
So let's talk about what the half volley is and how to hit a better one.
What is a Half Volley?
First, I think of the half volley as a transition shot, when you're moving from the baseline into the net. Because you usually will hit this shot somewhere in no man's land or at the service line. It is often a response to the ball that is hit at your feet when you're moving in, again transitioning in, from the baseline to the net.
And that transition can be a difficult one because of these shots at your feet. So having the half volley as one of the shots that you can hit makes it that much easier to move into the net, in both doubles and singles, but especially in doubles. Because of course, the party's at the net and that's where we're all trying to get.
It's Usually Better to Hit a Volley Than a Half Volley
Before I go into my tips on how to hit a better half volley, let me say that it's almost always better to hit a true volley than to hit a half volley. It's difficult to pick up that ball at your feet, coming up off the court. You're having to hit your half volley when the ball is on the rise. It's easier if you can take the ball out of the air and hit a true volley. A lot of times you can't do that because you can't get up close enough. But if there is a way to get yourself up to the net quickly and hit a true volley by taking the ball out of the air, I would recommend that. Certainly, I would recommend that as my preference over hitting the half volley.
So, again, that half volley is the ball that is at your feet and you play it as it comes up off the court. It's coming up on the rise, that's when you're hitting it.
1. Bend Your Knees and Get Down Low
My first tip to hitting a better half volley is bend your knees. Bend your knees a lot. The fact is you are not going to hit a decent half volley if you are trying to bend at your waist and stick your racket under that ball and lift it up. For one thing, that's not going to result in a very powerful shot at all. For another thing, you're probably just going to pop the ball up and give your opponent an easy put away shot. So to have any chance of doing something good with that half volley, you need bend your knees and get down low.
Check out these incredible vintage photos of Arthur Ashe and Roy Emerson hitting half volleys:
You can see Arthur Ashe hitting a forehand and Roy Emerson using his backhand. These are great examples of how low you need to get and how much you need to bend your knees to get down for the half volley. I love vintage tennis photos like these because they demonstrate a universal point about tennis, that is getting down for the half volley, that remain true for us today even though we no longer play with wooden rackets.
2. Use Soft Hands to Hit Your Half Volley
My second tip is to use soft hands. Even though this is not a shot that you're taking out of the air, even though it is coming up off the court, so the ball has bounced, you still need to use soft hands to hit your half volley. What this means is do not take a swing at the ball, do not expect that you're going to pound this ball back at your opponent. You need to have soft hands on this volley so that you can get the ball up over the net, not too high, and get it in the right spot. So think of the half volley as an emergency shot, but also a controlled shot. Placement is going to be more important and certainly more achievable when you're hitting the half volley if you're using soft hands.
3. Do Not Grip the Racket Too Tightly on the Half Volley
Tip number 3 is probably related to Tip number 2. Tip number 3 is how you're actually going to achieve Tip number 2. And that is don't hold your racket too tightly. Even though you're working your way in from the baseline, don't think of this as a groundstroke. Think of it as a volley. So do not hold your racket too tightly. Try to stay loose and relaxed. Holding your racket too tightly will often result in you popping the ball up, putting the ball up too high in the air, and giving your opponent an easy put away shot. Keeping your arm and your hand nice, loose and relaxed will help you gently lift that ball up over the net, but not too high. Again, it's a controlled shot, it's a soft shot. You want to get it over and you want to put it in the right place. Your half volley is probably not going to be your winner, unless you're really lucky. So think about keeping it nice, light, controlled, relaxed.
4. Don't Swing at the Half Volley
My Tip number 4 is don't swing at the half volley. Again, it's more of a volley than it is a groundstroke. Do not swing at that shot or you're probably going to again pop it up too high or maybe even hit it into the net if you're coming in, transitioning towards the net and swinging at it. This isn't a swinging volley like you see Serena Williams do. This is a very easy, touch shot. Again, look at the photos above of Ashe and Emerson. You can see that they are not raring back to swing at this shot. It is very gentle what they're doing and it's more of a precision shot, a controlled shot, than it is a putaway shot.
So those are my four tips for playing the half volley. This is a great shot to have ready to play and can help you make that transition into the net. Use these tips to help you hit a better half volley.
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