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JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

Consider Serve and Volley

June 2022

There was a time in the game’s long evolution when if you didn’t mostly serve and volley you were not considered to be a serious player. Even in recreational club play, players keenly aspired to doing it. Those days are long gone.

Back then 65” head size wooden rackets were it, with their generally bigger grips, powerless RDC flex ratings (not actually available back then) well below today’s norms, and with those precious gut strings that would unravel if you got them even slightly damp.

Nonetheless, besides tour players, good clubbers at that time also tended to possess “kick” serves, known then as the “American Twist,” popularized in name and technique by former world #1, the American Jack Kramer, also the founder of the professional tour as we know it today. Its advantage was that it moved from left to right, and upward after bouncing, like a lefties would naturally, instead of the usual right to left from righties.

With its high looping trajectory, confusing, counterintuitive bounce action, and with the slower balls and puny sticks of the day, players serving and volleying had plenty of time to get in tight to the net, apply pressure, and readily knock off volleys.

Although still a go to tactic in doubles, especially among the men, serve and volley is utilized sparingly in singles these days on tour for a number of reasons - faster balls, powerful hi-tech rackets, better synthetic strings, slower courts, and greater player fitness.

Misha, Sampras, Navfatolova

Still active ATP player Mischa Zverev – 25th in the world not that long ago - is the last of the Mohicans, serving and volleying exclusively, and effectively, on any surface.

Of course, none other than Pete Sampras and Martina Navratolova utilized the tactic to great success in their glory years in the game at an earlier juncture.

Since just about all pro players – including the women who can also bomb in 1st serves at MPH's well over 100 - tend to stay back on serve due to having insufficient time to get in a good volleying position -although slower clay play could represent a more viable opportunity.

Successful returners today can now neutralize S/V effectiveness by sending those big serves back almost as fast as they are delivered, while simultaneously placing those returns right at the onrushing server’s feet, making for a very tough first volley.

In most Clubland doubles circumstances are not quite the same. With lots of 1st serves that wouldn’t register on a radar gun, there is indeed often enough time to then get in a favorable 1st volley position after a well-placed delivery. Of course, conversely, the returner typically also has sufficient time to get a good look at the incoming serve and then, potentially, effectively handcuff the attack on their first strike.

It goes both ways. Who can gain the advantage? The ultimate decider always becomes how does my serve and volley tactic match-up with their return ability? Who has the edge?

Nonetheless, still a nice option to have in your back pocket when used effectively. Interestingly, some returners become rattled at the sight of an opponent coming in behind their serve. Yet others seem to relish an incoming target. Know your opponent.

Serve and volley can also be effective tactic when double’s returners are consistently getting away with weakly floating returns back cross court - ones that are not being actively poached by passive net partners – while under no threat with servers exclusively staying back. Another example of considering serve and volley is when a returner is predictably, and effectively, making sharply angled, un-poachable cross court returns short in the court.

One more is that it can also be utilized periodically as a way of keeping returners less comfortable and off balance – thwarted from getting grooved - who then becomes unsure of the margin to the net that’s required – higher to return deep if the server is staying back, lower to nail their shoelaces if coming in. The returner, faced with some unpredictability, then only has a fleeting moment to commit to which return to direct.

Finally, especially in “friendly” non-league or tournament play, start experimenting with S/V minimally at least once in every service game, especially if the score line is very favorable – best on 1st serve only, that is unless you possess a solid, bending, higher bouncing second spin serve, even if not exactly the aforementioned true kicker.

Continually growing your game to improve and raise your level is always doable. It just takes the commitment to do so.

Copyright© by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

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Essay Archives

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2020

  • December 2020 - On mechanics and style
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  • November 2020 - THE BIG 3: The Glue That Keeps Your Best Game Together
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  • September 2020 - Protocol and Game Tradition Revisited
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  • August 2020 - As Good as Your 2nd Serve
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  • July 2020 - Shot Shaping
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  • June 2020 - Getting a Point in Jeopardy Back to Neutral
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  • May 2020 - A Positive Mind-Set: On and Off the Court in Today's C-19 Reality
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  • April 2020 - The Zombie Tennis Creed – Top Ten
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  • March 2020 - A Roadmap Into "The Zone"
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  • February 2020 - The service toss: myths and realities
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  • January 2020 - Shot Gazing
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2019

  • December 2019 - The Dreaded High Bouncing Moonball Dilemma
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  • November 2019 - Chalk Flew: Troublesome Line Calling without Hawkeye in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2019 - In the Spirit of Don't Drink and Drive… Don't Think and Hit [read more]
  • September 2019 - Old School vs New School [read more]
  • August 2019 - Getting the Ball Where You Want It [read more]
  • July 2019 - Taking Points Off…What? [read more]
  • June 2019 - Confidence Is Confidence: Take It Wherever You Can Get It [read more]
  • May 2019 - TENNIS INNOVATION IMPLODES [read more]
  • April 2019 - Defending the Court with Older Bones: A Club Player's Guide to Saying "Nice Shot" Less [read more]
  • March 2019 - Do You Have Doubles Rally Tolerance? [read more]
  • February 2019 - I Knew Jimy Van Alen: A Historical Look Back [read more]
  • January 2019 - The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Mental Toughness Skills [read more]

2018

  • December 2018 - Less Bling is the Thing [read more]
  • November 2018 - Anatomy of a Doubles Serve Return…from the Inside Out [read more]
  • October 2018 - Older Dogs and New Tricks: Still Improving at Any Age [read more]
  • September 2018 - The All-Important Dynamic of Gripping [read more]
  • August 2018 - The Cinemascope Syndrome: Undermining Your Ball Watching [read more]
  • June 2018 - Serving and Returning Better with a Quiet Eye [read more]
  • May 2018 - The Man Who Breathed for Two [read more]
  • January 2018 - Rituals Anyone? [read more]

2017

  • December 2017 - Why Serving is so Difficult in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2017 - Managing your body and mind in tennis space [read more]
  • August 2017 - Why Bother Breathing to Improve Your Game [read more]
  • May 2017 - The "Maintaining" One's Game as One Ages Fallacy [read more]
  • February 2017 - Punta Gorda Tennis Clubs: Setting the Bar [read more]
  • January 2017 - State of the Club Game: The Growing Death of Sportsmanship [read more]

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