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The Forgotten Stop Volley

By Jak Beardsworth

"Stop volley" is a term that fell out of favor long ago, although I'm currently coming across it quite often in an excellent biography (Queen of the Court) of the great Alice Marble, a former world #1 back in the mid to late 1930s. She also was known later on, past her playing days, for befriending, and supporting an on the rise Althea Gibson in her struggles with the lily-white, elitist, Eastern dominated USLTA blue-blazers (yes, there was an "L" – for lawn – back then since grass courts were the dominant pro tournament surface) who openly tried to deny the up and coming Gibson entry into the top tier events of the day mainly because of the color of her skin, along with a rigged qualifying system that made her participation impossible. That meant The Nationals (precursor to the U.S. Open), still at Forest Hills then, and all the Eastern grass events leading up to it.

Marble and the more progressive minds of the day (1950…post Jackie Robinson in baseball) prevailed – Marble was a regular contributor to the tennis magazine at that time, American Lawn Tennis – but only after she penned a scathing indictment of the USLTA that ultimately led to not only allowing Gibson to play, but also pave the way later on for Arthur Ashe and eventually the Williams' sisters among others.

Marble the player served and volleyed without trepidation, and came to net otherwise at every opportunity when women of the day did not often contemplate it, preferring to stay back. Newspaper accounts often noted that she "played like a man" - not a very complimentary characterization back then, one that's thankfully disappeared from today's game that features so many powerful women players who do close – think world #1 Iga Swiatek - when the opportunity presents itself.

Her volley was a strong point in her all-around game, especially her "stop volley," which basically meant that her racket head movement was minimal (think Johnny Mac or Martina Navratolova in their glory days) with compact take backs and precious little follow-throughs. Hence the designation "stop volley" that curiously disappeared from the tennis lexicon years ago.

Prior to reading her biography I found myself already resurrecting the term with my lesson clients/students – one that I unconsciously suddenly recalled from my early playing days – many of whom who have a penchant for, and misapplication of, the swing volley of today's pro players. But the pros only utilize it when approaching the net in transition while dealing with high floaters – not when already in good net position facing incoming heat.

I'm thinking that Venus Williams the very first to popularize it in the "modern game." Now it's everyone, men and women.

I've found that club players with inefficient, overly ambitious, unwieldy volley swings - when already at the net - respond well to the "stop volley" cue, and quickly realize that they can still pop a penetrating volley without that wild, panicky, bolo fling at the ball.

Keep it short and compact.

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Past Essays

  • March 2024 - Get Your JuJu On
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  • February 2024 - Giving Opponents too Much Respect
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  • January 2024 - Rally Ball Or Pull The Trigger
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  • December 2023 - The Forgotten Stop Volley
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  • November 2023 - "You're Only as Good as Your Second Serve"
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  • October 2023 - good misses vs bad misses
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  • September 2023 - Why good players are good players!
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2023

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2022

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  • April 2022 - Ball Watching and Science
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2021

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2020

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2018

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2017

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