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The 911 shot of tennis: the half volley

By Jim Brown

The term half volley doesn’t provide a very accurate description of this stroke--one of the most difficult to execute. The half volley is not actually a volley, but rather a forehand or backhand groundstroke hit immediately after the ball bounces onto your side of the court.

Baseball players sometimes field balls that have taken a short hop. Tennis players have to do the same thing with half volleys, but they do it with a racket instead of a glove. The only thing half about a half volley is the swing that is used to execute it. The half volley requires about half the swing used for normal groundstrokes, and you have about half the normal amount of time to prepare for it.

Tennis players don’t go into matches planning how they are going to use half volleys. They don’t want to use them at all, in fact, unless they are forced to do so. But when those occasions arise, there are three on-the-spot tactical considerations: First, get the ball back and survive at least one more exchange. Second, get the ball back as deep into your opponent’s backcourt as you can to keep your opponent from finishing you off on the next shot. And, finally, if you’re really good, place the ball into an open corner of the court to turn a bad situation into a good one.

The half volley is a necessary evil--a shot you don’t want to hit very often. Once you have mastered the half volley, however, you have moved from a beginner to an intermediate or advanced level. If you have to hit a half volley, then usually one of three things has occurred:

  1. You are somewhere between the baseline and service line and out of position.
  2. You are late moving into position anywhere on the court.
  3. Your opponent has hit a deep forcing shot that will be difficult to return.

Whatever the reason, the ball comes hard at your feet and you have to dig it out and somehow get it back. At best, the half volley is emergency tennis--like dialing 911--on the court. The goal is survival.

Young or inexperienced players often find themselves out of position because they don’t know any better. Experienced players know better, but they sometimes can’t do anything about it because they’ve lost a step or two in court coverage. Even elite players who approach the net following a serve have to hit half volleys when their opponents hit great returns at their feet. And doubles players have to play these shots all the time. Regardless of your ability level or age group, keep working on court position, but develop the skill required to hit a half volley. Read on to discover how.

This is an excerpt from Tennis: Steps to Success.

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Points are love (0), 15 (the first point won by either player), 30 (the second point), 40 (the third point), and game (the fourth point).

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