When accessing the best tour volleys of all-time, the pundits are especially appreciative of the best of the best on the forehand side. Surprised? Probably, since, for most, the backhand volley is perceived as the more challenging of the two. Not really.
The forehand is anatomically more difficult to strike optimally in front. When fielding the backhand at the net - exclusively hit with one hand on today's tours despite the use of mostly two-hands otherwise - the dominant hitting shoulder, once fully turned sideways, is naturally positioned forward and toward the net for the incoming shot, making in-front contact and ball-tracking a walk in the park. Advantage backhand.
The forehand volley is another story. As you can see in the accompanying image, my dominant shoulder, already turned for the shot-making moment, is now "behind," creating a somewhat "open" trunk, and is comparatively much farther away from the net making the task of a well in front impact more difficult than on the backhand.
Jak Beardsworth demonstrates the forehand volley.
Photo by Shaun Ondak
Note that my racket head is above my laid back wrist - yes there's wrist action in the shot - along with a lowered center of gravity that's in a forward posture to align the eyes in close proximity to the height of the approaching ball.
Keeping the racket face slightly open to impart a bit of underspin will be instrumental in avoiding "dumping" balls into the net - especially the low ones - and keep your shot in the air longer for better depth and in finding angles. The volley, any volley, is about control and placement, not power.
Obscured in the image is the key "off-arm" (left). It's in a balanced position and will "fold" slightly inward during impact to keep the striking movement small by blocking unwanted trunk rotation - contrary to forehands off the bounce - that triggers overblown follow-throughs. On the backhand volley, the same balance is achieved when the non-hitting arm remains behind your body through impact.
Weight transfer is, of course, always in the mix. Shifting from the pivoting back foot onto the front foot and into the shot will facilitate a silky kinetic chain producing an effortless, great sounding and feeling "pop."
But beware, all will be lost if your head is bobbing around and you're squeezing the life out of your grip at the crucial racket-on-ball moment, the latter a direct result of disconnected bobble-head ball watching.
So, nothing to it. Keep your head still to remain visually connected to the ball. Stay relaxed. Resist "fighting" the ball. Work with it. Keep the ball in front, particularly on the deceivingly tricky forehand volley.
I'm betting that taking any ball in the air will become much more inviting.
Jak Beardsworth, USPTA, author of More Than Just the Strokes, is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Club for adult and junior lessons. Email him at JB1tennis@comcast.net, call 941-626-0097 or visit www.JakBeardsworthTennis.com.