I’ve been a Tennis One member for quite a while and I enjoy many of the articles included monthly on the site.
As background I’m in my early 60’s, have been playing tennis for the last 20 years or so and I’m a reasonably strong 4.0 player. For the most part I play singles (from the baseline primarily), but have recently been focusing my energy on doubles. As you’d expect this has been an interesting transition for me which is why I’ve gone through most of the doubles material you provide with emphasis on the volley.
The depth of material available has been both a positive and negative. To be honest you can find all kinds of contradictory advice if you go back through the many articles. I’ve tried to narrow down the data and I particularly like Dave Smith’s advice on all parts of the game as well as Jorge Capestany’s. Which brings me to the point of this e-mail.
1) Jorge has a good You Tube video on the backhand volley, in which he uses footage of Roger Federer as an example of “best practice”. You will note in the video that RF’s take back has anything but a straight arm which Dave advocates in this latest article.
Personally my backhand volley is better than my forehand volley but still very inconsistent. I tried to employ Jorge’s advice which has been helpful when I have time to execute, but I struggle if I’m short on time because I tend to take the racquet back too far as I do on a backhand slice groundstroke.
2) There’s a lot of material available on the correct volley grip, with most “experts” recommending the continental as do both Dave and Jorge. If you look a little further however you’ll find footage and commentary that shows Mike Bryan using a slightly eastern grip (who volleys better than Mike) as well as Roger Federer. I bring this up because I’m particularly struggling with this shot. I’m much more comfortable with a slightly eastern grip on the forehand volley because I feel I can square the racquet up to the ball and court if (as a right hander) I want to volley straight ahead or toward my right (inside out). With a pure continental grip volleying on an angle to my left is much more straightforward. In experimenting with this I noticed that I in fact use a slightly eastern forehand grip on my slice backhand groundstroke but a pure continental on my serve. I’ve been slicing the backhand for so long I didn’t notice that the grip was off pure continental until I started to work on the volley. In Dave’s recent article he shows a variety of drills but with the forehand volley they primarily deal with a cross court ball, rather than inside out or straight back at the opposing player.
I recognize that it’s impossible for you guys to provide any personalized feedback without actually seeing my strokes. The point of this note is not to ask for that kind of input. But I do have two suggestions that would make the site more useful at least for me.
1) Maybe I missed it in Dave’s case, but it would be useful if contributors provided contact data so questions could be posed to them directly. I don’t know if they could do much in responding but it would be helpful to get his feedback on Jorge’s video as well as my difficulty in squaring the racquet face on the forehand volley.
2) with new racquets, strings and the evolution of the game coaching advice has changed significantly in the last five to ten years. I think it would be helpful if you took another look at the material on the site to determine if it is still relevant and useful. While there will always be differences of opinion identifying what you feel is “best practice” in an area would make it easier for the user to narrow down to a select group of articles and advice. If at a minimum the articles in the Lesson Library we dated we could work backwards, starting with the latest thinking on a subject. Obviously this would require a process and regular updating, but wading through dozens of articles with outdated video or comments is not especially helpful.
Sorry for the long e-mail, but as I said at the outset I really enjoy TennisOne and believe it could be a better tool for the tennis enthusiast.
Thank you for writing in with some very good questions. Obviously, as you are making the transition to more doubles play, the net game, you have recognized, becomes more involved. Any weaknesses in volley technique will be revealed in doubles as we are faced with far more situations to hit volleys than in most singles matches.
In regard to Jorge Capestany's video on Youtube and how it may be somewhat different in terms of offered technique is this:
1. At the pro level, (or any higher skilled level), you will find subtle variations on the foundation in which tennis may have been taught. Thus, you will often see pros, like Federer, execute a backhand volley that doesn't follow the basic advanced foundation principles that I advocate. HOWEVER, even as Jorge sees Federer's arm not straight, he fails to recognize that the arm gets almost dead straight prior to contact and then is maintained after contact. This subtle difference in Federer's backhand does in fact mimic my advice. He does get his arm nearly straight and then maintains this arm position through contact.
My advice to players wanting to improve their backhand volley is two fold: I KNOW from over 35 years of teaching experience, that players who bend the elbow on the backswing or the turn of a backhand volley will tend to do two things: 1) they will take the racquet back too far; and 2) They often will hit the ball with the arm straightening at contact, not before contact as we see Fed do. I can show you countless videos of pro players who keep the arm dead straight as soon as they turn and after contact. Also, there are some pros, (Patrick Rafter comes to mind), who actually had a bent elbow on the backhand volley, BUT, he kept it bent through the entire backhand volley. (Thus, the arm acted as if it were indeed straight in that the arm didn't extend from this bent elbow position.)
The other aspect of improving your backhand volley is to error on the side of better technique, not worse. Keeping your elbow straight will help prevent over swinging, give you more leverage, (because you are hitting the backhand volley from your entire arm moving through the volley not just the forearm straightening if you bent it and then extended it at contact), and help prevent tennis elbow. (The number one cause of tennis elbow is hitting backhands late.)
In this regard, I highly disagree with Capestany's label of "Best Practice" because in my 35 years teaching, the bent elbow is the number one cause in players not having a solid, dependable, effective backhand volley. I like his video and other bits of advice. However, this one criteria is often misconstrued by players and even tennis teaching pros alike.
While I like to use pros to emphasize certain fundamentals, this is one aspect I personally would not use to teach an advanced foundation backhand volley to players who want to really have a great volley. As I mentioned there are other countless pros who use a much straighter arm to hit a backhand volley with. I prefer this volley example among pros to foster learning. (That is not to say Fed doesn't have a great backhand volley...he does. However, as I pointed out, his fluid backhand arm position gets nearly straight prior to contact and is maintained. Thus he technically uses my advice, just executes it later within the stroke.)
In regards to the forehand volley and grips: Again, I error on the side of more advanced foundation principles. While you will certainly see some pros, (like Mike Bryan), move slightly towards an eastern forehand grip for some forehand volleys. When players learn with the continental grip, there often times will be slight embellishments of this grip to suit a player's feel and strength. That said, when players are FIRST introduced to the volley using eastern grips, several things create problems: 1) the eastern grips are technically topspin grips. Players who have been taught groundstrokes will often and unconsciously hit topspin volleys even when they are trying to slice the volley. 2) The eastern grips make getting lower and harder hit, dipping topspin shots back as the grip makes it tougher to get under the ball. 3) The eastern grips definitely make players take their racquet back too far and it usually prohibits the ability to "set and hold" on the volley. 4) The eastern grips makes hitting severe angle volleys, touch volleys, and volley lobs nearly impossible as the player always has to swing to square the racquet to the angle or target.
Yet, I've seen many top players have a slight turn towards the eastern forehand volley but by using their wrist correctly, they can emulate the racquet positions that would be more associated with the continental grip. Players who are taught the eastern forehand grip first have a very difficult time moving more towards continental. Thus, I again error on the side of the more advanced grip, the continental.
I hope this helps. Thanks for the additional advice you mentioned. We will certainly take it under consideration!
Best to you!
David W. Smith
Senior Editor, TennisOne
Dunlop Master Professional
We received many responses to Kim Shanley's tribute to Vic Braden in our November 8 newsletter I've posted a few below.. Thanks for your generous notes and for sharing your memories. We all owe a lot to Vic, and share in your admiration for him and what his life was all about.
It is so important for us as tennis instructors to learn from Vic's wisdom. Too many "know it all" pros that take the laughter and joy out of the game. Being bossy and arrogant is too common and humble and curious too rare.
Thank you for shining some light on Vic. I love his books,
If you began playing tennis, as I did, in the 1970's, and had zero money for lessons, Vic's "Tennis For The Future" was all we had.and, with it, I beat a lot of guys who were taking lessons.
I never met the man. I never knew anything about his tennis career or life. And I certainly will never attain the insight he had as a true lifetime student of the game.
But, he did inspire me from a book I read back in the 80's entitled "Teaching Children Tennis the Vic Braden Way (©1980). As I glanced back at this book upon his passing, written in collaboration with Bill Bruns, I realized how much of an influence he had on my teaching mantra for now over 30 years.
Vic Braden gems of wisdom:
- Regard the court as a mistake center
- Teach adult strokes right from the start
- Help kids gain a warm affection for the game regardless of their talent
- Having fun together(coach with students and parents with their kids) can yield many rewards both on and off the court
And perhaps my favorite that I have quoted many times: "If you can walk to the drinking fountain without falling over, then you have the physical ability to play the game well."
Thank you Vic Braden. I have listened, I have learned, and the world is a better place because you were in it.
I read Vic’s books and still refer to them whenever my games heads south. I was always intrigued by his application of science to hitting tennis balls. I remember in one of his books something like a three foot high ball hit with a horizontal swing from the baseline ends up in the bottom of the net and you could clear the net by X feet if the changed the swing path from horizontal to a 30 degree angle from the horizontal.
I still think about this lesson every time one of my baseline drives hits the net. I also remember a high ball toss on your serve results in your hitting a ball that is moving at x feet per second. He loved Roscoe Tanner’s ball toss and serve.
Well, I said to myself. I got to meet this guy. So I went to a tennis clinic that Vic conducted in Stowe, Vermont a number of years ago. At that time, I was a gung ho tennis player who just wanted to hit balls. I sat next to Vic during the clinic (he wasn’t moving around too well at that time) and just listened to him for two days. He would tell stories about the old days. I sucked up everything he said. I remember his trying to teach me a top spin serve. I remember his teaching me how to retrieve a deep lob over your head- run like hell till you hear the ball bounce and then track the ball.
I also remember his wit and remember how warm and friendly he was when I met him. I often think of him and agree with you that he did his numerous experiments & tests to satisfy his desire to learn more about the game. I will miss him.
Vic's shows were often funny and informative, and I always looked forward to his "shorts" when watching tennis on PBS back in the 1970s. I wish that I would have been able to attend one of his tennis camps when I was younger, but doing so was not within my means.
I remember one of Vic's shows where he spoke about the use of high speed cameras and computers, in conjunction with the work of Dr. Gideon Ariel. Great stuff!
Loved your stories on Vic Braden. We met Vic many times over the years and helped take care of him during some of his Australian visits. His stories are legendary and it is a great way to teach players through story-telling.
Vic was passionate about tennis, people and life. He was an inspiring man and he touched many hearts over the years. He will be sadly missed.
What string type and what tension is best for spin?
There are many factors that create spin; string type and gauge, tension, string pattern, and obviously swing path and speed are the major contributors.
As far as tension, the type of swing you have will have a lot to do with how tight you will want to string your racquet to maximize spin. If you have a generally flatter stroke, a lower tension will tend to produce more spin. If you have a very pronounced high-to-low topspin swing path, tighter tensions will allow the ball to interact with the strings more rather than sitting in the string bed longer. (Dwell time.) Thinner strings produce more spin as well.
With the advent of poly strings today, some players, myself included, use 18 gauge string. Polys tend to last much longer than synthetic conventional strings, (multifilament or monofilament), so you can get almost the same longevity with 17 and 18 gauge strings that you would get out of conventional 16 gauge string and get more spin/control in the process.
There is an argument that an open string pattern, (16 x 20) grips the ball more than a closed string pattern, (18 x 21). I've found that this may or may not be true as a closed string pattern also creates more friction as more strings interact with the ball. So the jury is still out in my research! My suggestion is to try a thin gauge string at a couple different tensions to find which combination provides you with the desired spin based on your swing type.
David W. Smith
I play USTA, Men's Nationals, 65's. I notice several of the top players use extra large heads.
Maybe 125 to 137 square inches ...the Big a Bubba, etc.
What are the advantages. What are the disadvantages
As we get older several factors often favor larger head racquets for players. The advantages include a larger hitting area, greater power with less swing speed, and generally, a little easier on the arm.
Because large head racquets elongate the string bed in the hitting zone, players find that they get more zip on the ball producing more power. These large head racquets are usually designed to give players who have short strokes, more power. (Not necessarily more control, however!)
The best advice I can offer is to try out several of these larger head racquets and see how they feel and respond to your game and swing type. You may find, as you have seen among your peers, that you indeed can benefit from moving into one of these larger head frames.
David W. Smith
Good to see Jim McLennan is getting back to those serving essentials. Apart from yourself and Doug (King) there’s only one other coach who showed me how. My 12 year old grandson bought me an hour’s tennis tune up with Gilles Elseneer (highest ATP rating 97) for my birthday. Easy, here’s how it’s done said Gilles. And he threw the ball up at the ceiling with a baseball style throwing motion. A 2 second serve lesson.
Your last video. Why do guys find it easier to use this throwing motion than gals? And before that, whatever happened to the Trophy Position in your continuous serving motion? Another myth?
Great question and one I will soon do a article about.
What follows is a hunch. First, tennis coaches should all specialize so that there are serving coaches forehand coaches and more such that if a developing player has an excellent coach at some aspects but not on the serve that suggests an issue.
Second, the serve is very difficult to teach and truly, master coaches do not agree on methods or technique though this same group would agree across the board on the forehand.
Third, many of the women who would become professionals appear so at a very early age when it is easier to hit groundies than develop rhythm on the serve and then it may become overlooked.
Finally, and this may apply to Europe more than the US, in soccer dominated cultures the overhand throwing motion is not as readily learned or picked up. Some many years ago in a meeting with Martina Navratilova in San Francisco after she had finished practicing with two female all americans from Stanford 2 on 1, she warmed down with some football tossing and it was fascinating to see how poorly the two girls threw.
A template I use when teaching throwing — I begin by asking players to throw a few and then I ask, "Does it feel like pushing or pulling? Nearly all the poor throwers respond, "pushing."
I liked your article on the importance of the toss to the quality of a player's serve (Low Toss, High Toss, What difference Does it Make?). Just a couple points I wanted to add.
- First of all, the bio-mechanics gurus seem to say that the toss is most effectively tossed approximately 18 inches to 2 feet above the contact point. However, I tend to agree with you that this aspect of the serve is largely stylistic as opposed to being a fundamental element of the serve. Again, I think you are quite right in comparing it to the serve stance a player uses. Clearly, throughout history, players have produced high quality serves with platform and pinpoint stances as well as with low, medium and high tosses.
- When working with beginning and intermediate players, I have found it to be less problematic for the players when they avoid extremes in the toss, which tend to create timing issues that should not be the focus of their practice at this stage of development. Likewise, learning to serve using a slide step and a pinpoint stance creates an unnecessary balance issue that new players simply do not need at this stage of development.
- As a stylistic element, I think it makes sense to allow players to experiment with these elements once they have a sound foundation with the serve. Although stylistic elements of the serve do not prevent a player from developing an elite stroke, different players will find one or the other of these options more conducive to their long-term development. I know I always think the low toss, quick twitch motion Dolgopolov employs is a perfect fit for his style and personality.
Anyway, keep up the good work,
I can tell, you have never seen the not so- short Herculean Lew Hoad play tennis or even the feline Pancho Gonzales or again the handsome and athletic Tony Trabert. The power, the speed, the strategic intelligence and the conditioning of these tennis players were memorable for those who actually witnessed their matches.
They played five setters with scores ending like 31-29 in the fifth set ! ( No tie-breaker in those days ! No medical pause either. No one had an arm like the Laver’s left arm and wrist, even Serena with her artificially developed limbs. The abuse of growth hormones should disqualified professional athletes, whoever they are !
Forget hard court which gives an advantage to not so-good players who just hit or serve hard, play on clay or grass.
Dr. Jean-luc Bordeaux
Dr. Jean-luc Bordeaux
I have seen them and they were all great champions, but the pace of the game was slower back in the day.
Thanks for your comments,
Thanks for Doug King's intriguing article about the role of the wrist in the serve. You solved a mystery that attacked me when I watched several matches of Stefan Edberg on youtube. I thought: 'What is Stefan doing with his backswing? It looks so weird.'
But as you see, he does EXACTLY at the beginning of his serve what you describe in your video. The side of the racket he is going to hit with, is pointing up, then sideways, and reaches to 'ready to throw'-phase in a total different way than you would imagine. He is supinating his wrist! And we all know what tremendous spin Stefan put on his ball.
That is a wonderful clip of Edberg. Thank you for that. You can clearly see how supinated the wrist is (much like Raonic, who might be even more exaggerated, at least at the start). Edberg had such an amazing kick on his serve, which he would follow up with such blanketing presence at the net, and then perfectly placed volleys. What a challenge to try to break him for even the best of returners. Thanks also for the nice comments. I look forward to your next piece in TennisOne.
All the best,
I found the article (Forearm lag and double bend) and Coach Smith's instructional videos to be very helpful. I have been struggling to develop a consistent forehand — especially against harder hitting opponents - and was able to identify several corrections from the articles and videos to work on that had not connected with me mentally from other sources.
I had been trying to incorporate a loose wrist and snap or rolling of the wrist that was giving me all kinds of control and consistency problems.
I am also trying to develop a shorter back swing which seems to be more likely to come from the type of stroke explained by Dave — which seems to keep the elbow in close to the body rather than by straighten the arm on the backswing and through the shot.
Thank you for the note and sharing your insights to hitting your own forehand better.
Yes, keeping things simple within the execution of any stroke will help create a more reliable and repeatable swing pattern. As with your forehand, extraneous movements will not only detract from consistency, but as you play opponents who hit harder shots, you will indeed find yourself struggle to get the ball back in play--let alone hit some effective shot yourself.
Examine the many video clips found here at TennisOne and you should start to recognize the commonalities of the top forehands. These forehands are not unreachable. It is just a matter of recognizing what they are doing, emulating the movements with some level of accuracy of motion, and then drill the stroke so it becomes automatic and the timing and rhythm become natural.
Thanks again for writing!
David W. Smith
Senior Editor, TennisOne
Enjoyed Doug King’s volley video. What is he using (recommending) for grip pressure? Sometimes it looked very firm, sometimes it looked much softer. Thanks!
First let me express my thanks for your comments. In regard to your question about grip pressure on the volley, the timing and application of pressure through the hand will vary greatly with the type of ball that is being played. The grip should always be quite relaxed coming into contact (almost as though you are going to play a drop volley) and then just before contact pressure will be applied in different ways. If pressure is applied more forcefully (tighter) on contact, the racquet will accelerate more quickly and the ball with shoot off the racquet faster and with more pace. The subsequent drive or “hold” on the ball will be shorter (less extension to the target and “follow through”).
Going into contact, if the pressure is applied more gradually and somewhat lighter, the ball will tend to push back on the racquet more and therefore will have less spring off of the racquet. This will give the ability to drive or guide the ball a bit more and in many cases this will be evidenced with a bit more extension towards the target, or a longer follow-through.
I hope that helps.
Again, thanks for writing,
Just read David Smiths article on The Two-handed Forehand Revisited.
Even though I'm sure he knows more about tennis than I do I am still not entirely convinced about this as she doesn't hit anywhere near as well as she was with the 2 handed forehand.
My daughter is 3 and because she is so small and her racquet was a little big for her I taught her to hold the racquet with 2 hands. I didn't really give any more thought to this as at the time it seemed logical and she seemed to do it well. She has just started taking 1/2 hour tennis lessons each week on top of time I spend with her practicing at home.
I noticed at her last 2 tennis lessons the coach has got her hitting with 1 hand.
I asked the coach about this and he said that the double handed forehand is too restrictive and not too many top players do well using it.
Should I just let him get on with the job or ask him to go back to teaching her using the double handed forehand?
I have attached a link to a very short video. If you have a moment could you please take a look at it.
Thank you for sending me your questions and video of your daughter hitting tennis balls, (and enjoying it!)
At 3, it isn't too early to develop the fundamental swing pattern as long as she enjoys the short sessions. (I only spent no more than 5 min every few days developing my daughter's swing when she was about 5.)
Please be sure to look at my series, "Training an 8-Year Old" on TennisOne as it will give you many drills, progressions and tools to use with your own daughter. Also, if you don't have my book, Coaching Mastery, this would be an excellent guide for all the progressions, drills, and variations that would help you. (available at all Barnes and Noble stores, Amazon, and TennisWarehouse.com as well as Synergy-books.com.)
Ask your pro if the two-handed forehand was so restrictive, why did Marion Bartoli win Wimbledon this past year? Obviously, it CAN be taken to the highest levels, and there are several other top players using a two handed forehand. (Peng Shaui, Akiko Morigami, and a number of others.)
Even if later, (and I'm talking ten or twelve years later), your daughter, after learning the two-handed forehand, wanted to switch, it is very easy to do...and, the two-hander helps kids (and adults), learn to move better, shorten their backswing naturally, create a repeatable reliable swing path much faster, and hit with better topspin with consistency.
For your daughter, I suggest two quick things I noticed: try to have her keep her front foot down during the follow-through; also, have her switch her hands to make it a true two-handed forehand. (Instead of a left-handed backhand as she is doing now.)
Finally, have her keep her left elbow in near her body and let the right arm extend out and then over her shoulder.
If you do these things, she will have a solid foundation with her natural coordination. I hope this helps. Please keep me posted on her development over the next couple years!
Senior Editor, TennisOne