Absolute Improvement: Mastering the backhand volley.
Second in a series of tennis tips from David Lewis, Director of Instruction at Ivan Lendl Junior Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina:
If we look back at past Wimbledon tennis Champions in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, most had a phenomenal backhand slice and backhand volley. These players included Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, and Stefan Edberg, to name a few. Grass courts at Wimbledon were quicker then, allowing the slice to be even more effective especially for those looking to take control of the net.
Many great Australian players had very strong forearms developed from playing hours against a wall which taught them to have quick hands and compact swings. The backhand volley is an abbreviated backhand slice with the same fundamentals but does not include a full backswing or follow through.
The backhand volley is a simple stroke yet it can be challenging to teach younger players. A lack of strength makes it difficult for juniors to control the racquet when attempting to hit a backhand volley. As a result, they can develop poor habits especially if their racquets are too heavy. Many players at this age prefer to have an eastern grip, allowing them short-term success. As they get older, this grip has limitations and they should be urged to move to the continental grip.
With less time to react at the net as opposed to the baseline, the backhand volley needs to be compact and struck out in front of the body with a very firm wrist (see above photo).
Tony Roche, a former Australian player, always emphasized ‘knifing’ the backhand volley. Roche had one of the best backhand volleys in the game and, with a huge forearm and strong wrist, he could ‘knife’ backhand volleys at a fast pace that would land near the shoe laces of his opponents.
For the past twenty years, David Lewis, a native of Auckland, New Zealand, has coached top juniors and professionals around the world. The Ivan Lendl IJTA focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation.