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   Chapter 4 THE VOLLEY AND OVERHEAD SMASH

The Art of Lawn Tennis By William T. Tilden Characters: 12279

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The net attack is the heavy artillery of tennis. It is supposed to crush all defence. As such it must be regarded as a point-winning stroke at all times, no matter whether the shot is volley or smash.

Once at the net hit from the point at the first opportunity given to get the racquet squarely on the ball. All the laws of footwork explained for the drive are theoretically the same in volleying. In practice you seldom have time to change your feet to a set position, so you obviate trouble by throwing the weight on the foot nearest to the ball and pushing it in the shot.

Volleys are of two classes: (1) the low volley, made from below the waist; and (2) the high volley, from the waist to the head. In contradistinction to the hitting plane classification are the two styles known as (1) the deep volley and (2) the stop volley.

All low volleys are blocked. High volleys may be either blocked or hit. Volleys should never be stroked. There is no follow through on a low volley and very little on a high one.

You will hear much talk of "chop" volleys. A chop stroke is one where the racquet travels from above the line of flight of the ball, down and through it, and the angle made behind the racquet is greater than 45 degrees, and many approach 90 degrees. Therefore I say that no volleys should be chopped, for the tendency is to pop the ball up in the air off any chop. Slice volleys if you want to, or hit them flat, for both these shots are made at a very small angle to the flight-line of the ball, the racquet face travelling almost along its plane.

In all volleys, high or low, the wrist should be locked and absolutely stiff. It should always be below the racquet head, thus bracing the racquet against the impact of the ball. Allow the force of the incoming shot, plus your own weight, to return the ball, and do not strive to "wrist" it over. The tilted racquet face will give any required angle to the return by glancing the ball off the strings, so no wrist turn is needed.

Low volleys can never be hit hard, and owing to the height of the net should usually be sharply angled, to allow distance for the rise. Any ball met at a higher plane than the top of the net may be hit hard. The stroke should be crisp, snappy, and decisive, but it should stop as it meets the ball. The follow through should be very small. Most low volleys should be soft and short. Most high volleys require speed and length.

The "stop" volley is nothing more than a shot blocked short. There is no force used. The racquet simply meets the oncoming ball and stops it. The ball rebounds and falls of its own weight. There is little bounce to such a shot, and that may be reduced by allowing the racquet to slide slightly under the ball at the moment of impact, thus imparting back spin to the ball.

Volleying is a science based on the old geometric axiom that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. I mean that a volleyer must always cover the straight passing shot since it is the shortest shot with which to pass him, and he must volley straight to his opening and not waste time trying freakish curving volleys that give the base- liner time to recover. It is Johnston's great straight volley that makes him such a dangerous net man. He is always "punching" his volley straight and hard to the opening in his opponent's court.

A net player must have ground strokes in order to attain the net position. Do not think that a service and volley will suffice against first-class tennis.

I am not a believer in the "centre" theory. Briefly expressed the centre theory is to hit down the middle of the court and follow to the net, since the other player has the smallest angle to pass you. That is true, but remember that he has an equal angle on either side and, given good ground strokes, an equal chance to pass with only your guess or intention to tell you which side he will choose.

I advise hitting to the side-line with good length and following up to the net, coming in just to the centre side of the straight returns down the line. Thus the natural shot is covered and your opponent's court is opened for an angle volley 'cross. Should your opponent try the cross drive, his chances of beating you clean and keeping the ball in court are much less than his chances of error.

Strive to kill your volleys at once, but should your shot not win, follow the ball 'cross and again cover the straight shot. Always force the man striving to pass you to play the hardest possible shot.

Attack with your volleys. Never defend the ball when at the net. The only defensive volley is one at your feet as you come in. It is a mid-court shot. Volleys should win with placement more than speed, although speed may be used on a high volley.

Closely related to the volley, yet in no way a volley stroke, is the overhead smash. It is the Big Bertha of tennis. It is the long range terror that should always score. The rules of footwork, position, and direction that govern the volley will suffice for the overhead. The swing alone is different. The swing should be closely allied to the slice service, the racquet and arm swinging freely from the shoulder, the wrist flexible and the racquet imparting a slight twist to the ball to hold it in court. The overhead is mainly a point winner through speed, since its bounce is so high that a slow placement often allows time for a recovery.

The overhead is about 60 per cent speed, and 40 per cent combined place and twist. Any overhead shot taken on or within the service-line should be killed. Any overhead, behind the service-line, and back to the baseline, should be defended and put back deep to, allow you another advance to the net.

The average overhead shot that is missed is netted. Therefore hit deep. It is a peculiar fact that over 75 per cent of all errors are nets with only 25 per cent outs. Let this be a constant reminder to you of the fact that all ground strokes should have a clear margin of safety of some 8 inches to a foot above the net, except when attempting to pass a very active volleyer. In the latter case the shot mu

st be low, and the attendant risk is compensated by the increased chances of winning the point with a pass.

Do not leap in the air unnecessarily to hit overhead balls. Keep at least one foot, and when possible both feet, on the ground in smashing, as it aids in regulating the weight, and gives better balance. Hit flat and decisively to the point if desired.

Most missed overhead shots are due to the eye leaving the ball; but a second class of errors are due to lack of confidence that gives a cramped, half- hearted swing. Follow through your overhead shot to the limit of your swing.

The overhead is essentially a doubles shot, because in singles the chances of passing the net man are greater than lobbing over his head, while in doubles two men cover the net so easily that the best way to open the court is to lob one man back.

In smashing, the longest distance is the safest shot since it allows a greater margin of error. Therefore smash 'cross court when pressed, but pull your short lobs either side as determined by the man you are playing.

Never drop a lob you can hit overhead, as it forces you back and gives the attacking position to your opponent. Never smash with a reverse twist, always hit with a straight racquet face and direct to the opening.

Closely connected to the overhead since it is the usual defence to any hard smash, is the lob.

A lob is a high toss of the ball landing between the service-line and the baseline. An excellent lob should be within 6 feet of the baseline.

Lobs are essentially defensive. The ideas in lobbing are: (1) to give yourself time to recover position when pulled out of court by your opponent's shot; (2) to drive back the net man and break up his attack; (3) to tire your opponent; (4) occasionally to, win cleanly by placement. This is usually a lob volley from a close net rally, and is a slightly different stroke.

There is (1) the chop lob, a heavily under-cut spin that hangs in the air. This, is the best defensive lob, as it goes high and gives plenty of time to recover position. (2) The stroke lob or flat lob, hit with a slight top spin. This is the point-winning lob since it gives no time to, the player to run around it, as it is lower and faster than the chop. In making this lob, start your swing like a drive, but allow the racquet to slow up and the face to tilt upward just as you meet the ball. This, shot should seldom go above 10 feet in the air, since it tends to go out with the float of the ball.

The chop lob, which is a decided under cut, should rise from 20 to 30 feet, or more, high and must go deep. It is better to lob out and run your opponent back, thus tiring him, than to lob short and give him confidence by an easy kill. The value of a lob is mainly one of upsetting your opponent, and its effects are very apparent if you unexpectedly bring off one at the crucial period of a match.

I owe one of my most notable victories to a very timely and somewhat lucky lob. I was playing Norman E. Brookes in the fifth round of the American Championships at Forest Hills, in 1919. The score stood one set all, 3-2 and 30-15, Brookes serving. In a series of driving returns from his forehand to my backhand, he suddenly switched and pounded the ball to my forehand corner and rushed to the net. I knew Brookes crowded the net, and with 40-15 or 30-all at stake on my shot, I took a chance and tossed the ball up in the air over Brookes' head. It was not a great lob, but it was a good one. For once Brookes was caught napping, expecting a drive down the line. He hesitated, then turned and chased the ball to the back stop, missing it on his return. I heard him grunt as he turned, and knew that he was badly winded. He missed his volley off my return of the next service, and I led at 30-40. The final point of the game came when he again threw me far out of court on my forehand, and, expecting the line drive again, crowded the net, only to have the ball rise in the air over his head. He made a desperate effort at recovery, but failed, and the game was mine: 3-all. It proved the turning-point in the match, for it not only tired Brookes, but it forced him to hang back a little from the net so as to protect his overhead, so that his net attack weakened opportunely, and I was able to nose out the match in 4 sets.

Another famous match won by a lob was the Johnston-Kingscote Davis Cup Match at Wimbledon, in 1920. The score stood 2 sets all, and 5-3 Kingscote leading with Kingscote serving and the score 30-all. Johnston served and ran in. Kingscote drove sharply down Johnston's forehand side-line. Johnston made a remarkable recovery with a half volley, putting the ball high in the air and seemingly outside. A strong wind was blowing down the court and caught the ball and held its flight. It fell on the baseline. Kingscote made a remarkable recovery with a fine lob that forced Johnston back. Kingscote took the net and volleyed decisively to Johnston's backhand. Johnston again lobbed, and by a freak of coincidence the ball fell on the baseline within a foot of his previous shot. Kingscote again lobbed in return, but this time short, and Johnston killed it. Johnston ran out the game in the next two points.

If a shot can win two such matches as these, it is a shot worth learning to use, and knowing when to use. The lob is one of the most useful and skilful shots in tennis. It is a great defence and a fine attack.

The strokes already analysed, drive, service, volley, overhead and lob, are the orthodox strokes of tennis, and should be at every player's command. These are the framework of your game. Yet no house is complete with framework alone. There are certain trimmings, ornaments, and decorations necessary. There are the luxuries of modern improvements, and tennis boasts of such improvements in the modern game.

Among the luxuries, some say the eccentricities, of the modern game one finds (1) the chop stroke, (2) the slice stroke (a close relative), (3) the drop shot, (4) the half-volley or "trap" shot.

All these shots have their use. None should be considered a stock shot.

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