Playing the Serve and Volleyer

The best defense against a good serve and volleyer (S&V) is a good offense, right at the beginning of a match. Many S&V players will abandon their game abruptly if early percentages are not in their favor. Still, assuming a relentless S&V attack, unpredictability is the returner’s biggest asset. Whereas balance and patterns are the S&V staple, the returner must vary crosscourt slices, power down the lines, drives at the feet, and high looping returns to the backhand overhead. Lobs at the beginning of a match serve the same purpose as body punches in the early rounds of a prizefight. They fatigue a player quickly and may slow his approach to the net, opening up room for crosscourt returns and passes. Often though, lob returns are better utilized late in a match when fatigue has already set in and the serve has slowed down a bit. Additionally, down the line returns early in the match, will slow a player's progress to the net, leaving the crosscourt return more available late in the match, when pressures mount and high percentage tactics become more desirable. A slow S&V player is vulnerable to the crosscourt return as it leaves angles in front of them. A fast one is vulnerable down the lines as their vertical speed makes lateral movement more difficult. Proximity to the net also dictates the form of the passing shot. If the volleyer is too close, it means hit down the line or lob, too far means pass with an angle or dipping shots at the feet. Lastly, the most obvious play is to play the weaker volley side when in trouble or on big points, or you might even set up your opponent to hit the first volley to your better passing shot side. Most S&V players develop a pattern on critical points over their career and this should be studied prior to match-play, as foreknowledge will lead to easily predicted ploys and a greater ability to win the big points.

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