Improve your net game Part II
Former ATP pro and now coach Simon Youl returns with part II of his insights into how to improve your net game.
There are three zones that a player will transition through when moving forward (closing in) for volleys and overheads. It’s very important that a player is always moving forward after each volley and ready to apply the brakes to back it up or anticipate a lob.
Being too close to the net when you have not put the ball away you are always going to be vulnerable to the lob. Your major movement goal is to dissect the passing angles and close off the space between zones two and one, therefore creating more passing/lobbing pressure for your opponent.
This is behind the service line to just inside the service line.
This is the next movement position midway inside the service boxes.
This is closing right on top of the net for the easy give put away.
When and where is the best approach tactically? Here are your options:
Firstly, it’s very important to work on your shot selection in choosing which ball to commit towards an approach shot and transition towards the net.
A player must have complete understanding of their court positioning – whether it’s defensive, neutral or offensive. You need to get yourself inside the baseline to attempt good tactical net play, so playing too far behind the baseline won’t achieve this outcome.
Developing a weapon or a pattern of play that constructs this opportunity and then choosing your type of approach shot, whether it is a slice or drive, making sure that you are comfortable with your transition zone will promote development in this area.
Tactically you should approach to a player’s weakness and percentage wise you should predominantly come in down the line, thus reducing the passing angle and taking time away from your opponent.
If you feel you can penetrate through the crosscourt based on your opponent’s recovery and court position, this can be an exception to the rule. The height of ball bounce and distance from the net at contact can also have a bearing on choosing to go through the crosscourt or open court. Always remember the closer you get to the net the more angles you can use and more time you can take away from your opponent.
Your presence and speed of movement towards the net is one of the most important things tactically as you can intimidate and create enormous pressure by taking time and space away from your opponent. Without this you can be a sitting duck.
Don’t be deterred if you are passed early in a match while applying net tactics – rather, keep asking your opponent “can you keep this up” and see what transpires when points become tighter in the set. This is where the mental game of applying net tactics unfolds.
1. Have the correct volleying and smashing grips in place early in your development.
2. Practise your volleys and overheads whenever you can against a wall.
3. Know where to approach tactically and also know your opponent’s passing/lobbing options.
4. Work on your approach shot using your weapon, know your transitional zone from net and work on your intimidating speed, movement and balance.
5. Practise your volleys moving through volley zone one then to two and don’t spend all day in any one position.
6. Have a strong shaping focus of eliminating net for desired trajectory and solid consistency.
7. Keep a strong base, with your legs flexed and balanced throughout your volley as your weight is transferred forward through the shot.
8. Keep your eyes and head position still focused through ball contact position until completion of follow through.
9. Learn to blade your racquet head through the ball and hold your follow through as a lawn bowler holds their finish with a guided hand. You can still make forward movement while this is occurring. This gives you mastery over racquet head control to target. Balance is the key and your non-dominant hand plays a big part here.
10. Use your net game as a weapon, a mix-up tactic, a tempo changer, a constant pressure builder, a weakness attacker, a bluff, a score response, a confidence builder, a time and space taker, a point shortener, an energy saver, a baseline weakness coverer, a sneaker inner, a surpriser, a short ball responder and most importantly, developing yourself as an all-rounder.
11. Play doubles and be challenged by the opportunities that arise for developing your net game.
12. Apply your net game at given times according to the score to create pressure and make sure you venture to the net early in a match if this is your tactical intent as it will be harder to execute your net play later in a match when things get tighter.
13. Work on your physical conditioning, speed and agility to allow you to move forward and back for overheads and laterally at net with lightning speed, response and balance time and time again.
14. When you are warming up your ground strokes we have a culture of just hitting ground strokes for minutes on end and then taking volleys. Why not take the first short ball, practise your approach shot transition and play a couple of volleys then move back. And repeat that again, there’s plenty of time to get grooved on the baseline.
15. Dead ball feeding to practise approaching and transitioning compared to the outcomes of live ball situations are miles apart. The live ball is the only way you are going to develop this part of your game totally effectively tactically as you need your senses providing feedback in response to situations created by both you and your opponent. Take a holistic approach (technically, tactically, physically, mentally) to developing your net game.
For more tips from the experts on how to improve your game, check out the latest edition of Australian Tennis Magazine.
Simon Youl competed on the ATP Tour for 13 years and has been a coach for the past 12 years. He is now a National Coach based in Tasmania and is a Tennis Australia High Performance qualified coach.