The Perspective of Serve and Volley in Modern Tennis

We have discussed  why serve and volley is unpopular among modern players in the article Is serve and volley still alive?

Pete Sampras 196x300 - The Perspective of Serve and Volley in Modern TennisOne blog’s reader said: “To serve and volley at the professional level (and be successful) an individual would have to have beyond super human reflexes, reaction time, hand-eye coordination, and speed/quickness to deal with the tennis balls traveling 110 mph’s off a ground stroke or a ball that has 2,500 RPM (Roger Federer’s) to 5,000 RPM (Rafael Nadal’s).

One could argue that the pros do already have some of those characteristics and I agree some do. However, to serve volley (and be successful) the player must have double or even triple that amount of “super human” talent that exists on the tour today. It physically is not possible at this day and age to do so.”

I asked a tennis coach to express his opinion about the perspective of serve and volley.

“I heard the same arguments almost thirty years ago, when the person who was destined to become the greatest serve and volley player of all time was still a baselines with a two-handed backhand. It’s just not true.

What is true is that the ball crosses the net in both directions faster, in general, than it did a generation ago. The slower court helps the receiver more than the server because the volley is played before the bounce. But Yannick Noah won the French on clay and Pete Sampras the Australian on Rebound-Ace playing serve and volley. And I doubt that returners today are any better than Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, or Bjorn Borg.

What is also true is that serve and volley is difficult to learn. The truly great players of this type of game in the modern era, Sampras, Rafter, and Edberg at least, and probably John McEnroe and Boris Becker, all started off as ground strokers and then learned serve and volley.

That’s like telling a student to learn fluent French, and then pick up fluent Chinese in high school. And they have to give up the two-handed backhand if that is how they started. It isn’t easy, and if they want to turn professional at seventeen, it isn’t even possible.

Sadly, there aren’t any role models for what used to be called “the big game.” Sampras and Rafter had Edberg, Becker, and McEnroe. They in turn had Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Stanley Smith and Arthur Ashe. Tim Henman, the best serve and volleyer post-Sampras, might have been the twentieth best in the sixties.

Likewise the coaches aren’t familiar with the game anymore. They make their living by getting quick results, and learning to play the net doesn’t come quickly.

I tell my players that after they learn to serve, and after they learn to volley, it will take two years to put it together. Nobody has that kind of time anymore.

I do agree that the serve and volleyer has to be a superb athlete, and new technology permits ordinary athletes to win majors. But great athletes like Roger Federer and Serena Williams will still win their share of titles, and while Martina Navratilova may not return, some girl may look at videos of her, as Pete Sampras did of Rod Laver, and say, “I’d like to do that.”

What do you think about the perspective of serve and volley in modern tennis?

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The Perspective of Serve and Volley in Modern Tennis — 3 Comments

  1. The reason it’s so hard now is the extreme short angle pass nowadays. Before if you pushed a guy behind the baseline, he didn’t have a lot of angle. You could cover the line and a good cross passing shot would be somewhere near the corner the service box. Now it’s halfway up the service box and you’ve got to shade that way especially on an approach to the forehand. Well now you’ve given up too much space the line too.

  2. Tennis over many generations and periods of time will always find a way to adapt, change, create, construct new methods to do this game. During the ‘big serves era’ (Sampras, Becker etc ) there were calls to take pressure out of the ball so the receiver had a chance and the spectators could see a rally … along came Andre and others that worked out how to increase reflex and techniques to cope, and they did. Volleys will also return to the game, with new thoughts and methods – such as removing the split step and learning the right lines to move forward, plus the selection of the right time (which has not changed) to move in. You don’t have to look far to see the development of this in the ‘engine tennis’ programs around the world and in my own backyard of Melbourne. Will happen and will be exciting !