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Playing against a Volleyer

Q. I am 15 and play in many Challenger 1 tournaments both singles and doubles. I usually do pretty well but in singles I always seem to have trouble with players that go to net all the time. I was wondering if you know the best ways to win a point when your opponent is at the net and you are at the baseline.

A. First of all, determine whether or not your opponent is a competent volleyer. When he rushes the net against you, hit the ball to (or at) him. He may miss it or pop the ball up with no pace. If he is not effective at the net, then you do not need to do anything special when he rushes forward.

Now, if he handles the volley like a professional, then you should make sure to hit your passing shot lower (ideally with topspin, so that the ball dips while crossing the net) and harder. Many errors occur against net-rushers because players feel rushed when hitting a passing shot. Instead, pick your spots and then execute the shot. Lastly, mix in offensive lobs occasionally to keep the net-rusher honest and, at least, further from the net. (And, if they have a crummy overhead, then you can lob more frequently).

Q. I play my dad on a weekly basis, and he is an exceptional serve-and-volley player. When he gets to the net, I feel like I have no chance. What tactics should I pursue to beat him or at least be more competitive?

A. 1. Vary your position when returning serve so that he gets different “looks” from you. If you return from the same area all the time, he will grow comfortable.

2. Get the returns or passing shots low so that he needs to volley up on the ball. He may miss more frequently, and even if he doesn’t then you will have more time to hit your passing shot(s).

3. Hit some passing shots hard (and sometimes at him), and hit others with a lot of topspin on the ball. By varying your shots, you will disrupt his rhythm.

4. Lob occasionally. I am referring to offensive (usually topspin) lobs. Do not overuse this tactic; wait until he is getting a little too close to the net for your comfort, and then lob over his head.

5. Try to beat him to the net yourself. In other words, take away his territory before he gets there.

Q. One of the players at my club will sometimes charge an opposing player that is about to hit a 'sitter' near the net. If he has enough time he'll duck behind the net at the last second and stick up his racquet. This seems like a deliberate hindrance especially if the opposing player's follow through crosses the net. Have you seen this?

A. I have occasionally seen this kamikaze approach. It borders on the insane, but I have seen it work. A mean-spirited opponent could choose to nail the ball and really injure the “charger.”

There was one instance where it worked perfectly and this tactic produced one of the greatest shots in history. The Bryan Brothers were playing Max “the Beast” Mirnyi and Jonas Bjorkman. Near the end of a great point, the Bryans hit a ball that clipped the net and bounced straight up and landed in the doubles alley. The left-handed Bob Bryan momentarily acted like he was getting out of the way, even though he was nearly on top of the net. As the Beast started winding up to hit a backhand into the open court, Bob Bryan moved forward and took a full-bore swing on his forehand volley (in fact, it looked like he actually started his swing even before the Beast started to address the ball). Mirnyi seemed spooked and let up ever so slightly on his attempt, and Bob Bryan timed the ball perfectly in the middle of his strings for a miraculous and emphatic winner.

I would not advise anyone else to try this without a significant life insurance policy however.

Q. I'm a 3.0 player wanting to advance to 3.5 and I've noticed how effective poaching is in doubles matches. I personally am not great at poaching, so what are some ways I can defend against the poachers on the other side of the net?

A. How to defend against effective “poachers”?

1- Hit down the alley during the first few return games to “keep them honest.”

2- When you are off balance or rushed, hit a defensive lob. This is very effective, especially at the 3.0-3.5 level.

3- When they DO poach, maintain your poise. As long as you execute your shot properly, the burden will still be on them to play an effective volley.

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