Volleying Advice

Bender

G.O.A.T.
So lately my volleying skills have regressed badly and I'm either framing the ball, or hitting the volley too soft, or hitting the volley hard but too short.

The main problem that I have identified is that when I'm playing doubles (and doubles specifically), when I'm the netman, as a righty, I step backwards with my right foot as I hit the volley rather than stepping forwards with my left foot, therefore dumping the volley into the net or hitting it way long. Similar story with my BH volley, where my body leans backwards instead of forwards, which causes the volley to have too much slice and sail out. I don't step backwards on my BH volleys though...my feet just end up being anchored to the floor.

The funny thing is that when I'm practising volleys (ie hitting partner on the baseline, I'm volleying), my technique is actually mostly fine. I'm doing my split steps, I'm stepping into the shots (mostly), my takebacks start and finish in front of my body, etc etc. My BH volleys are a little suspect--still slicing down too much and not moving into the ball as much as I should (but I'm beginning to suspect that this may have to do with a shoulder injury that I can't seem to get rid of), but I'm working on that separately. I might switch to a 2H BH volley to fix this for the time being, since I always move forwards out of habit on my 2HBHs, and I don't have to use my right shoulder as much.

But the moment I play an actual set, I'm leaning backwards on almost all my volleys, as if I'm somehow surprised that the ball is coming my way--even when I am expecting the ball to come my way. I can see the attempted pass from a million miles away, and yet I'm still somehow finding myself reacting to the pass instead of being proactive. One other thing I've noticed is that I have some serious issues being able to track the ball at net during doubles, which just doesn't happen during practice. I'm guessing this is because during practice, I know the balls will always be hit my way, whereas during a set, there's a lot more guesswork involved, and I have to track my opponents as well. Certainly doesn't help that I've been clocked in the face more than once by my overzealous opponents, but no issue there since they don't actually mean to hit me, and it's part of the game.

So my question is this: does anyone have advice on how to get out of this nasty habit / utter lack of confidence when at the net? I just need to be able to force myself into stepping forwards into all my volleys first and foremost. I feel like once I can do that, then the other issues might become easier.

The crazy thing is that I actually was doing pretty well at net just a month or two ago, making most of my volleys, covering the net well, stepping into most of my shots, and then suddenly, this...
 
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Deleted member 23235

Guest
"touch my nose to the ball" was my cue/phrase for reminding myself to be so aggressive attacking the contact point for a volley, that it should feel like i'm putting my nose into the path of the volley.
follow the ball intently into the opponents racquet
presume every ball is coming to you (which will get tiring if you're not in shape because you wil then be split stepping and moving on every shot - even if you never hit a single ball)
i'm looking to poach every ball... making a move to poach EVERY time (yup gets tiring if you're not in shape)

like most folks, you probably just stand lazily flat footed at the net,
 

LeeD

Bionic Poster
You got the "yips", reacting away from the ball, instead of in with aggression.
So, work on it in practice. Have your partner feed you progressively faster balls, you putting them away deep and solid before the next faster stage arrives.
Volleying is an aggressive mindset, so YOU end the point on that shot. Don't prolong the point by being defensive and just getting the ball back over the net.
 
The surprise factor is because in practice you always get the ball and in matches you don't. Two ways to address thus:

- alter your practice so that there are two of you at net

- in matches, assume every ball is yours

These two changes in concert should go a long way to fixing the surprise issue.
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
Sounds to me like you're either blind as a bat or your ready position really really sucks. Hit in the face more than once?
Yeah, pretty much all of those were because my partner who was receiving serve / rallying hit a floater down the middle, and the opposing netman (over)zealously hit a quasi-overhead / swinging volley off of it on the poach, but wasn't able to control the ball well enough to land it at my feet or behind me, so it flew at my face at 80 mph.

One incident that I can remember, my coach who has a taste for the dramatic hit a running scissor kick forehand from inside the service box then hit me in the stomach by accident. He was actually aiming it down the middle but hit it too early. I also had my racquet hit out of my hands by my partner who was serving just yesterday, but that was just an accident.

Edit: But I will say that my depth perception is horrible at night...tracking the ball on groundstrokes is hard enough as it is, even with contact lenses in.
 
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Bender

G.O.A.T.
The surprise factor is because in practice you always get the ball and in matches you don't. Two ways to address thus:

- alter your practice so that there are two of you at net

- in matches, assume every ball is yours

These two changes in concert should go a long way to fixing the surprise issue.
I figured that might be the case. Usually when I am able to do a volley to volley drill, my volleys become much better. Perhaps it's a matter of not having warmed up because I'm convinced that I'm not a natural at net.

Yesterday, I forced myself to throw myself forward at the ball regardless of confidence and managed to make clean contact a few times. When I didn't do that, and hit reaction volleys, I stuffed up as usual, so I'm thinking that even when I'm expecting the ball, I'm not moving forward to intercept it like I should. So there's some progress.
 
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Chadillac

Guest
I step backwards with my right foot as I hit the volley rather than stepping forwards with my left foot, therefore dumping the volley into the net or hitting it way long.
I volley differently than you do. I put no focus on my footwork.

Stand on your toe's. Rotate your torso 90 degree's, you should naturally fall to the proper foot. Rotating to the left on the backhand, pulls the right landing foot. Its kind of like serving, you dont force the back leg around, just land on it.

The worst thing you can do is try on volleys (unless easy ones)

"So lately my volleying skills have regressed badly and I'm either framing the ball, or hitting the volley too soft, or hitting the volley hard but too short."

I actually aim for the 9oclock part of the frame when im missing hitting, instead of the sweet spot (little bit of downward motion on mine). Sometimes your just not seeing the ball or concentrating (tired).

Volley to soft or hard and short are usually early contact point. Are you meeting the ball like a ground stroke or catching it late?
 
Yeah, pretty much all of those were because my partner who was receiving serve hit a floater of a return down the middle, and the opposing netman (over)zealously hit a quasi-overhead / swinging volley off of it on the poach, but didn't control the ball well enough to land it at my feet, so it flew at my face at 80 mph.

Edit: But I will say that my depth perception is horrible at night...tracking the ball on groundstrokes is hard enough as it is, even with contact lenses in.
I was trying to be funny before but what you're describing is not funny at all. Jerks like the guy who hit that ball at you when you are basically defenseless are dangerous. In that situation usually good players can judge how to hit a winner without hitting right at somebody but the real stupid ones think it is okay just to hit the ball as hard as they can and just aim it over the net somewhere. They will invariably blame it on their lack of tennis skills, but really it's a matter of lack of basic intelligence, imho.
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
I volley differently than you do. I put no focus on my footwork.

Stand on your toe's. Rotate your torso 90 degree's, you should naturally fall to the proper foot. Rotating to the left on the backhand, pulls the right landing foot. Its kind of like serving, you dont force the back leg around, just land on it.

The worst thing you can do is try on volleys (unless easy ones)

"So lately my volleying skills have regressed badly and I'm either framing the ball, or hitting the volley too soft, or hitting the volley hard but too short."

I actually aim for the 9oclock part of the frame when im missing hitting, instead of the sweet spot (little bit of downward motion on mine). Sometimes your just not seeing the ball or concentrating (tired).

Volley to soft or hard and short are usually early contact point. Are you meeting the ball like a ground stroke or catching it late?
Thanks for your advice. Keeping on my toes is something I'm trying hard to do all the time. Almost there, but not quite there yet, but I have the motivation--whenever I am on my toes, my groundstrokes and knee bend kick in together, allowing me to do almost what I want with my groundstrokes compared to when I'm stomping around the court flat footed.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by rotating my torso 90 degrees though...can you clarify? Do you mean rotate 90 degrees in the short follow-through on my volleys? I will try anything and everything anyone suggests on this thread, since I'm the worst volleyer I know. I'll also think about aiming at 9 o'clock as well. I added 6 g lead tape at 3 and 9 o'clock on my racquets as well because the twistweight is too low and my racquet spins around in my hands whenever I hit even slightly off centre, so that will help too.

In terms of contact point...it's the inverse of what you'd expect. I think I'm making contact too early when volleying faster balls, and making contact too late when volleying soft balls.

One way I've managed to fix the latter is to hit the volleys harder on the soft balls, but my natural instinct when dealing with soft balls is to hit a drop volley, which I'm not even good at, and is in most cases poor shot selection. Too much tendency to fight fire with fire when I play.

The worst thing you can do is try on volleys (unless easy ones)
Not sure what you mean by this?
 
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Chadillac

Guest
Thanks for your advice. Keeping on my toes is something I'm trying hard to do all the time. Almost there, but not quite there yet, but I have the motivation--whenever I am on my toes, my groundstrokes and knee bend kick in together, allowing me to do almost what I want with my groundstrokes compared to when I'm stomping around the court flat footed.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by rotating my torso 90 degrees though...can you clarify? Do you mean rotate 90 degrees in the short follow-through on my volleys? I will try anything and everything anyone suggests on this thread, since I'm the worst volleyer I know. I'll also think about aiming at 9 o'clock as well. I added 6 g lead tape at 3 and 9 o'clock on my racquets as well because the twistweight is too low and my racquet spins around in my hands whenever I hit even slightly off centre, so that will help too.

In terms of contact point...it's the inverse of what you'd expect. I think I'm making contact too early when volleying faster balls, and making contact too late when volleying soft balls.

One way I've managed to fix the latter is to hit the volleys harder on the soft balls, but my natural instinct when dealing with soft balls is to hit a drop volley, which I'm not even good at, and is in most cases poor shot selection. Too much tendency to fight fire with fire when I play.


Not sure what you mean by this?
Lock your elbows to your side, rotate your torso 90 degrees, racket will be facing the side wall/or fence if on court (max take back on hard volleys). Notice how you naturally fall to the proper side.

You have heard of quicksand in tennis, trying hard on your volleys is the epidome.

Early contact on hard is easy to fix. Your doing it wrong, but the hard way :)
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
Lock your elbows to your side, rotate your torso 90 degrees, racket will be facing the side wall/or fence if on court (max take back on hard volleys). Notice how you naturally fall to the proper side.
Oh right, got it, rotate torso 90 degrees during takeback? I finally fixed my issue of elbow moving around a few months ago, so I guess it's just a matter of rotating my torso more during the takeback. I'm pretty sure I rotate my torso maybe 45 degrees max, so I will give this a shot.
You have heard of quicksand in tennis, trying hard on your volleys is the epidome.
I actually have not heard of quicksand in tennis...can you explain? haha
Early contact on hard is easy to fix. Your doing it wrong, but the hard way :)
I am trying to see the bright side of things, and I agree that this is the one good thing to take out of this!

Thanks again
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
I was trying to be funny before but what you're describing is not funny at all. Jerks like the guy who hit that ball at you when you are basically defenseless are dangerous. In that situation usually good players can judge how to hit a winner without hitting right at somebody but the real stupid ones think it is okay just to hit the ball as hard as they can and just aim it over the net somewhere. They will invariably blame it on their lack of tennis skills, but really it's a matter of lack of basic intelligence, imho.
I don't take it too harshly to be honest, the group I play with, they all hit pretty hard and all of us are trying to improve as much as we can by developing control when playing with pace, though I agree that it would have sufficed in that case to just pop the ball behind me since I wouldn't have been able to return his volley anyway.

I've since moved my position back a bit during return games (no man's land on first serves, and just behind service line on second serves) just to buy myself some time and practice my bullet dodging skills.

I used to stand a ft inside the service box and halfway up the service box on first and second serves before since I know the players I hit with are aggressive on serve returns. As far as net play goes, I'm even more useless with this new positioning but at least it's lowering my insurance premiums. But really that just means that I gotta improve my transition volleys, if anything!
 
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Chadillac

Guest
I actually have not heard of quicksand in tennis...can you explain? haha
The harder your try, the faster you sink. Aka, stay calm under pressure.

I always turn my body before taking the racket back, even on ground strokes, then lay back. You gotta turn anyways and this takes the racket half way, its nice on deep hard shots, fast compact motion.
 

kiteboard

Banned
Most people think of relaxing as being calm and not tense. And you can gauge the shots coming at you, so determine who you are, how far back you have to stand to relax during your shot. Full speed and uncoil only comes with a ninja full relaxed coil.
 
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Chadillac

Guest
I was trying to be funny before but what you're describing is not funny at all. Jerks like the guy who hit that ball at you when you are basically defenseless are dangerous.
Ive had people serve at me while at net. Only in tournaments though.

Work on your fall back, you should never be in danger in mixed. Call them out, can even pull the "not playing with this guy" and kill the fun of the two women. Address that it is a social event and this guy is taking it too far, makes him look really bad when presented properly (woman feels bad cause she set you up etc).

Addressing the issue is something people should do more on the court. Being direct is also intimidating for them, they know they are cheating and doing other stuff :)
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
The harder your try, the faster you sink. Aka, stay calm under pressure.

I always turn my body before taking the racket back, even on ground strokes, then lay back. You gotta turn anyways and this takes the racket half way, its nice on deep hard shots, fast compact motion.
Ah, right, got it. I like the analogy...will implement next time I get on court. It does seem quite clear to me now that that I may not coiling enough on volleys.
 

WesternCK

Rookie
Think about transferring your weight from your right foot to your left foot rather than just stepping forward with the left. If your weight is on your right foot as the shot is coming to your forehand side, all you need to do is transfer your weight to your left foot.

On the other hand, you should be able to make some some volleys while standing pat on balls that have pace coming to you but I agree that stepping back on volleys is a nasty habit that can lead to a lot of mistakes.
 
Rather than alter your technique with shots coming in at full speed, you might try practicing with slower shots so you can solidify the technique first.
 

fuzz nation

G.O.A.T.
Volleying effectively is a tricky animal compared with hitting groundstrokes. At the baseline, we only split-step with both hands on the racquet in an ideal ready position. After the ball is struck, we quickly execute a unit turn and move to the hitting zone. This movement is generally lateral and we typically make that baseline split-step with our weight balanced over our feet.

At the net, we need to perform this split-step differently - with forward momentum already happening so that we can more quickly turn to the appropriate side and lean through a sharp volley. Even if the ball doesn't come to us, we still need to be moving forward into that split-step each time an opponent hits the ball. That forward lean needs to already be happening so that if the ball comes to us and we can volley it, we have the forward momentum needed to drive the volley.

Even if a volley demands moving sideways to reach a ball, we still want to move diagonally forward through the shot. If you're pushing the racquet out ahead of you at the ball ("ahead" meaning toward the net, not out in front of your chest), that has no drive behind it. The racquet dies as soon as the arm(s) goes straight.

You'll probably feel a little more hyperactive with your feet when you're doing this right. At the baseline, we constantly use footwork to get to the ball during a rally. At the net in a doubles match though, we routinely need active footwork to constantly reset and cue up for our volleys, whether the ball comes our way or not.
 
Volleying effectively is a tricky animal compared with hitting groundstrokes. At the baseline, we only split-step with both hands on the racquet in an ideal ready position. After the ball is struck, we quickly execute a unit turn and move to the hitting zone. This movement is generally lateral and we typically make that baseline split-step with our weight balanced over our feet.

At the net, we need to perform this split-step differently - with forward momentum already happening so that we can more quickly turn to the appropriate side and lean through a sharp volley. Even if the ball doesn't come to us, we still need to be moving forward into that split-step each time an opponent hits the ball. That forward lean needs to already be happening so that if the ball comes to us and we can volley it, we have the forward momentum needed to drive the volley.

Even if a volley demands moving sideways to reach a ball, we still want to move diagonally forward through the shot. If you're pushing the racquet out ahead of you at the ball ("ahead" meaning toward the net, not out in front of your chest), that has no drive behind it. The racquet dies as soon as the arm(s) goes straight.

You'll probably feel a little more hyperactive with your feet when you're doing this right. At the baseline, we constantly use footwork to get to the ball during a rally. At the net in a doubles match though, we routinely need active footwork to constantly reset and cue up for our volleys, whether the ball comes our way or not.
I think "volleying is a tricky animal" because many tend to overcomplicate it with a lot of arm/elbow/wrist movement. Theoretically, the volley should be way simpler than a GS because you don't have as much trouble clearing the net and you don't have to hit it 70+ feet. But people try cutting under it so it bounces back on their side, attempt sick angles, or try to punch the ball through the back fence.
 

fuzz nation

G.O.A.T.
I think "volleying is a tricky animal" because many tend to overcomplicate it with a lot of arm/elbow/wrist movement. Theoretically, the volley should be way simpler than a GS because you don't have as much trouble clearing the net and you don't have to hit it 70+ feet. But people try cutting under it so it bounces back on their side, attempt sick angles, or try to punch the ball through the back fence.
Yep. Sometimes the first thing to reinforce when teaching good volley habits is the idea of learning to do less.
 
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Deleted member 120290

Guest
Lots of good advice on volleying in this thread. One thing that I had to learn/re-learn going from playing mostly singles to doubles is that the strategy and mindset are a little different. In singles I try to put away the volley on the first or at least second shot. In doubles since there are 2 of us at the net, I don't have to be so aggressive. Also hitting outright winners are tougher since there are 2 defenders. In doubles I try to keep the ball low so that my partner or I can put away a high ball or the opponents hit the ball into the net or out.
 
So lately my volleying skills have regressed badly and I'm either framing the ball, or hitting the volley too soft, or hitting the volley hard but too short.

The main problem that I have identified is that when I'm playing doubles (and doubles specifically), when I'm the netman, as a righty, I step backwards with my right foot as I hit the volley rather than stepping forwards with my left foot, therefore dumping the volley into the net or hitting it way long. Similar story with my BH volley, where my body leans backwards instead of forwards, which causes the volley to have too much slice and sail out. I don't step backwards on my BH volleys though...my feet just end up being anchored to the floor.

The funny thing is that when I'm practising volleys (ie hitting partner on the baseline, I'm volleying), my technique is actually mostly fine. I'm doing my split steps, I'm stepping into the shots (mostly), my takebacks start and finish in front of my body, etc etc. My BH volleys are a little suspect--still slicing down too much and not moving into the ball as much as I should (but I'm beginning to suspect that this may have to do with a shoulder injury that I can't seem to get rid of), but I'm working on that separately. I might switch to a 2H BH volley to fix this for the time being, since I always move forwards out of habit on my 2HBHs, and I don't have to use my right shoulder as much.

But the moment I play an actual set, I'm leaning backwards on almost all my volleys, as if I'm somehow surprised that the ball is coming my way--even when I am expecting the ball to come my way. I can see the attempted pass from a million miles away, and yet I'm still somehow finding myself reacting to the pass instead of being proactive. One other thing I've noticed is that I have some serious issues being able to track the ball at net during doubles, which just doesn't happen during practice. I'm guessing this is because during practice, I know the balls will always be hit my way, whereas during a set, there's a lot more guesswork involved, and I have to track my opponents as well. Certainly doesn't help that I've been clocked in the face more than once by my overzealous opponents, but no issue there since they don't actually mean to hit me, and it's part of the game.

So my question is this: does anyone have advice on how to get out of this nasty habit / utter lack of confidence when at the net? I just need to be able to force myself into stepping forwards into all my volleys first and foremost. I feel like once I can do that, then the other issues might become easier.

The crazy thing is that I actually was doing pretty well at net just a month or two ago, making most of my volleys, covering the net well, stepping into most of my shots, and then suddenly, this...
Practicing at the right distance from the net and being comfortable will help.
 

movdqa

Talk Tennis Guru
So lately my volleying skills have regressed badly and I'm either framing the ball, or hitting the volley too soft, or hitting the volley hard but too short.

The main problem that I have identified is that when I'm playing doubles (and doubles specifically), when I'm the netman, as a righty, I step backwards with my right foot as I hit the volley rather than stepping forwards with my left foot, therefore dumping the volley into the net or hitting it way long. Similar story with my BH volley, where my body leans backwards instead of forwards, which causes the volley to have too much slice and sail out. I don't step backwards on my BH volleys though...my feet just end up being anchored to the floor.

The funny thing is that when I'm practising volleys (ie hitting partner on the baseline, I'm volleying), my technique is actually mostly fine. I'm doing my split steps, I'm stepping into the shots (mostly), my takebacks start and finish in front of my body, etc etc. My BH volleys are a little suspect--still slicing down too much and not moving into the ball as much as I should (but I'm beginning to suspect that this may have to do with a shoulder injury that I can't seem to get rid of), but I'm working on that separately. I might switch to a 2H BH volley to fix this for the time being, since I always move forwards out of habit on my 2HBHs, and I don't have to use my right shoulder as much.

But the moment I play an actual set, I'm leaning backwards on almost all my volleys, as if I'm somehow surprised that the ball is coming my way--even when I am expecting the ball to come my way. I can see the attempted pass from a million miles away, and yet I'm still somehow finding myself reacting to the pass instead of being proactive. One other thing I've noticed is that I have some serious issues being able to track the ball at net during doubles, which just doesn't happen during practice. I'm guessing this is because during practice, I know the balls will always be hit my way, whereas during a set, there's a lot more guesswork involved, and I have to track my opponents as well. Certainly doesn't help that I've been clocked in the face more than once by my overzealous opponents, but no issue there since they don't actually mean to hit me, and it's part of the game.

So my question is this: does anyone have advice on how to get out of this nasty habit / utter lack of confidence when at the net? I just need to be able to force myself into stepping forwards into all my volleys first and foremost. I feel like once I can do that, then the other issues might become easier.

The crazy thing is that I actually was doing pretty well at net just a month or two ago, making most of my volleys, covering the net well, stepping into most of my shots, and then suddenly, this...
You might try standing one or two steps further back while at the net so that it's easier to step into the ball.

Or you could get a partner with a better serve.
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
Just bumping this thread to let y'all know that my volleys are mostly fine now.

Some fixes that did the trick:
  • A conscious focus on split stepping on the service line to hit transition volleys (crazily, my half volleys come more naturally to me than normal volleys)
  • A different takeback on the (forehand) volley - used to raise my racquet straight up then step forward, but adding a (mini) banana-shaped takeback helps me move forward regardless of the situation and adds a lot of punch on the volley
  • Having zero expectation that I will win the point at net :p
 
Just bumping this thread to let y'all know that my volleys are mostly fine now.

Some fixes that did the trick:
  • A conscious focus on split stepping on the service line to hit transition volleys (crazily, my half volleys come more naturally to me than normal volleys)
  • A different takeback on the (forehand) volley - used to raise my racquet straight up then step forward, but adding a (mini) banana-shaped takeback helps me move forward regardless of the situation and adds a lot of punch on the volley
  • Having zero expectation that I will win the point at net :p
Not sure why a different takeback would change your forward momentum capability but hey, whatever works!

Glad to see you're back in Volleyland.
 
D

Deleted member 23235

Guest
Just bumping this thread to let y'all know that my volleys are mostly fine now.

Some fixes that did the trick:
  • A conscious focus on split stepping on the service line to hit transition volleys (crazily, my half volleys come more naturally to me than normal volleys)
  • A different takeback on the (forehand) volley - used to raise my racquet straight up then step forward, but adding a (mini) banana-shaped takeback helps me move forward regardless of the situation and adds a lot of punch on the volley
  • Having zero expectation that I will win the point at net :p
couple notes...

split timing should be at or around contact of your opponent... at a slow pace that might mean service line, but against faster rallies, it might mean several feet from the service line... it's common queue, which you out grow past 3.5-4.0, etc..

what is this banana-shaped takeback that you speak of? is it like a continuity mechanism... ie to keep the racquet momentum moving?
 
couple notes...

split timing should be at or around contact of your opponent... at a slow pace that might mean service line, but against faster rallies, it might mean several feet from the service line... it's common queue, which you out grow past 3.5-4.0, etc..
Good point: it's a matter of when, not where, to split-step. A big serve + big return might result in you splitting halfway between BL & SL. A slow serve and slow return might allow you to get well in front of the SL.

Also, note that after you split, you still have the potential of moving further forward [unless it's a lob or a passer that requires you to move laterally to the net]. So, while you might split behind the SL, you may actually be able to volley in front of it.

There's a very successful ultra-marathoner whose motto is RFM: Relentless Forward Motion [she won the Badwater UM by opting not to stop unlike her competitors <and then the next day, just for relaxation, climbed Mt. Whitney>]. I like keeping RFM in mind when attempting to close on the net [behind mindful of the lob].
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
couple notes...

split timing should be at or around contact of your opponent... at a slow pace that might mean service line, but against faster rallies, it might mean several feet from the service line... it's common queue, which you out grow past 3.5-4.0, etc..

what is this banana-shaped takeback that you speak of? is it like a continuity mechanism... ie to keep the racquet momentum moving?
I'm not 100% sure why it works, but it seems to be. Basically, my old takeback was a fairly steep, straight diagonal line up. Now, my hand takes a path that slightly curves up, a bit like a banana shape. Not anywhere as extreme as a C shape, but closer to the shape of a bracket. Incidentally it also means that my racquet isn't up so high on most volleys either, which may have been a problem with waist-high volleys anyway.
Good point: it's a matter of when, not where, to split-step. A big serve + big return might result in you splitting halfway between BL & SL. A slow serve and slow return might allow you to get well in front of the SL.

Also, note that after you split, you still have the potential of moving further forward [unless it's a lob or a passer that requires you to move laterally to the net]. So, while you might split behind the SL, you may actually be able to volley in front of it.

There's a very successful ultra-marathoner whose motto is RFM: Relentless Forward Motion [she won the Badwater UM by opting not to stop unlike her competitors <and then the next day, just for relaxation, climbed Mt. Whitney>]. I like keeping RFM in mind when attempting to close on the net [behind mindful of the lob].
Sorry yeah, I miscommunicated my changes. I've been timing my split step to match the the contact time of my opponent on return, but it so happens that since I serve fairly big, and the guys I play with tend to hit fairly big too, I pretty much never make that first volley close to the net.
 
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