Can You Volley a Serve Back in Tennis?

There are a lot of rules in tennis, and it can be overwhelming to learn them all, especially if you are just starting to get into it. With serves and returns, there are a few guidelines that must be met to start the point “legally.” As a returner, you may be wondering if you can take the ball out of the air before it lands in the box.

So, can you? The simple answer is no. While it may be tempting at times to take that first ball out of the air, this is not allowed. The servers ball must hit the ground inside the correct service box in order for the point to be started. If the returner makes contact with the ball before it hits the ground, regardless of if the ball was going to be in or not, the returner loses the point.

This article will answer a few more questions on this issue that address technicalities going along with this rule. Keep reading your answer to those “what if…” questions you may be having.

What if I don’t intentionally hit the ball in the air, but I couldn’t move out of the way of the serve?

It doesn’t matter, you still lose the point in this scenario. It is unfortunate, as you weren’t trying to make contact with the serve out of the air, but this rule is firm. If the ball hits your body or your racket in the air before it touches the ground, you lose the point.

So if your opponent is aiming for you intentionally rather than the service box, they can earn a point by hitting you? Technically, yes. However, this never really becomes an issue. One, that is a pretty unsportsmanlike way to earn a point, and two, hitting someone out of the air is pretty hard to do, especially if the returner is paying attention.

What if the serve hits the net, then comes over to hit the returner?

Generally, a serve that hits the net and trickles over into the proper service box is called a “let.” In this case the serve is taken over as a redo.

If the serve hits the net tape and goes over to hit the other player out of the air, the point is counted as a let. The player who makes contact with the ball in the air does not lose the point, but the serve is replayed. This is the only instance in which a player who makes contact with a serve before it bounces does not lose the point straight away.

Typically when this happens, the serve was not going to land in the service box. However, this does not matter. The ball is played as if it were going to land in the box, and therefore the point is replayed.

What if, in doubles, a serve hits the returner’s partner in the air?

If the returner’s partner is hit in the air by a serve, the returning team loses that point. The reasoning behind this rule is that the returner’s partner could have interfered with the path of the serve, therefore they forfeit the point.

If the returner’s partner is hit by a “let” serve in the air, a let is played. The rule is that you must assume the ball would have landed in the correct service box, even if it is clear that it would not have.

This scenario is actually most common on the doubles court, as a returners partner positions themself right next to the server’s target service box. If this happens to you, it is best to chalk it up to bad luck. I have seen it happen only a few times in my life, but it does happen every once in a while.

Final Thoughts

This rule is pretty clear as far as what you do intentionally. Most questions come up in the technicalities of the rule where a player does not mean to make contact with the return out of the air. More often than not, if this happens you likely just didn’t have enough time to move out of the way of a serve that came in hot. It can be a frustrating way to lose a point, but I can assure you that it won’t happen too often.

Hopefully this article was helpful in answering some of your questions. If you have any questions we weren’t able to answer, let us know below so we can do our best to get back to you!

Austin Rapp

Hi there! My name is Austin Rapp and since I picked up a racket at age 8, I worked hard to improve my game. I was never the most talented junior, but I tried to learn the game to give myself an edge. I earned the privilege of playing at UCLA for 4 years, serving as team captain for my last 2. In my time there, I took advantage of the coaching and great talent around me to grow my knowledge of the game and became an All-American. I am currently playing professional tennis, ranked top 700 in singles and top 350 in doubles. Above all, my favorite tennis moments were hitting with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal at Indian Wells!

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