How to Serve and Volley Effectively

In my own game, my serve has always been my biggest strength. My volleys were below average, but coaches told me that I had to learn to serve and volley to earn free points. Those coaches could not have been more right. It was a process because it was out of my comfort zone at first, but as I did it more it came together to become a staple of my game. My volleys improved naturally as I forced myself to come in and my serve became more of a weapon.

Knowing how to mix the serve and volley in can take your game to the next level. Being a serve and volleyer on a point to point basis is outdated, but the play is still very effective as more of a surprise attack.

The game has changed so drastically to the mentality of “get the return in and get the point started,” so you should be looking to sneak into the net and end points. However, this is a skill that requires development. This article will outline everything you need to know about how to serve and volley more effectively. 

Being able to serve and volley even as a changeup will make it easier to hold your serve. There are a couple of elements to being effective when serving and volleying: where and how you serve, volley placement, effective movement forward, and unpredictability.

You will be able to serve and volley effectively if you are able to get your opponent either jammed or reaching. If you have an aggressive serve that causes problems for your opponent, this play will work for you. Your goal with the volley here is to make your opponent uncomfortable. Most of the time, that means your target will be in the service box. If you hit a winner, it’s a bonus. Your forward movement should be explosive from the first two steps to get your body going, but smooth the rest of the way so that you can maintain control on the volley. Finally, you should try and execute this play in situations that your opponent does not expect it. For example, serving and volleying on every 30-30 point defeats the purpose. Mix it up so that you can catch your opponent off guard.

Serve Placement

The serve is the most important shot in tennis, and it is no different when serving and volleying. The most important things about serving when executing this play are where you serve and how you serve. There is no set rule of where and how to serve because everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and it depends on who you are playing against. 

This isn’t rocket science, you know which serves you are most comfortable with. When serving and volleying, you typically want to try and stick to those ones as they are going to be most effective. If you know you have a good kick serve that gives people trouble, that is a good one to use because it gives you time to close the net a bit more. 

Faster Isn’t Necessarily Better

A general rule that I use when serving and volleying is to pick serves that are going to put your opponent in uncomfortable positions. Get it out of their strike zone whether that means reaching side to side, jamming them into their hips, or getting it up high. A lot of times that means getting the ball to move rather than just hitting it as big as you can and sprinting to the net. Good players will be able to handle a big serve right on their strings with ease.

Additionally, taking pace off of your serve when coming in behind it will allow you time to close the net that much more. If your “off speed” serve is still able to make your opponent feel out of position, it will be more effective than just blasting the serve right to them. 

Finally, placement is more important than speed when it comes to this tactic. If you have to take some pace off in order to hit your target, that is okay. Even if it means sacrificing some MPHs, so make sure to do whatever it takes to hit your target. 

Volley Placement

The next step is the volley. Before you hit the serve, you should have an idea where you want to place the volley that follows. A lot of this depends on the serve that you are hitting. 

Consider Going Behind Your Opponent

Remember: the volley does not have to go to the open court. In fact, it is often higher percentage to go back behind your opponent because it is easier to hit a volley back where it came from. This play works because as the opponent hits the return and sees that you are coming to the net, their first instinct is to cover the open court as quickly as possible.

As they are sprinting to the other side of the court, they have a better chance of passing you if you allow them to hit on the run. If they are forced to change direction and pass you, they will be off balance. 

Going behind your opponent on the first volley makes them out of position.

Analyze Where Your Opponent is Returning From

When deciding where to hit your first volley, you also need to consider where the returner is standing when they hit the return. Your goal is to find a high percentage first volley that you know you can execute while also making your opponent uncomfortable. For example, if the returner is standing far behind the baseline, a great play is hitting a short volley to the open court. This will make them cover a lot of ground. 

A short first volley forces your opponent to run further.

Play the Percentages

You don’t necessarily need to win the point with the first volley, but rather set up the point and win it with a very easy second volley. A common mistake that players make when serving and volleying is making the first volley too perfect.

Don’t be unrealistic, you should play with what you are dealt. If the returner hits a great return at your feet, do what you can. There’s no need to be a superhero. If you have an easy volley on top of the net with your opponent off the court, allow for more margin so you don’t give away the point. These simple things will lead to much more success in executing this play.

Movement Forward

Many players make the mistake of hitting the serve and sprinting to the net as fast as they can. This is such an aggressive play, so its normal to feel rushed in executing it. The goal is to get to a point that you feel relaxed coming in. Here are some tips that will help you feel like you have more time getting to the net.

Hit the Serve First

Hitting a good serve for this play is the most important part, so don’t sacrifice that in order to get to the net quicker. Hit the serve first, then follow. I’ve noticed that when a lot of players decide to serve and volley, they often miss the serve anyways. Obviously that is counterproductive, so be sure to focus on hitting the serve as you normally would. 

Explode Out of First Two Steps

The most important steps In serving and volleying are your first two. These will get your weight going from 0 to 100, so they have to be efficient and powerful. Watch below as Federer hits the serve, lands, and explodes out quickly to get his momentum going into the court.

Notice how explosive Federer’s first 2 steps are.

Glide Through the Court

After these first two steps, let your body glide through the rest of the court. Remember: the more relaxed you are as you hit the volley, the better you will execute. You should have generated enough power from your first two steps to allow you through to where you hit the volley. 

Stutter-Step to Gain Balance

When coming to the net, don’t focus too much on a full split step. This implies that you will come to a full stop. Think of it as more of a stutter-step that will allow you to slow your body down. Coming to a complete stop will mess up your timing and control on the volley.

Raonic split steps, but maintains forward momentum.

Your goal is to gain control of your body so that you can move in any direction to react,  yet still be able to move through the volley as you hit it. In the video above, Raonic easily moves up to the weak return because he did not come to a complete stop. His momentum allows him to move foreword and through the volley. Remaining fluid is the most efficient way to execute this play. 

Mirror the Ball

In order to cover the biggest percentage of the court possible, you have to mirror the ball. This is a pretty easy concept to learn, yet a lot of people do not do it correctly. When moving forward, many players sprint for the T of the service box leaving both the crosscourt and down the line passing shot open. 

In order to effectively cover the court, you should follow your serve. If you serve out wide, you need to cover the line more to account for the extra space your opponent has on that side of the court. If you hit the serve down the T, you can get away with covering more of the middle of the court as they don’t have as much angle to work with. As long as you mirror the ball, you will give yourself the best chance at a good volley.

Mirror your serve in order to cover the court effectively.


Being unpredictable with the serve and volley is very important. For most players, this play will be run as somewhat of a surprise attack. You want to break the returner’s rhythm and put it in their head that you could be throwing this in at any point. Eventually you want to get to the point where you feel comfortable enough serving and volleying on any point, regardless of importance. 

The real question is this: How can you catch your opponent off guard when serving and volleying? There is no hard and set rule as far as this goes. As a player, you’re going to have to analyze what is going on in the match to decide if it is a good time to use the play. How comfortable is your opponent returning your serve? Where are most of their returns landing? Are longer points favoring your opponent? How are his passing shots? How are you serving? 

Another thing to consider when working on your serve and volley is making your serve unreadable. A lot of people have small tells in their serve that show the opponent where and how they will serve. This relates mostly to the placement of the toss, so work on getting your toss consistent enough where you can hit any serve from any toss spot. 

Overall, the biggest key to being unpredictable is simply running the play when the opponent least expects it. If you feel that it is a big point and the other player might just push the return in, that is a great time to take advantage. 

Final Thoughts

Serving and volleying is something that every player can work on. No matter what game style you play, you can incorporate this into your game to add another dimension and make holding serve easier. 

This is a skill that you need to develop. Just because you have a good serve or good volleys does not mean that you will automatically be good at this. There may be a bit of a learning curve with it at first, but be okay with losing points at first in order to get better at it and be successful in the long run. I recommend starting to try this on 30-0, 40-0, and 40-15 points at first so that you feel there is not as much to lose. Experimenting is the best way to improve, and this is a skill that may take your game to the next level. 

As always, if you need some extra help to improve your game, feel free to reach out. We are always willing to talk some tennis!

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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