Ohh the approach shot. It is one of those shots in tennis where it appears to be very simple but in reality it can be quite tricky. We are all guilty of watching a tennis player miss what looks like an easy approach shot and think to ourselves “how did he miss that? It was such an easy shot!!”. It is also a frustrating miss because in order to be in the position to hit an approach shot, it means you played the point well so missing or hitting a bad approach can be extra annoying (trust me, I know!!).
In order for you to improve your volleys it is indispensable that you set aside time to hit approach shots in every practice. During practice sessions, most of us spend over 80% of the time hitting from behind the baseline so we are used to that range. Once we move inside the baseline, it is new territory; the distance to the baseline is shorter and the amount of power and spin you need to use changes. Tennis is a game of sharpness and repetition so here are 5 drills that you can incorporate to your training that will help you hit better and more consistent approach shots.
Drill #1 – Hand Fed Approach Shots
I like to work with drill progressions, meaning that each drill I do will help me do better on the next one. So let’s start with a very simple drill: approach shots hand fed by your friend/coach. Watch the video below:
As you can see, the goal here is to hit as many balls as you can and to work on your range. The key is to feel like you are hitting the same ball over and over. A few things to keep in mind when doing this drill:
1 – Make sure you turn your body early and move laterally to the ball. Don’t sprint straight to it;
2 – Don’t jump when you hit the ball;
3 – Your body should move towards the target. Hit the shot and pretend you are actually moving to the net for a couple steps;
4 – Focus on the depth of the shot, DON’T focus on power;
5 – Increased racket head speed. You need get the ball over the net but it needs extra topspin in order to drop before the baseline;
This is fairly simple drill but simplicity is your friend, trust it!
Drill #2 – Feeding From the Opposite Side of the Court
This drill is practically the same as drill #1 but with your coach feeding you from the other side of the court. On drill #1, you need to generate the power entirely yourself because of the hand feed, which can be challenging. Drill #2 will feel a little bit more realistic. Take a look:
The same tips from drill #1 apply to drill #2. Only thing I would add is to make sure you don’t rush yourself. There is no need to take the ball too early. Instead, focus on creating the right amount of space between you and the ball and then move towards the target after you make contact with the ball. When you feel comfortable, add one volley to the drill.
Drill #3 – Half Court Points
Now let’s introduce point play into the training. By now, you hit a number of approach shots so it is time to see if the work paid off. Start with the following point situation:
Granted, this drill can feel a bit odd because you are hitting right at your opponent but don’t worry about winning or losing; worry about how effective your approach shots were during the game. Play to 10 and afterwards assess the following:
1 – Was I making too many mistakes of the approach shots or was I being consistent?
2 – Were my approach shots deep and difficult for my opponent?
3 – Was my opponent hitting more of his back foot (meaning your approach was deep and pushed him back) or his front foot (meaning your shots were short and he was able to be offensive)?
After drills #1 and #2, the objective of drill #3 is for you to assess how effective your approach shots are in a point situation. In addition, you can gauge your level of comfort when moving in. Make sure you have fun with it.
Drill #4 – Full Court Points
You did it! You made it to full court points. Now let’s play full out. The drill is simple: both of you start at the baseline – your friend/coach feeds you an approach shot – you hit it down the line – the first passing shot should go to you (it can be as hard as possible, as long as it is not a clean pass) – the court is open from there. Watch it below:
Play a few tiebreakers then repeat the self questioning from drill #3. Try to take an analytical approach to how the tiebreakers were played. Perhaps you lost but focus on how effective your approach shots were. The main goal in this drill progression is that, by the time you get to drill #4, you feel more comfortable hitting approach shots.
Drill #5 – Looking For Short Balls
Drill #5 is the most advanced one and I would only recommend it to intermediate and advanced players. If you are a beginner, skip this one. This drill is all about looking for opportunities to go to the net. Our opponents hit the ball short more often than we realize and if you are attentive, you can capitalize on those chances. Take a look:
Let me first summarize how the drill works:
1 – On your side of the court, pick an appropriate depth and put two cones that create an imaginary line across them;
2 – During the rally, your friend can hit anywhere he desires. You, on the other hand, are more limited. If your friends shot lands pass the cones, you HAVE to hit crosscourt. But if he hits it short of the cones, you HAVE to hit down the line and move to the net.
3 – Once you hit down the line the point is completely open; anything goes
This drill is very advanced. As you can see in the video, often I had to force moving to the net. That is totally ok, however. The goal of drill #5 is for the person who is doing it to be constantly looking for that short ball. It is imperative that you pay extra attention to the ball coming off your friend’s racket because the earlier your recognize that the ball will land short, the better your chances are of hitting a good approach shot. I am fully aware that this drill can be tricky and that often you don’t feel like it is the right shot to move in. But embrace that, be ok with being uncomfortable on the tennis court because that is the only way you can improve.
You can watch the full lesson below: