The Modern Approach: Hit Big and Cover the Line
The approach shot disappeared for a while at the end of the 1990s because advances in racquet technology neutralized the game’s great transitional volleyers, players like Pat Rafter, Stefan Edberg and Martina Navratilova. Today, the approach is making a comeback in a slightly different form. Instead of a low chip or a deep shot that gives you time to move forward, the approach shot is now one of the most offensive shots in the sport. The plan is simple: When you get a midcourt ball, hit an offensive groundstroke and follow the ball to the net for a dynamic volley. With the speed of today’s game—and it’s faster at the recreational level, too—it’s safest to cover the down-the-line passing shot when you approach. Now we’ll look at the modern forehand approach and volley, step-by-step.
Shot 1: The Approach
Hitting a big shot down the line is the highest-percentage approach and the most common on the pro tour. It rushes your opponent to hit a passing shot while allowing you to move close to the net for an easy volley. Let’s take a look at a forehand inside-out, midcourt approach that stretches your opponent into the backhand corner....
1. Early preparation is essential for a great approach. This shot must be hit while moving forward, so you need to prepare extra early to perfect the timing. As soon as you see that the ball will land short, be ready to pounce. The semi-Western grip on the forehand is most common, but an Eastern grip is fine if you’re more comfortable with it. Turn your shoulders, square your stance and load your weight on your back leg.
2. Now the swing begins. Drop your racquet head and begin to transfer your weight onto your front foot. Keep your shoulders square while maintaining your balance and moving forward toward your target.
3. The racquet head drops below the ball as you push up and into the shot with your back leg. The racquet head remains laid back and the butt cap of the handle should point toward the incoming ball. Now your shoulders will begin to rotate open, in sync with your swing.
4. As you near the contact point, all of your weight will be on your front leg and headed toward the target. The point of contact should be well out in front—remember, you are moving through this shot, not stopping at the contact point. Keep your head steady. Your elbow will bend slightly at contact as you brush up the back of the ball to impart topspin.
5. Brush up the back of the ball through contact as your hips and shoulders uncoil. To hit a great approach and move to the net quickly, you need to maintain your balance. The back leg should kick up to keep you steady, and the racquet head naturally decelerates during the follow-through.
6. To successfully execute this shot, your momentum must continue forward so you can close the net. From here, you can push off your front leg and follow your approach.
Shot 2: The Volley
After hitting a big approach, your goal should be to finish the point with one volley, or at a minimum put your opponent in an extreme defensive position. Placement is more important than depth, so effective volleys tend to be angled off to the open court.
1. As you move forward, switch to a Continental grip, which is the best grip for both the forehand and backhand volleys. Time your split-step as your opponent makes contact with the ball. Keep your hands out in front and your racquet slightly cocked.
2. When you follow the path of a strong, inside-out approach, your split-step should be to the right of the center T. That way, you can cover the down-the-line passing shot, but also be prepared to take away the cross-court passing shot by moving forward. In this photo, the player anticipates a down-the-line passing shot based on an excellent approach and moves in for the kill.
3. Line up your racquet behind and slightly higher than the incoming ball, and bend your knees. The non-racquet arm moves in the opposite direction of your racquet arm to help maintain your balance.
4. Now it’s time to begin transferring your weight from your outside leg to your inside leg as you move forward to the point of contact. The racquet path should be forward and slightly downward to create underspin. Keep your wrist firm at contact.
5. When you step properly, it allows you to easily close the net and prepare for your opponent’s next shot. Remember, follow the ball. On a cross-court volley like this one, move in and to your left—even if you think you’ve hit a winner.
6. Maintain your knee bend as you move through the volley with perfect balance. Many club players step into their volleys, but they step before contact or at contact. Pros move through their volleys and complete the step just after contact.
As Director of High Performance at the Evert Tennis Academy, John Evert has worked with many tour professionals and international juniors. The U.S. Olympic Committee named him Development Coach of the Year in 2009.