When serving we usually plan the point as to where we will serve, what formation we will use, and what the servers partner at the net will do—i.e., will she intercept with a volley, fake, or stay.
—Cara Black, Two-Time Wimbledon Doubles Champion (2004 and 2005)
The serve and volley tactic differs from the drive volley and sneak volley tactics because it is planned rather than instinctual. In other words, the server decides before the point to approach the net behind her serve—no matter what! this tactic is being used less in women’s singles today because the strength of the return and passing shot has improved dramatically in recent years. Almost every player loves to have a physical target to aim for, and this is what a player at the net provides. therefore, the serve and volley tactic is now being used more as a way of mixing up the play than anything else. Indeed, some players use this tactic extremely well. Amelie Mauresmo provided a great example of this when she won her first Wimbledon title, in 2006, by predominantly serve and volleying in the latter stages of the tournament. Her opponents were simply not used to playing against this tactic, especially on the fast-bouncing grass courts that allowed them little time to prepare for their shots.
there are some key situations in which the serve and volley tactic can be used effectively, the first is using the wide slice serve on fast courts to force a ‘blocked’ return, which can be volleyed. Some double-handers are forced into blocking returns when the serve is hit wide of them with a low bounce. Left-handed servers, in particular, use this tactic well when serving from the advantage court to the right-handed returner. the low slice serve is also effective against players who use extreme grips because they find it harder to get the racket face underneath a low ball, thereby forcing the blocked return. this return usually floats higher and slower than the topspin return does, making it easier to volley against. the slower pace allows the server to move closer in to the net before playing the volley, and the lack of spin means that the volley is played at a more comfortable height than a topspin return, which could dip down to the volleyer’s feet.
the second situation in which the serve and volley tactic can be used effectively is using a high and wide topspin serve to force a blocked return. Most women are unable to execute this type of serve because of the considerable strength this shot requires. However, against the singlehanded backhand returner, a ‘kick’ topspin serve may be high and wide enough to prevent the returner from hitting ‘over the top’ of the ball, resulting in a block that is relatively easy to volley against.
The third situation is serving and volleying against players who always slice their backhand return. This sliced shot can start to float a little overthe course of a match, and if so, this return should be attacked! This tactic also introduces an element of surprise into play. It prevents the returnerfrom feeling too comfortable because she is forced to watch her opponent as well as the ball.
Figure 1.7 shows the serve and volley tactic being played from the advantage court. In this figure, the server comes in behind a wide serve to the advantage court. The blocked return fades down the line, allowing the server to hit a winning volley into the open court. Note how the server follows the line of her serve and moves inside the service line before hitting the volley, thus allowing the returner as little time as possible to recover for her next shot.
To practice the serve and volley tactic, see drill 1.9 on page 36.
Although the majority of players serve and stay back, many top doubles players throughout the modern era, such as Martina Navratilova, Lisa Raymond, and cara Black, have used the serve and volley tactic with great success. the doubles format allows players to serve and volley more often because of the limited target space given to the returner (i.e., a half court in doubles compared to a whole court in singles). As a result, specific patterns of play with planned movement of the serving team centred on the serve and volley tactic are commonly used.
In doubles, the majority of serve and volley tactics are based around the serve down the middle of the court. In fact, it is the middle of the court in general that good doubles pairs try to control. the middle serve allows the returner less angle to work with and gives the server’s partner the best chance to control the net. this serve also takes away the right-hander’s backhand crosscourt return from the advantage court—widely recognised as one of the most effective returns on the women’s tour.
The server’s partner must know the direction of the serve in advance so she can anticipate the most likely return and position herself accordingly. Generally, good doubles players like to position themselves quite centrally (i.e., closer to the centre line than the sideline) and move diagonally forward and inward following the middle serve. they move forward and outward following a wide serve in anticipation of a late return hit down the line, allowing their partner to move in and cover the middle of the court.
Figures 1.8 and 1.9 show the different types of movement patterns made by the serving team following a first serve hit wide and down the middle. In figure 1.8 a first serve hit wide to the deuce court results in the serving team covering the line and middle return. the server’s partner moves forward and outward to cover the line, and the server moves forward and toward the middle to cover the centre. Note how their movements are coordinated, and how the server’s partner moves forward as well as outward. In figure 1.9 a first serve hit down the middle from the advantage court results in the serving team covering the middle and crosscourt return. This time the server’s partner moves forward and inward to cover the middle, and the server covers the remainder of the court. In this situation the server’s partner must not move too early; otherwise, she will open a space down her lineforthe returner to hit into.
The I formation and Australian formation are two commonly used doubles plays that are based around the serve and volley tactic. They are most effective when used with the serve down the middle from either the deuce or advantage court. the I formation sees the server’s partner take a completely central position on the court (crouching low so as not to be hit by the serve). the server hits the serve from a central court position also, rather than a traditional wide position on the baseline, thus creating an I formation between the server and her partner. this tactic allows the server’s partner to take complete control of the centre of the net and helps to neutralise the threat of the crosscourt return. Figures 1.10 and 1.11 show the I formation being used from both the deuce and advantage courts. Figure 1.10 shows the I formation being used with a first serve hit down the middle from the deuce court. the server takes up a central serving position on the baseline, almost directly behind her partner, who is taking up a similar central position at the net. the server follows her serve in and covers the line return. Her
partner covers the middle and crosscourt return. Figure 1.11 shows the I formation being used with a first serve hit down the middlefrom the advantage court. Again, the server uses the serve and volley tactic and covers the return down the line, leaving her partnerto cover the middle and crosscourt return (the two most likely returns from this
serve). The server’s partner must hold her position when playing the I formation with a middle serve because this allows her to maintain control of the centre of the court. Some players automatically move to the left or right (covering the opposite side to their partners), but this often leaves a big gap down the middle—the most important place to cover! Note how the server’s central serving position changes the angle of her serve, often allowing for a more accurate middle serve to be hit. the I formation can also be used with a wide serve with either the server or her partner choosing to cover the return hit down the line. these formations, using varied, planned movement from both players, will often unsettle the rhythm of the returning team because they are not given the same visual target to aim for each time.
The Australian formation is used when trying to neutralise an extreme threat from a crosscourt return. This requires the server’s partner to stand on the same half of the court as the server—directly in the line of the crosscourt return. Figure 1.12 shows the Australian doubles formation being used with a middle serve hit from the advantage court. Note how the server’s partner is positioned on the same side of the court as the server, so she is well placed to receive the crosscourt return. The server uses the serve and volley tactic and covers the return hit down the line. Note how the middle serve reduces the angle available to the returner also. The same formation is used on the deuce court to neutralise the threat of the crosscourt return.
The key to executing any of these tactics successfully lies in good communication within the serving pair. The server’s partner must know the direction of the serve in advance, as well as the area of the net that her partner is going to cover. Both players’ roles should be clearly defined. this attention to detail separates the great doubles teams from the rest. To develop this detail, doubles teams should practice specific set plays repeatedly so they are
constantly refining their movement patterns, shot selection, and communication. players should be prepared to play full practice sets using one specific tactic to build confidence with it.
To practice the serve and volley tactic as a serving team, see drill 1.10 on page 37.
ф Coaching Tip
In the middle of a practice session, the coach can ask the players to stop what they’re doing and immediately try to hold one service game against their practice partner (provided they have warmed up serves beforehand). This is a good intervention drill that helps to remind players that it is important to try to hold serve in any situation. Players may feel uncomfortable doing this to begin with because they may not be fully prepared—but this is exactly the point of the drill!