The half-volley in tennis is a shot where you hit the ball as soon as it bounces on your side of the court. It is perhaps one of the most difficult techniques to master and usually a half-volley only happens by accident! However, professional tennis players such as Pete Sampras and Roger Federer have been known to occasionally deliberately use it to their advantage as well. As tennis is all about being prepared for anything, mastering the half-volley will add something extra to your game and, if you are particularly ambitious, could prove an important part in your arsenal.
Though it is one of the most neglected shots in tennis, often players will have to perform the half-volley when caught off guard, particularly around the baseline. The key determinant is the length of the return from your opponent. If the ball falls too close to your feet, you will be both unable to hit a full volley and an ordinary groundstroke. In these situations, hitting a half-volley will, if it is successful, send the ball back neatly in an upwards path and prolong the rally.
Experts say that the best technique for the half-volley is to keep a stiff wrist and follow the ball through with a quick bounce close to the court’s surface as soon as it arrives. When hitting the ball you should also make sure you keep your posture low by bending your knees to make sure it doesn’t go too high up.
Other tips include keeping the racquet just above the wrist before you attempt the half-volley, and keeping your arm extended while you perform the follow-through. Good timing is absolutely crucial to playing the shot well so it is perhaps useful to think of the half-volley’s common nickname which is the “Ba-Boom” shot. This should give you a rough idea of the way it is returned and the speed which you should aim for. If you say “Ba-Boom” out loud, it will sound similar to the consecutive bounce and hit of a good half-volley. Make sure you remain relaxed and maintain this rhythm, trying not to rush forward when you hit the ball but calmly controlling it.
There are a number of ways you can grip the racquet to make your half-volley more likely to be successful. Many believe that the best grip is a standard continental (also called the service grip). This is the usual way of holding the racquet and it means that the racquet will be tilted up slightly. Alternatively, some believe that the best grip is actually the Eastern grip because of the natural angle for the return. Every player is different so it is advisable for you to practise and work out which grip feels best for you and produces better results.
Since half-volleying is such a difficult shot to achieve, practice is vital. One good method is to get someone to feed the ball to you so that it lands near your feet. This can be difficult, however, as it really depends on how good your partner is at getting it in the right place. Some professional players believe the best practice is simply to drop the ball yourself and keep sending it over the net as demonstrated in this video.
Overall, the half-volley is an incredibly complex and often unnatural stroke with a very small margin of error. The shot requires patience, concentration and very accurate hand-eye coordination to return the ball effectively. It is worth remembering that the half-volley is more of a defensive stroke for when your opponent makes a particularly tricky shot and you need to return the ball without retreating or changing your position. It should be used at all other times with caution.