How to Add the Net Attack

 

So you watched the massive ESPN Australian Open coverage in January and saw both singles and doubles players moving forward and putting away volleys and smashes like there's no tomorrow.  Now you want to add that tactic into your recreational level game.  It looked easy enough on TV:  just hit the heck out of either the serve, return, or an approach shot, come barreling in and bring down the thunder on your opponent.  Just one problem: it's not that easy.  In fact, most recreational players who try “just going to the net” in either singles or doubles come away on the losing end of the points (and probably the match!).  That doesn't mean the idea is not good.  Improving the ability to move forward in the court and ending points sooner can definitely raise any player's level of play, but there's some hard work that needs to happen to get the winning results. Here are five steps that should get the net attack rolling in either singles or doubles.

 

 

Step 1: Spend as much time in practice working on the approach as you do groundstrokes and volleys

Whether it's 2.5 or 4.0 on the USTA's NTRP scale, a vast majority of recreational players I coach have good groundstrokes and good volleys for their level.  I'd like to thing my instruction has helped with that result. However most players at any level become good at what they practice most.  When recreational players practice, they mostly hit groundstrokes to their partner from baseline to baseline.  Then they might hit some volleys, baseline to net.  Then they go out and play a match, try to come into the net and get passed, lobbed, and even handcuffed by heavy hits right at them, and wonder why.  Easy: they forgot to practice moving forward. 

 

Here's a simple way to practice getting your feet, mind, and hands in the habit of attacking the net:

  • with a practice partner, do service line to service line rallies where both players move forward one step every time they hit the ball.
  • Do the same thing from the 10u baseline to the other 10u baseline. The goal is not to win, but rather to rally back to the practice partner using volleys, half-volleys, overheads, and swinging volleys.
  • Do the same thing from baseline to baseline. This time both players get one bounce if the ball lands inside the service line.  Otherwise, everything is in the air

 

 

Step #2 - Develop/Improve the overhead smash

If you can't hit the overhead smash, then your new net attack will very likely run into a big enemy: the lob.  Recreational players are typically better at this shot than passing shots. 

 

I find most recreational players miss overheads not because they don't understand how to hit the shot.  It's because they fail to get to the best possible hitting position at the right time.  The movement of a net  player, be it in singles or doubles, moving in position for an overhead is exactly the same as a football quarterback (american football, that is) moving in position to throw.  Practicing this type of footwork on a tennis court is a great way to improve the overhead smash.  Here are examples of the type of footwork needed:

 

Peyton Manning 3 Step Drop Drill

Quarterback 5 Step Drop Drill

 

If you're a dedicated tennis player and train at a local Sports Performance training facility, you can likely get your trainer to do this drill with you:

 

Football QB High Tech 3 Step Drop Drill

 

Step #3: Increase leg load on serve and return

The most direct way to add a net attack to your game is by attacking the net after your serve or return of serve.  Just one requirement: it only makes sense to use these tactics if your serve and return of serve are doing enough damage to your opponent to prevent them from successfully hitting an offensive shot.  Otherwise, you could be creating your own “Charge Of The Light Brigade!”(hint: they all died!). 

 

When I see recreational league players having trouble with these 1st ball attacks, it's typically because they became so focused on moving forward they rushed the serve or return.  In other words, they didn't take time to load maximum weight on their legs before hitting the serve or return.  The result: weak serve or return followed by a brave charge equals certain doom!  Here's what leg load on those 2 shots looks like:

 

Sam Groth - ATP Tour Fastest Server

Novak Djokovic Slow Motion Return Of Serve

 

Notice that Sam has a significant knee bend after the toss.  That sets up a massive explosion up to the ball.  Novak has such a powerful leg load that, much like Sam on the serve, he comes off the ground after contact.  So if you want to set yourself up for a smoother trip to the net on the first ball, look to the legs!

 

Step #4 - Work off court on flexibility and footwork

If you're hoping to attack the net and be consistently effective, here's a list of the movements you'll need to be able to pull off:

 

  • Start on balance
  • Explosive 3-5 step sprint
  • Stop on balance
  • Push off the leg nearest the ball and vault yourself through the point of contact
  • Land on balance
  • Move in the direction of the volley/smash you just hit
  • Stop on balance and prepare for another volley/smash

     

      Navigating this pathway requires speedy footwork, agility, and flexibility.  All of these areas can be improved off the tennis court at the gym....but not just any gym.  Just heading to your average gym, and working on some cardio, and pumping iron won't help much in any of these areas.  Here are examples of workouts that can:

 

      Pilates for Tennis

  • Just an example of how Pilates can be used for tennis. Any local Pilates gym will provide a full workout.

Sports Performance Training

Step #5 - Add/improve spin serves

 

Now that you've increased your overall flexibility, and added leg load onto your serve motion, you now have the potential to use a variety of spin serves as offensive weapons.  Particularly in doubles, serving and volleying on 1st serves is the easiest way to add a net attack into your game.  However you need time to get to at least the service line before the ball comes back to you.  Spin serves, because of their arc flight path, allow the server a bit more time to get into an offensive volley position.  The spin serve most commonly associated with serving and volleying is the Kick (a.k.a. Topspin Serve).  However adding in other spins such as Slice, Topspin Slice, and even the American Twist allow the server to make the ball move in both different directions and heights after it lands in the service box.  The end result is not only does the server have more time to approach, but will also have a better chance at forcing a defensive return of serve.

 

Andy Roddick is most known for his serve speed.  One thing he doesn't get enough credit is the speed of his 2nd serve.  He's been clocked at up to 130 mph on his Kick Serve, and that's mainly due to his flexibility.  Watch this clip for a detailed breakdown of how flexibility can translate into a better serve overall, and especially for adding more damaging spin serves to your game:

 

Andy Roddick SoMax Serve Analysis