Volley Like Federer
One of the tougher shots in the game to master is the backhand volley. Much of the problem lies in the fact that because the back of your hand is facing the incoming ball, you don’t have a lot of support on the racquet handle. This leads to a weak wrist that can collapse on impact, causing your volley to float. This also leads to an excessive follow through, resulting in a disaster of a shot.
The Right Grip… Strengthen The Wrist
The first thing you should do to correct this problem is to make sure you are using the continental grip (check out my article: The Continental Grip—the Swiss Army knife of tennis). Second, you must strengthen your wrist. One way to do this is to choke up on the racquet, bringing the heal of your hand up above the butt of the racquet. Most young children (even some adults) just starting out in tennis aren’t that strong and suffer from the occasional limp wrist on the backhand volley.
Some professional players practice their motion with a 1-pound weight screwed between the strings. By practicing your technique with a heavier racquet for about 10 to 20 swings, you should feel your arm getting tired, but you’re building up strength, and once you remove the extra weight, it should feel easier to volley. Simply hold a 1 to 2-pound dumbbell in your hand and simulate proper backhand volley technique.
Practice The Correct Way
The next step is to practice the volley the right way. Many players work on their volleys by only standing a couple of feet from the net, receiving easy feeds, and slamming the volley away for a winner. This encourages you to take a big swing and smash the ball away without any footwork. Instead, practice your backhand volley (and all volleys for that matter) from the service line. That’s where most of your first volleys are going to be, and if you play doubles, many points will be played from that spot. If your backhand volley is spot on from mid-court, it’s going to work fine as you transition closer to the net.
As for technique, I liken the backhand volley to a martial arts movement. Allow contact close to your body and focus on simply moving your elbow slightly away from your body. Think of bringing your back shoulder blades together at contact.
Start out in the ready position and turn your shoulders to take your racquet back while simultaneously stepping out toward the line of the ball with the left foot. If you don’t do it in tandem, your body weight will shift forward too soon leading you to contact the ball too far in front (away from the body). Use a short backswing, rarely allowing the racquet to get behind your back, and take an assertive step forward as you’re making contact—not before contact.
The more aggressive you are with your feet on the volley, the more forceful the shot can be. Make contact just in front of your outside leg with a firm wrist but not entirely locked wrist. And while moving the racquet across the back of the ball (impacting a bit of side spin and backspin) and finish with your racquet at or above your contact point. Focus on merely moving your elbow away from your body (watch Roger Federer). You should feel balanced and ready to move quickly for the next shot. The motion is very similar if you prefer to use two hands on your backhand volley. Both examples are illustrated below with links to videos.