Most people believe serving and volleying is not possible in modern tennis, let alone on its slowest surface — clay. Various reasons are given, many of which just lead to the conclusion that other tactics just make things easier.
The most typically uttered argument against the serve and volley in the modern game is that the returners can do way too many things with the ball to make it a successful play over the long run. There is no question this is a valid argument. Serving and volleying is made tougher by the amount of topspin players can inject on the ball. Just look at Rafael Nadal — he’s able to put the ball at his opponents feet even when standing far behind the baseline.
Another common argument is that courts have slowed down, thus giving returners more time to react to serves which creates tougher balls for the volleyer to deal with. Again, this is a very valid argument, particularly on clay, the slowest of all surfaces. The final, and most futile, argument against serving and volleying in the modern game is that today’s players simply aren’t good enough volleyers.
Overall, these arguments, while holding some weight, aren’t strong enough to lead to the extinction of serving and volleying overall.
Roger Federer served and volleyed his way through Damir Dzhumur in his third round French Open match Friday, while proving that serving and volleying can actually prove to be quite effective on clay.
The first reason why serving and volleying can be effective on clay goes hand-in-hand with the courts being slowed down. The returner has more time to react to the serve, but at the same time, the server has more time to close the net. Getting closer to the net allows the server to play a higher first volley which actually puts more impetus on the returner to strike an excellent return.
Serving and volleying on clay can also prove to be successful against players who think they can retreat behind the baseline, play non-stop defense and win matches. Look no further than Federer’s next opponent, Gael Monfils, for an example of this. Federer should be able to serve and volley at will against Monfils — if Monfils intends to play passively from well behind the baseline and provide the Swiss with virtual put-aways at the net.
The other advantage clay provides to serve and volleyers also has to do with the advantage of being able to access more spin. If a player can hit a kick serve with enough spin, get the ball out of the opponent’s strike zone and draw a short reply, moving forward is without question a legitimate next option. Unless he’s facing Novak Djokovic, who can seemingly get every serve thrown at him back into the court, serving and volleying off a heavy kick serve on clay can pay massive dividends.
Finally, if a player committed himself to serving and volleying more — even one who is an ostensibly poor volleyer — that player would be able to improve their volleys to an adequate enough level where they could be serving and volleying on a consistent basis. Poor volleying skills should never be an excuse here.
The changes in court speed and racket technology have given the returner a huge boost in fighting off serve and volleyers but a closer examination of the modern game, at least how it is played on clay, shows that serving and volleying on clay can be a recipe for success.