It is important for league and (inexperienced) tournament players alike to first realize that that in platform tennis, the relationship between the server and the receiver is the opposite from the one in tennis. While in tennis the server (or serving team in doubles) has a huge advantage over the receiver (or the receiving team), in platform tennis it is exactly the other way around. On TV, analysts keep stats of service breaks. If platform tennis ever makes it to the tube, analysts will undoubtedly keep track of service holds.
With that in mind, let’s further explore the dynamics of the first three shots of any point: serve, return of serve, and first volley. Two out of these three shots are hit by the server (serve and first volley) while one is hit by the returner (return). In tracking over 10,000 points (men and women, divisions 1 through 6) in the Long Island league, I found out that on average, 55-75% of all points are lost within the first three shots. When you see these percentages, keep in mind that 55% represents the lower range – that means that on a great day (for you and your partner), you still lose more than half your points during those first three shots. If you are a recreational player, do not despair, the percentages are not much lower at the pro level (an average of 40%) – it is the nature of the game – what account for the lower percentages for the pros is their better racquet skills and their ability to make adjustments.
Let’s go a little further: the serve is a trickier shot that most (new) players realize. For accomplished tennis players, adjusting to only one serve and to the more defensive nature of this shot in platform tennis will probably be the most challenging thing during their transition from tennis to platform tennis. It is fairly difficult (especially for recreational players) to direct their serve to a specific area of the service box, primarily because:
- At the club level, players hit their serves with little or no spin.
- The service box is very small.
- The pressure factor.
Another thing to keep in mind is that on average, in league matches, 80% of all serves bounce within the middle third of either service box.
Here is where things become interesting: you need to start thinking of the serve and the first volley as one single shot instead of two separate ones! If (sort of a big if) you get your serve in and you follow it up to the net (as you should), you will then have to hit what is by far the most difficult shot in the game: the first volley. The first volley is the most difficult shot in the game because:
- You will be in transition moving forward.
- You have to hit this shot off of the easiest shot for your opponents: the return of serve.
The return of serve is the easiest shot in platform tennis because you are guaranteed to get a short, high bouncing ball, and (very important) the attacking server will be way off the net. I always thought that the worst half a second in platform tennis is as you follow your serve to the net knowing that you are about to hit a first volley – I do not know too many players who are looking forward to that. A lot of times, faulting is symptomatic of the server thinking one shot ahead to the dreaded first volley – players might not realize this but it is true in a lot of cases.
Another tricky part about the first volley is that even if you practice this shot repeatedly, you will most likely not improve it significantly. If you are playing against a returner who is teeing off on your serve that day, you will not make too many first volleys. I definitely recommend you practice both your serve and the first volley (always together, never just the serve like you do in tennis) to get it to a respectable level. Make sure that you are moving in off the serve with the paddle cradled in your backhand volley position, show the back of your hand to your opponents (that means you are backhand volley ready) not the edge of your paddle (neutral ready position like in tennis) nor your nails (forehand volley ready). Follow the path of your serve to the net, move fast yet be under control. Very important: stop just before you hit the first volley – you want your body to be still and completely balanced at impact. Get your body in front of the ball and DO NOT use your legs to volley like you do in tennis. Instead, tighten your forearm and lock your wrist during contact and try to absorb/difuse the pace of the hard ball coming your way. Do not try to generate more pace to the ball because you will miss a lot more balls than you will make. Aim virtually all first volley soft and deep to the middle of the court, slightly more towards the deuce side, aiming it towards the third post counting from the deuce corner.
Once you feel like you have become a respectable server and volleyer but nevertheless feel that you are not winning enough service games, you are ready to tackle other ways to counter a great returner. We will address that topic in our next article “Formations at the Beginning of the Point”.