A dying phenomenon in the game of tennis is seeing a player come to the net consistently. Over the past 15 years or so, there has been a marked decline in players coming to the net, especially compared to the “old days”, when players used to come to the net very often.
In the 90’s and early 00’s, you still had players such as Stefan Edberg and Richard Krajicek who would come to the net early and often and would continue to do so pretty much regardless of the results. That was just how they played. (Sampras often serve and volleyed, but it can be argued that it wasn’t the primary focus of his game)
Stefan Edberg and Richard Krajicek both had incredibly successful careers. Edberg won all four grand slams as a junior, and was ranked #1 in the world in both singles and doubles on the ATP tour. He finished with a winning percentage near 75% in singles, won 59 tournaments (singles and doubles combined) including 6 singles grand slam tournaments and 3 doubles grand slam tournaments. He also had 4 Davis Cup victories. He is now Roger Federer’s coach.
Krajicek didn’t quite have the success of Edberg, but he was also a serve and volley master. He got all the way up to #4 in the world rankings, had 17 career singles titles and won Wimbledon in 1996. In that tournament, he defeated former champ Michael Stich and had his landmark victory of Pete Sampras, which was in straight sets. This was Sampras’ only loss in singles at Wimbledon from 1993 until his 2001 loss to Roger Federer.
Nowadays, tennis is essentially a baseline, back court game. Players love to rally with massive top-spin and power and rely on supreme conditioning and consistency. This isn’t the best way to play and win in tennis, unless you are truly elite with these attributes of the sport.
The best way to win in tennis is not only through consistency, but also variety in the game that you play. Switching up the spins, the speed and the style of play that you use during your matches can oftentimes trump talent and athleticism and help you win a match that you may not have otherwise won. One of the most important aspects in tennis is rhythm, and switching your style up helps break your opponent’s rhythm and maybe even get in their head, affecting them for the duration of the match.
Aside from simple variety in strokes, serving and volleying, or at least coming to the net every once in a while can make all the difference in the world. Doing this can be especially effective if your opponent hasn’t demonstrated the ability to hit effective shots down the line or with general precision. If your opponent tends to just rally down the middle of the court and wait for you to make a mistake, a way to counteract it is to rush the net behind a good shot and put the pressure on them to actually beat you.
Another advantage to doing this comes when you are trying to hide your own weaknesses. If you can consistently hit decent volleys, but you may not be consistent from the baseline or have good conditioning, then coming to the net can help you overcome your deficiencies. Sure, it puts pressure on your opponent to hit great shots and keeps them off-balance, but it also can end the point quickly, which helps you save energy. This is a crucial aspect of tennis because some matches can go quite a long time and be devastating on the body. Instead of swinging for the fences to end points from the baseline to save energy, it is the better percentage play to come to the net and take your chances there.
One of my unconventional strategies that I use every once in a while is to come to the net directly behind a moon-ball. It is a deep and high bouncing shot that makes it hard for the other player to hit an offensive shot back or even see the court as well as they normally would under regular circumstances. I like to wait until I see them take their eyes off the court completely then rush the net to put the ball away.
Generally speaking though, you want to come to the net after a great serve or approach shot. Not all great shots are great to come to the net to however. Too much topspin may give the opponent enough time to get there and hit a variety of shots back that can give you trouble. Ideally, your approach shot will be hit flat and hard in the deep corner of the court, or sliced to keep the ball very low. Then you have to play the angles and read the ball quickly off their racquet so you can position yourself in the right spot to end the point on your volley. In a perfect world, your first volley should end the point.
It’s not for everyone, but even if you are not the best volleyer it definitely suits you well to come to the net every once in a while to throw your opponent off. It gets them out of their rhythm, forces them to hit better shots, saves you energy, can help hide some of your weaknesses and counter-act match-up problems you may have. With the way tennis is primarily being played, chances are you may automatically put yourself at an advantage by coming to the net just because there are so few others that do it that your opponent will probably be frazzled just at the sight of it.