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The dumbest shot

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The story made it to some tennis magazine.
Andre Agassi went to an amusement park while playing the Cincinnati Open and got into a batting cage. The attendant set it to a moderate pace, which Agassi mastered immediately. Asking for more speed, he was indulged. Pretty soon he asked for the machine to bet set to its maximum. The operator warned him that the machine could throw 95MPH drives, which only made Agassi more adamant. Agassi kept hitting balls off the machine, getting to the stage in which he was hitting line drives while RUNNING towards the pitch.
The story is a reminder that tennis indeed has had some athletes that could stand next to anybody else. Agassi’s hand – eye coordination was off the scale, something he had shown from very early on. However, there was something that Agassi was not particularly good at (considering he was an ATP pro). Agassi’s net game was always a bit suspect and, sometime during his career (I am not aware if it was before or after the Cincy outing) he invented one shot. Now, inventing a shot is not easy, as Guillermo Vilas can attest when he invented the between the legs shot (it is called a “Willy” in South America, in honor of the man). But what Agassi did was not only to invent a shot. He changed the way players approached the net.
He invented the swinging volley.
Now, Agassi really did not (most likely) wake up one day and said “I am going to try this”. He simply found himself one day in no-man’s-land (while on a court, of course) and seeing as the ball was approaching at an appropriate height, swung at it. And made it. And from then on, he kept doing it.
Now, success for one player does not mean that the rest of the pack will see if it works for them. Few players picked the swinging volley immediately because it was still an era of proper serve-and-volleyers: Sampras, Edberg, Rafter and others were there, making volleys of both sides and winning points. But as the game moved away from players approaching the net ON PURPOSE, those players that found themselves charging the net and really not knowing why, started to swing at the ball. And, when things work, you keep doing them.
The second player I saw doing this was everybody’s sweetheart, Kim Clijsters. Clijsters was not very adept when playing inside the service boxes, and the swinging volley worked for her on many occasions. So by now, having set up the premise, I can state my stinking opinion:
The swinging volley is the stupidest shot in tennis.
Heresy, of course. A shot used by so many players can’t be stupid, and some may say I say this because I can’t hit one (I can and I have, from both my wings; and I have a one handed BH). So why deface a shot that is so pleasant to watch, which usually raises a lot of “WOW!”’s from the stands? Because so many players miss these volleys.
A quantification must be done. When I say many players miss the shot I do not mean this is on a rate of 50% misses. I would say it stands around 10%. And that should be enough to make it a patently very good strategic stroke. But only if you compare it to those players that really can’t volley. The swinging volley, of course, is hit way above net height. Most of the times the player hits it at shoulder height, around the service line. And that is where the idiocy comes into play. Because if you see the really good volleyers, they used to take that shot with a solid high volley and hit it for a clean winner by putting enough oomph on it and angling it. After all, you are talking about balls that are shoulder high and any proper forehand volley, hit with a firm wrist and moving through it will make it. And Sampras, Edberg, Rafter, Navratilova, Mandlikova et al knew that. And they probably made 99% of those volleys and left their opponent flat footed on the other side.
I saw this with just a few days left in the 2020 Aussie open. These are some of the players I saw butcher a high swinging volley: Muguruza, Kenin, Thiem, Medvedev, Pavlushiensomething, Bencic and Kontaveit. And I was not able to watch as much tennis as I wanted. I wonder how many of those other players that can’t take that non-dominant hand off the handle and change the grip to a continental have also sprayed one easy forehand volley by going full swing on a high ball.
And of course, this is with modern 110 SqIn rackets. I know that Navs never had the option of a swinging volley (which she mastered, by the way, after retirement) while playing with her original wood Yonex. So I would really like to see all these new players do something: you will be in Cincy during mid-summer. Go to a batting cage. See how many line-drives you can hit off the machine.
And wear a batting helmet. Because you may get dinged by a fast ball on the noggin and, god forbid, you may get some sense knocked into your skull and never again try a swinging volley. And then learn to hit a real one.

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