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Myth Busted – Racquet Head Up

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I’ve heard coaches tell their students to keep their “racquet head up” on low volleys over and over again. Please don’t try to execute a low volley that way!

The most important factor is the angle between your forearm and racquet handle.

If you keep a strong connection between the racquet and your body then you can feel free to drop the head all you want, especially since many low volleys and half volleys are literally impossible to hit without doing so.

Hopefully this video clears up some misunderstandings for you and gives you a clear idea of whats “essential” on low volleys.

Want to master all 7 different types of volleys? Check out this coaching > Click Here!

Comments? Questions? Leave them down below. Thanks for watching!ย 

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  1. Claudio Prado Romero April 2, 2018 at 11:34 am - Reply

    Great tip Ian, I would like to know more about racquet drop at the end of the backswing and below the ball to get better topspin. Thank you very mucho, my best regards.

  2. Ken July 19, 2016 at 10:22 am - Reply

    Hi Ian, Great video. I was wondering why 135 degrees? Are we biomechanically stronger at that angle, easier to control the head angle…. or is it something else?

  3. John Berger July 18, 2016 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    Maybe we need talk about what up means? Or maybe the term could be UP in relation to what? If we say keep the racquet up in relation to the ground then I agree that it's impossible in many situations. On the other hand if we say keep the racquet up in relation to your body trunk or your arm & wrist. When we do a volley at chest height there is an easy and understandable relationship between the racquet, the body and the arm & wrist. For a low volley that relationship can stay the same by bending the knees and bending at the waist. Therefore the racquet is still up in relation to the body, arm & wrist even though it's not up in relation to the ground.

  4. Pete Kelly July 18, 2016 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    Hi Ian, This is Pete Kelly, I am a former ATP touring pro and the Director of Tennis at Desert Horizons Country Club in Indian Wells, CA what I just read in your email is awesome. I have been teaching the volley the way you just said for over 30 years. Keep it up. Ball high racquet head high, ball low drop the racquet toeet the ball. Wow what a concept

    • Ian Westermann July 19, 2016 at 9:21 am - Reply

      Great to hear from you, Pete! I'm there every March, maybe I'll drop by.

  5. Mike Alcott July 18, 2016 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Ian, Hey, Just a quick comment, really just some constructive criticism here with nothing but love with my intentions. I love your passion of sharing your gifts and talents through video with others. The only part of the video I didn't like was the first 2 minutes. I realized you had to set up the fallacy of ALWAYS keeping your racket head up. I love the explanation, and you took the words almost virtually out of my mouth. When I explain that same principle to my students. I tell them, it's impossible on certain shots to keep your racket head higher than the butt of the racket, because if that were true, the butt of the racket would have to be below the surface of the ground for some situations. Well, done. My critique is that you briefly, in a positive way say, Have you ever heard, keep your racket head up on your volleys?" This is quite common when learning. However, there are some situations where dropping the racket head cannot be avoided. Then go on to explain. It felt very defensive at first. My helpful hint (hopefully) for you is to just keep it positive, and don't lead with fear. Just say what you want to say. I can elaborate more if you'd like. This is just my 2 cents worth. Take it for what it's worth to you. I love your stuff. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to many more of your videos.

    • Ian Westermann July 19, 2016 at 9:22 am - Reply

      I understand what you're saying, Mike. Thanks so much for the feedback!

  6. JACK SULTAN July 18, 2016 at 11:35 am - Reply

    IAN….Great data keep em coming….

  7. Skip Howard July 18, 2016 at 11:12 am - Reply

    Ian, having been a teaching pro for 60+ years and a geometry for 40 years, I question your angle between the for forearm and the racket is NOT 45 degrees, but It is a 135 degree angle. Please take this as a constructive criticism. I would hate to see my geometry students, who are also tennis players, jump on me for giving them false information.

    Thanks for hearing me out.

    Skip Howard, USPTA Elite Pro.

    • Ian Westermann July 18, 2016 at 12:40 pm - Reply

      Yup, I agree with you Skip. 135 is the correct angle. Cheers!

  8. Renee Archambo July 18, 2016 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Great lesson Ian!

    Thank you!

  9. johnny July 18, 2016 at 10:49 am - Reply

    great stuff lefty thanks

  10. John Gunkler July 18, 2016 at 10:49 am - Reply

    Another good lesson, Ian. I have always preferred to teach this by telling people to keep their wrist in a neutral (natural) position. Of course, this created the 45 (135, actually) degree angle between arm and handle that you talk about. I use the same language to get people into the right grip. I hold their racquet out in front of their hip at the point where they should be making contact with the ball (either forehand or backhand), then ask them to reach out and grab the racquet handle. Bang! Automatic proper grips. I do watch to make sure they keep their wrists neutral while they reach out, but have never had anyone do anything else. This natural wrist is so important because (1) it feels most comfortable, not awkward nor painful; and (2) it is the basis for everything, including the modern lag and snap on groundstrokes. By the way, I learned tennis 62 years ago and taught for a few years to put myself through college. I was nationally ranked twice, once in juniors and once in the open division — back when you just had to win a regional tournament to get a ranking (!)

    Finally, I sometimes warn people never to watch John McEnroe's volleying technique, even though I think he was one of the best volleyers ever. ๐Ÿ™‚ He often had the racquet straight down and in other awkward positions, but the results were incredible.

  11. Ron B July 18, 2016 at 10:47 am - Reply

    You mean we can't all volley like McEnroe?

    I notice that almost every coaching video I watch on hitting the volley is shown with the backhand volley. For me (and I suspect most folks) the bhv is much cleaner and easier to maintain proper form (that 45ยฐ angle). It would be useful to see this in action with the fhv.

  12. Nick Conkle July 18, 2016 at 10:39 am - Reply


    I've heard the "keep the racquet head up," advice but know it's not always possible – so I ignored.

    Wasn't sure exactly what I should do. This video helped.

  13. Bev February 23, 2016 at 9:17 am - Reply

    SO helpful. I've always struggled with this rule!

  14. Mike February 22, 2016 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    I think a lot of coaches tell their students to keep their racquet head up on low volleys in an effort to get them to bend their knees. Obviously you can't hit an ankle low volley with the racquet head up. The closer you can keep the ball at eye level on lower volleys the better. Just stay away from dipping the RH down from your wrist.

  15. Jeff October 25, 2015 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    Nice tip. The angle you speak of between the arm and the racquet of is really 135 degrees, not 45 degrees.

  16. Roy November 13, 2014 at 3:34 pm - Reply


    45 degrees is definitely the key goal here. Think of the shoulder as a hinge that allows the arm to swing to and fro (with a slight elbow bend) to maintain 45 degrees and still adjust to the height of the incoming ball. If the ball is low, then the arm moves back and downward via the shoulder โ€œhingeโ€ in order to maintain as close as possible to 45 degrees.

    By the way, who cares whether it's geometrically 45 or 135 degrees, we get the gist, and 45 degrees seems easier to comprehend/remember for most of us IMHO.

    Keep up the great videos!


  17. Tomaz November 11, 2014 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Yes, Ian, spot on, you beat me to it – wanted to share this too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I've also heard the phrase "keep racquet head up" on the volley million times from other coaches and wondered what the heck they mean by that.

    It's not true at all and there are hundreds of videos of pros online leveling the racquet at contact or later or even going well below the wrist and somehow no one notices that.

    So yeah, fully agree and glad that someone is busting this myth.

  18. Jerry Nagahashi November 11, 2014 at 9:06 am - Reply

    I really never tell the kids to keep their racquet head up on low volleys. I only tell them to keep the racquet head up as the starting position or stance at the net. A common mistake with beginners is that as soon as they make a low volley, they keep the racquet head below the net on their recovery instead of recovering to the starting stance. I tell the kids to get their racquet head back up on the recovery but not when they go for a low volley.

  19. Raj November 11, 2014 at 5:55 am - Reply

    Forehand puzzle : Referring to ROger's forehand. During back swing palm is down and racquet face is paralle to ground. When foraward swing starts, palm is still facing down and racquet face as well. The forward swing continues and racquet face opens up naturally and makes ball contact. Roger finishes across the body most of the times. Now Andre has a similar backswing but finishes with the racquet up over the shoulder. I see in Lendl's forehand backswing, the racquet face is parallel to side fence. I see Pete's backswing is similar to Lendl's.

    Could you please make a short video to clarify these aspects ?

    Thanks a lot for your insights and instrucitons.

  20. MTM Coach Mike November 11, 2014 at 3:34 am - Reply

    If one uses a loose grip on a 100 mph shot the racquet would fly out of their hand. Even these shots you mention require a loose grip one still has to squeeze the grip right before contact for stability. I think we agree that a combination of both is needed. A loose grip throughout the down and across motion followed by a slight tightening of the grip right before contact is how most pros do it. If I want my volley to land short, I will stop my swing right AT contact. To hit a deeper volley, I will stop my swing a little more THROUGH contact. I still use a loose, loose, loose, tight combination for my grip tension.

    • Evan July 28, 2015 at 9:37 pm - Reply

      I recently understood the term volley. The technique you mention is the same in volleyball. One "cushions" spikes on forearms in order to have control. Racquet is comparative to the forearms in volleyball. (Exactly the same feel for both sports with low volleys and forearm hit…use of shoulders!)

  21. Kristoffer November 11, 2014 at 1:11 am - Reply

    Hi Ian,

    Huh, that was a really interesting video. As a tenniscoach myself I've have always been practicing the 90 degree angle, raquet head up, but I have never really found it satisfying, and when my students have pointed out, that I myself don't always hit my volleys shoulder height, raquet head up, they have of course been right.

    I've also always said that you can't hit every volley should height, and the most important thing is that the raquet head doesn't drop down during the shot, creating backspin, but keeps steady in your standard volley.

    This was very imformative and thank you very much. You video correlates much more with my own style and this basically just makes senes.

    Thanks Kristoffer

  22. Vickie November 10, 2014 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    I really enjoy your videos and tennis tips. Do you have any suggestions on how I can uncover my doubles opponents weaknesses in warm up? How does a warm up differ in singles vs doubles?
    Thank you,

  23. paul November 10, 2014 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    Yes, Ian we understand that you can't keep the racquet head up, situational game tennis, which pending your court positions determines what you are able to do. Also depending on your approach may determine where you get to on your volleys. Many random derivatives, that in-turn make us better players through training.

    Always great to hear your spin on things. It you let the ball drop, can you maintain the angle of the forearm and handle? mmm
    One thing I use in the non-racquet hand in your case the left, helps me determine the height that I wish to "Catch" the ball. As effective what I'm doing in a volley is catching and punching. Love your thoughts?

  24. Stephan November 10, 2014 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    Hello Ian,
    thanks for this nice video tip.
    Is there a difference between low forehand and low backhand volleys? My thinking would be that I bend my knees much more when playing a low forehand volley which allows me to keep my racket head above my hand more often than when playing a low backhand volley? Is there any truth in this?
    Thanks again.

  25. Dan Higashi November 10, 2014 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    Although you mentioned a couple of times in this video to have a firm grip when volleying, isn't this instruction also a myth? I've heard that a study was done where tennis balls were shot at the sweet spot of a racquet in two situations: (1) balanced on the butt end on a table; (2) held firmly by the handle in a vice. In both situations with the same incoming speed, the speed of the resulting volleys were identical; proving that the firmness of the grip wasn't a factor in producing a successful volley.

    • MTM Coach Mike November 11, 2014 at 3:17 am - Reply

      Correct, firmness of grip has nothing to do with the pace of the ball off one's strings. The power on volleys comes from using a stopping motion. (Accelerating fast and then decelerating fast.) "Stop to make it pop." Combine this with a loose grip throughout the motion and then slightly tighten your grip right before contact for maximum pop.

  26. giuseppe November 10, 2014 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Hey Ian thanks again great clip and great tip but for sure if you are going to hit a low volley you start with a high racket at 45 degrease angle

  27. Anne Marie Allwine November 10, 2014 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    I never thought keeping the racket head up on volleys referred to trying to keep at chest height as you mentioned. I always thought it is to keep the racket head above the wrist rather than dropping it down especially when at net and playing shots that dip over the net. I always tell my players to do this if at all possible as it is a stronger shot than a droopy racket with a loose wrist at net. I certainly agree if mid-court and you have a half volley that drops to your shoe laces that this doesn't work.

    • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 3:26 pm - Reply

      I think you need to watch the video again, Anne Marie! I didn't suggest at all that I thought "racquet head up" meant making contact at chest height. I take it to mean exactly what you described: having to keep the head above the wrist. You can (and have to) let the racquet head be below the wrist on low volleys unless you want to try hitting them in the silly way I demonstrated above. Allowing the racquet head drop below the wrist does NOT mean that the wrist is loosening or getting sloppy. Although sometimes you may want to relax your grip depending on the specific shot. Thanks for watching and leaving your thoughts!

  28. Karl Waller November 10, 2014 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Great Video, Ian and very helpfully.
    Speaking about Volley I would like to ask you about another possible myth about the "step in " footwork esecuting a volley.
    Almost every instructor tells to "step in" the volley but looking at the slomotion sequences of some great volleyers I noted that they don't really step in but even when executing the volley they don't "close" the volley with one single "step in" but they keep on advancing by short fluently steps before and even at contact moment.
    What do you think about it?
    Thank you

    • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 3:27 pm - Reply

      Yup, "step across" and "step in" on volleys are two other phrases that people use constantly but they don't always apply. Often they do, but not always!

    • Evan July 28, 2015 at 9:44 pm - Reply

      Let me say what I found out. Volley right? In volleyball a short dig is recovered by keeping momemtum going and lifting straight arms from shoulders (not elbows). That is…hit, elevate arms as one keeps moving forward. In a way one creates momemtum on ball with legs, and control with the arms. In tennis…legs is the same…strings replace the forearms.

  29. Bob Romer November 10, 2014 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    Great video

  30. Fonz November 10, 2014 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    Hello , generally I have liked and agreed with your previous emailed mini lessons to me, so that alone thank you for sharing .However in this video I find it hard to agree with the drill you used as well as not mentioning that court position and where you should be during any point was sorely mentioned, most usta and recreational players, who know how to move never have the problem of always keeping racket head high, which I believe is correct instruction, the game is about constant movement and knowing how to prep for any shot, so in my view footwork should be addressed in your comments to be specific in why your addressing this if you racket is too low and your the net person you will fail the majority of the time, also it should be pointed out that where you place that volley should be addressed ant just shown to go straight back to middle ,once again my disagreement with this lesson is that if you're I the right place you will better table to address any shot made during game play.

    • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      Good to hear from you, Fonz! Covering "how to volley" A to Z would create a video over an hour long. Its never my goal to address any topic completely in these quick lessons. Instead I do my best to cover a very specific topic and over its most "essential" elements. That is why specific footwork and targeting elements are not present here.

      As for footwork and positioning, do you believe that it is possible with good footwork to always avoid hitting low volleys? In other words, if I move correctly you believe I should be able to hit every volley with my racquet head up? If so I have to say that I disagree with you 110%.

  31. Grahame November 10, 2014 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    Great tip, Ian. The thing that struck me when watching you hit the lower volleys was that you were quite passive, feetwise, perhaps because you were demonstrating a different point. The feeds seemed to allow enough time for you step up the court a little bit and also to volley off your right foot on your backhand v and then transferring your weight onto your left (and vice versa for a forehand v).One other thing- how do you feel about changing your grip between b/h and f/h volleys if you have time?

    • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 3:32 pm - Reply

      Yup, I was trying to get a very specific point across here, Grahame. I absolutely could have moved in but I specifically wanted to demonstrate low volleys, so I stayed put. I'm not a fan of changing grips between the forehand and backhand volley at all. Its possible to play high level tennis while doing so but in my opinion players are much better served learning how to hit both sides with the same grip (continental).

  32. libert November 10, 2014 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    what if you should say " don't drop your racket head below wrist"

    • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 3:33 pm - Reply

      In my experience that phrase is used interchangeably with "keep the racquet head up". It simply isn't practical or possible to hit every volley with the racquet head above the wrist!

  33. David Lidster November 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Ian. I found this a very helpful video. Very clear instructions and demonstrations. The tip about the 45 degrees was especially helpful. Thank you for sharing your expertise. Regards, D.

  34. Larry Lenon November 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    Helpful video. Like tips in snippets like this.

    45ยฐ is easier to remember, though the angle between arm and racquet handle is actually 135ยฐ.

    • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 3:35 pm - Reply

      Yup, that was pointed out on YouTube. I was referring to the angle between the racquet handle and a line that extends out from my forearm past my hand. Next time I'll explain what I mean ๐Ÿ™‚

  35. beth14 November 10, 2014 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    Ummmmm Ian isn't 90 + 45 = 135? Isn't it a 135 degree angle the racket is making with the forearm? Might be the Geometry teacher in me.

    Great practical instruction as always!

    • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 3:35 pm - Reply

      Yup, that was pointed out on YouTube. I was referring to the angle between the racquet handle and a line that extends out from my forearm past my hand. Next time I'll explain what I mean ๐Ÿ™‚

  36. Chris Sorrera November 10, 2014 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    This is a nice practical, realistic advice, Ian. Thank you for sharing your professional thoughts. We can see you doing backhand volleys on this video, since it is the most natural and comfortable position to take the ball mid-air. Could you please do a video topic regarding forehand volleys? Possibly regarding when to use a swinging forehand volley and when to use a standard forehand volley? Or maybe a good advise on how to keep a consistent forehand volley?


  37. MTM Coach Mike November 10, 2014 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Good video. John McEnroe was famous for his racquet drop on his low volleys. I just think the most important factor for hitting low volleys is getting the inside of the ball by swinging down and across. No one is going to calculate the angle between their forearm and racquet handle during a match. Keep it simple =)

  38. ezaubs November 10, 2014 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    Hi Ian

    Keeping the butt of the handle pointing towards the knee is another way of explaining this.

    • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm - Reply

      I like that you're trying to simplify it as much as possible! Unfortunately where the butt cap points varies depending on the height of the shot.

      • ezaubs November 11, 2014 at 11:22 am - Reply

        I think you'll find whatever the height of the ball the butt end will be pointing in the general direction of the knee in your video example

  39. Gillian November 10, 2014 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    I greatly appreciated the videos as well as the additional instruction in text. It certainly helps people who, like me, are hearing impaired. Including the text we are less likely to miss important information.
    Thank you.

  40. Dave November 10, 2014 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Good video. Almost every instructor has said "get to the net faster for volleys". Finally someone acknowledges that not everyone is the Amazing Flash and can't get there instantaneously. I wish I could.

  41. JACQUES LESAGE November 10, 2014 at 12:08 pm - Reply


  42. Hal Rowe November 10, 2014 at 11:41 am - Reply

    You mentioned keeping a firm grip. As a young player, this is what I was told as well. I have found this to be a mistake that many players including myself, until recently have followed. The real key to any shot in tennis to keep all of the muscles in your body relaxed in order to maintain control. I constantly tell myself to think, relax and think soft hands when executing vollies or any other stroke for that matter. Your thoughts?

    Regards, Hal

    • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 11:49 am - Reply

      Thanks for your thoughts, Hal! Either advise could be correct: "firm" or "relaxed". It totally depends on what height you're making contact at, how fast the ball is moving as it gets to your racquet, and what your target is on the other side of the court. The shot I was receiving wasn't terribly fast and I was trying to keep my volleys past the service line so I was trying to keep things relatively firm. I didn't explain this in the video, of course. Another topic for another video!

      • MTM Coach Mike November 10, 2014 at 12:39 pm - Reply

        Also, Hal is right with the loose/relaxed grip. On all shots, you want to have a loose grip. Only squeezing/tightening the grip right before you make contact. "Loose, loose, loose, tight." It has nothing to do with how fast the ball is moving or where you are trying to hit it. Direction is based on the angle of the racquet face, not how tight you are holding the grip.

        • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 3:43 pm - Reply

          The speed of the ball has everything to do with how firm the grip should be when it comes to volleys, Mike. If I'm attempting to hit a drop volley just over the net and the ball is coming towards the racquet at 100mph then a "tight" grip will cause the resulting shot to pop way up into the air. Yes, the racquet face determines what direction the ball travels, the firmness of the grip at contact (along with the direction/speed that the racquet is moving in) determines how much pace the ball continues to have after it comes off the strings. To hit a drop volley the racquet face has to be significantly open. Open face + tight grip + big momentum on the ball = drop volley that goes up 20 feet into the air. Saying that all shots should have the same grip tension is just plain wrong.

          • MTM Coach Mike November 10, 2014 at 6:10 pm - Reply

            I see what you are saying. Thanks for the response. You don't work with kids do you? =)

  43. MAIREAD DEVONSHIRE November 10, 2014 at 11:37 am - Reply

    Excellent video very helpful Please send me more

  44. Kelly walsh November 10, 2014 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Love your style of teaching, quick tips, good visual reinforcement! K

  45. Gerald Granath November 10, 2014 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Hey thanks Ian. So *the* one constant for volleying from anywhere on the court is not "racket head up" but, a firm 45 degree angle between forearm and racket handle!

    • Ian Westermann November 10, 2014 at 11:30 am - Reply

      That's definitely what I was trying to get across, Gerald. Thanks for watching!