Some players would rather hunt for gas on a Sunday afternoon than rush the net to hit a volley. Volleying, or hitting the ball in the air before it bounces (not be be confused with rallying), is really the shot that separates the men from the boys. A winning volley can make a hacker feel like Godzilla or Arthur Ashe; a flubbed one will humble a player faster than two aces down the middle.

The action at net is fast-paced. Beginners accustomed to taking long backswings on their groundstrokes will find balls whizzing past them like confetti in a wind tunnel. To avoid this nightmare, the volleying neophyte must learn to block or punch the ball with a minimum of backswing and follww-through.

The recommended volleying position is about half-way between the service line and the net (closer in if you're a gaint or John Newcombe). Turn your shoulders and take a short step toward the oncoming ball, making sure your body weight is forward. Watch the ball very closely. Grip the racket very firmly. Punch the ball like a Muhammad Ali jab, and use some underspin slice for control.

If you're having problems meeting the ball in front of you, them imagine you're a first baseman reaching forward to catch the ball. You'll be surprised at how many shots you can intercept for winners using this mental reminder.

As soon as you feel reasonably comfortable at the net (and less like a sitting duck), it's time to practice your volley in doubles games. With only half the court to cover you can afford to be more aggressive. Fast exchanges t close range will help you to develop net presence and feel for the shot.

In singles, attack behind down-the-line approach shots that land deep in your opponent's territory (to minimize the baseliner's angles). High balls can be put away with short, cross-court volleys. Volley all low balls back deep and be ready to pounce on any returns.

With adequate practice and an aggressive attitude you can make the volley a potent weapon.

Q - How should I practice volley?

A - you and your partner can stand just inside the service lines and practice tapping the ball back and forth. Or you can stand to one side on the baseline and trade shots cross court to your opponent at the net. Avoid indiscriminate hitting by doing a specific drill from which both players will profit.

Q - I often miss easy put-aways with the court wide open. Why does this happen?

A - You could be watching the court instead of the ball, or you might be forgetting to move your feet so that you are well balanced while executing the shot.

Q - What is a drop volley and when should you use it?

A - A drop volley, sometimes called a stop volley, is one that is dumped softly just over the net. It should be used only when your opponent is caught out of position and preferably on low-bouncing surfaces such as red clay and grass.

Q - Should a beginner learn to volley right away?

A - Yes, even though it will be some time before he can use the volley in playing situations. It's good for improving your reflexes and will prevent you from experiencing netphobia later on. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Richard Darcey.