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I appreciate that you are in a “drill” mode for teaching purposes, however in my limited experience with 3.0-3.5 players who play with “drama”, the returns are almost never straight at me (unless they hit the ball 100mph)! The returns are (while both on and off the NVZ line) fast and to the side or down the middle. I understand switching to a soft hand but this might affect control and ball placement. There is no time to consider topspin either. Under these circumstances, the best defense is a good offense! The one who hits the hardest to the open spot wins the volley. I sometimes return with a dink or try a low groundstroke.
Really appreciate your clear and understanding method of teaching.
I work with beginners in our area and share a lot of your teaching with them.The podcast are very helpful as well.