The journey to an effective volleying technique is similar to our previous journey, the journey to effective groundstrokes from the baseline. Yet there are two major differences.
I'll get to them in a minute, but first here is a quick reminder of how we control the ball: we use the angle of the racquet face (left-right, up-down) to control direction, and we use force/speed to control depth.
So what are the main differences between volley technique and groundstrokes technique?
The first one is that, in volleying, we have less time to swing, since we are much closer to our opponent than when we play at the baseline.
Again, since we can generate no power with a swing directly in front of the body, we must hold the racquet out to the side, so that we can swing freely at the ball.
But, as you can see in this video, it is even more difficult to time the ball and control the racquet angle for a volley than for a groundstroke. In fact, it's too difficult for the brain, so we make big mistakes. (See video.)
How can we solve this problem?
First, we need to shorten the backswing and use but a short forward movement (remember to keep the racquet face pointing toward the target) to direct the ball.
At the net we cannot hit the ball really hard like we can on the baseline. But when you are at the net, your opponent has much less time to react.
So speed isn't the most important factor at net: placement is.
Note that I hold the racquet in the most comfortable way to achieve one main goal – to guide the racquet face in a straight line toward the target. See how my volley technique looks if I use the normal forehand and backhand grips.
But this grip is very uncomfortable for playing the ball with slice. Why slice?
With slice we can reduce the ball's energy and control the depth of our volleys much easier than if we volley flatly. Note that, typically, the incoming ball has spin, and when you slice it back, you don't change the direction it rotates.
Therefore, you can control the volley much better than if you try top-spinning the ball back.
Of course you can try playing slightly sliced shots with this grip but you'll quickly discover how uncomfortable it is.
That's why I look for a more comfortable grip, one with which I can impart slice to the ball and guide it in a straight line toward the target.
That's how I find a continental grip. Again, the name of this grip is irrelevant to your tennis game. What's important is that you can control the ball in a comfortable way.
Short backswing, straight line, and slice — that's what we must do with the racquet to control the ball.
That's how you develop natural volleying technique.
Now you need to hit hundreds of volleys trying to find the most comfortable, the most energy efficient and the most controlled way of hitting a volley.
See if you can notice the two main requirements of volleying technique in the pictures below of Marcos Baghdatis playing a forehand volley: racquet pointing forward and slice.
If you want to develop good footwork at the net, follow the same process you used to develop good footwork at the baseline – experiment with extremes.
Notice how uncomfortable and difficult it is to control the ball (i.e., to keep the racquet face pointing toward the target while moving the racquet forward and slicing the ball) in either a very closed stance or a very open stance.
Try many variations of footwork (positioning your feet). You will learn which is best. Again, a somewhat closed stance enables you to guide the racquet toward the target in an easy and controlled way.
All you need to do now is to play many, many volleys to develop good feel, control of your racquet, and quick and adaptable footwork.