'Stay out of the kitchen!'
This phrase is bandied about the courts so often we even made a shirt out of it. The non-volley zone or 'kitchen' is the 7-foot segment in front of the net every player is introduced to and then subsequently told to avoid. You're not allowed to return a ball in the kitchen without letting it bounce... unless you're willing to give your point away.
So is it impossible to ever enjoy a slam right at the net? Not necessarily.
If you're an advanced player and have the ability to read opponents, set up your positioning and wait for the right opening, there is a way to sneak in a smash at close range: the Erne.
Instructor Jeff Shank saw Erne Perry use the shot at the 2010 Nationals and gave the move a title in honor of its creator.
The Erne involves stepping immediately to the left or right side of the NVZ, outside of the court boundaries, to volley the ball at its apex. Since it's normally impossible to perform a put away shot so close to the net, opponents are often surprised that their 'unattackable' ball has suddenly whizzed past them.
You can see the Erne demonstrated by several players including Brian Ashworth in this video by Third Shot Sports (warning for headphone users: loud noise at 1:20):
To legally perform the Erne you must make sure your feet aren't in the NVZ when you make contact with the ball and continue to stay outside of it afterwards. If you fall back in the kitchen, even if the ball has cleared the net, it will be considered a fault.
The next video will show you how you can practice drilling the Erne with a partner and provides details on how to set this shot up. Since you're hitting from the sidelines you want the ball to be near the edge of the court, so the goal is to get your opponent to hit down the line.
You can attempt to get your opponent to do this by hitting a down the line shot yourself or by hitting an angled shot so that they're forced to reach for the ball, making it more difficult to return anything but a more predictable, straight dink.
The Erne is often a devastating, point-winning shot although it takes precision, speed and excellent predictive skills to pull off. Have you ever attempted or successfully performed it yourself? Share your tips and knowledge in the comments if you're willing!