Two Approaches to the NVZ
There are two schools of thought as to when to approach the non-volley zone.
One school says that as soon as you return the serve, or the return-of-serve, you rush up to the net.
The other school says you take a look at the third shot. You only approach the net if that third shot is going to drop nice and short into the kitchen. If it is a fast backcourt shot or a lob, you stay back, because you may receive something in return that can be handled better from further back. It is difficult to handle a hard, driving forehand from the kitchen line. It is also hard to run back in time for a lob.
But, the first school says if you have fast reflexes, you’re always better off at the kitchen. Even though you’ll struggle with fast low shots and lobs, you’ll be better able to cut off any angles, and can (ideally) turn those fast low shots into blocks, or even faster returns.
Perhaps the best strategy of all is to remain flexible. Depending on your partner’s skill, and whether the third shot is horribly bad or not, you can stay back or approach, or maybe even use split steps, working up to the kitchen as the rally progresses.
Unless you are one to always approach the kitchen as soon as possible, you and your partner can communicate, saying “Go” or “No” (or something more clearly differentiated, such as “Yes” and “No”), letting the partner know whether you believe the dropshot is good or not.
One thing for sure: Once you’re at the kitchen line, don’t back up for anything except a high lob to your back court. In any other case, just stay at the kitchen line, and reflect anything that comes your way.