Pickleball Points: Defending the net in pickleball
It is through your individual questions that I know how well you understand the game. Since we predominately play doubles in pickleball, and usually with different partners, I want to discuss defending the net.
Assume you have returned a ball to me in the center of the right hand side of my court, and now you are preparing to defend against whatever shot I make. Because I have done it so much, I draw an imaginary straight line across the court that intersects the feet of you and your partner.
If you are parallel to each other, as you should be, the total length of the line you are defending is 20 feet wide. If one of you is near the kitchen, and the other still on the baseline, the line you are defending might be 23 feet in length. The longer the line, the harder it is to defend.
But you and your partner play in the Coastal Communities Pickleball League, so I assume you both have approached the net properly, and are defending a line approximately 20 feet wide. You and your partner need to spread out enough that you cover most of that line, but unless you have very long arms, the two of you can’t protect it all. And since you can’t cover all 20 feet, then you and your partner, working together, need to cover the highest-probability shots.
Some folks seem to think there is a specific spot you both need to stand, but every ball situation is slightly different. It is more important to think about the concept, rather than the spot.
“Hey, Fred — here comes the ball.”
“Yes, I see it — looks like it is coming up the middle. Do you want to take it, or should I?” “Why don’t you take it, Fred, because the wind is blowing the ball in your direction.”
“OK — thank you very much for this opportunity.”
You have less than a second to have this conversation and prepare to hit the ball, so you both need to know some fundamentals about playing doubles together.
You both should be ready for anything your opponent hits at you. Hopefully, you have calculated the most likely responses of your opponent from the spot where they will hit the ball. Your opponents want to hit the easiest shot with the highest probability. A down-the-line shot to your backhand (assuming you are right-handed) is an easy shot for them to make unless you move more to your left to cover it.
Another easy shot for them is a simple down the middle, especially if your partner did not slide left with you and your middle is exposed. Their most difficult shot with the least real estate to hit is a sharp cross-court and has the lowest probability for success.
So you and your partner spread out along that part of the line where they most likely will hit, and do not leave any obvious holes between you.
But, more often, I see one player near the net, and the other in the backcourt. Their defensive line might be 15 percent longer, and the opponents might have many more opportunities to probe your defense.
“The forehand has it.”
Because we are constantly playing with different players, and especially when one player on the defensive line might stand there, unmoving, like the Statue of Liberty, the rule of thumb is the ball coming toward the center area of two players is taken by the forehand. It is precisely because of that confusion factor among partners that the wisest choice of shots is down the middle.
Two experienced players who have played and practiced together might choose different rules for a variety of reasons, but players at drop-in venues should stay with the fundamentals.
Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.
By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point