This week I am writing about offensive pickleball. In pickleball, you can only score when you are serving, so you need to make the best of it. This week, I will explain the responses the serving team should have made to the return-of-serve and defensive strategy explained in my last Coastal Point column.
You might remember that I hit three very effective returns-of-serve: one deep down the middle, one wide and deep to the backhand side that kept spinning away from the receiver, and the third was deep to the opposite forehand corner, spinning away. This week, I will write as if I am on the serving team.
Deep to our middle
The reason that a ball hit deep to the middle of the serving team is so effective is that it can create confusion as to which partner should take it. Of course, the better teams have already discussed this and know who will take the ball, primarily based on who has the best shot to respond from that location.
My response from the middle is almost always a soft ball hit into the no-volley zone (NVZ). Soft because it gives me time to follow it to the NVZ, and soft because it won’t bounce high, which will leave my opponents little to work with.
However, if my opponent remains deep on the baseline, admiring their own return-of-serve, I will hit deep to their feet and push them back while my partner and I approach the net. The position we take on the no-volley line (NVZ) will vary, much like I discussed last week.
Since our opponents would like to play as if they were one, this deeply hit ball will break up their intentions by pegging one of them on the baseline leaving the other to scramble back to join their partner.
To recap, take a well-hit deep return-of-serve to the middle with a soft shot into their NVZ, or deep to the admiring returner’s feet. Make sure you don’t admire your own shot. Take advantage of your slowly hit ball and cover that 13-14 feet while they position themselves to handle it.
It is at this point that four good players will likely become involved in the dink. When all four players are at net, just about any ball hit slightly above the net will get smacked back down your throat. Tastes terrible, but the good side is that it is low in calories.
So the idea is to give them the “nothing” ball with a dink, and move them back and forth until an opening presents itself for a well-placed shot between them, or angled away from them, or a slam on their shoe laces.
Wide to our corners
The reason a return of serve hit deep to my corner is effective is that it can create an opening between Maurice and I. While I am trying to get in optimal position to return the wide ball, Maurice needs to move toward me and cover the middle opening, as well as pay attention to the ever widening angle on the opposite sideline.
As the serving team, I do not like this mixture of shots from my opponents — up the middle, wide to the right corner with spin, and wide to the left corner, with a few drop shots added for spice — because it makes it harder to get my rhythm. As the server, I want to be in control of the point, but now we are on the defensive and not attacking as one.
But if Maurice has me covered, I have some interesting shot alternatives. Besides the soft ball to the NVZ, I have a very safe shot up the line that improves as the ball goes wider. It might even provide me a fun shot on the outside and around the net post. And when my opponents move to cover that shot, they may not protect the space between them, leaving us a juicy opening in the middle. Finally, my lowest probability is the cross-court, but again my chances improve the wider the ball goes.
But before I unload on one of those shots, rather than the soft ball to the NVZ, I need to be sure I can make a drive, because a good player only needs to block it, leaving me with 20 feet of court to cover in one second.
One other shot from the wide corner is the lob, because the ever-increasing angle provides me 4-5 additional feet to the opposite corner. Depending on how well, and where I hit it, Maurice and I recover at the DMZ as one, covering their most likely return shot to our formation. If I hit short, Maurice and I both recover as one, but in the deeper part of the court, both covering all possible angles — but not so deep that we can’t respond to a drop shot.
Note: I have not once mentioned how to hit the ball, but only where the most effective locations are. Hitting these shots with full confidence is a product of practice and lots of recreational play.
Next time: Stacking.
A good pickleball team moves as one, otherwise the match is already done.
Don’t move? The score will soon be 0 for you, 11 for the other two.