My last article talked about ‘ How to serve in Pickleball’, this week I will enlighten you about the strategy in returning the serve.
Upon receiving the serve, it must bounce in your play zone prior to you hitting it back. The best strategy is to hit the return as deep and accurate as possible. This will allow you to get up to the Kitchen line (No Volley Zone – NVZ) in plenty of time. The whole idea is to keep your opponent as far back as possible as most points are won (or lost) at the net so it is to your advantage to get to the net as quickly as possible and to arrive with AUTHORITY (Mary M. is VERY good at this and scares me!).
Another tip is to return the ball into the center of the court (between the two players). If both players are deep and the ball is hit between them, they are often caught off guard and a “who’s ball is it?” scenario is created. Usually the person with a forehand shot should take the return – communication is essential. Try to force their back hand – most Pickleball players are more accurate with their forehand (their strongest swing). If you can; when returning the serve, hit towards your opponent’s backhand and force them to hit the difficult shot. Think about your position on the court; by positioning yourself between the centerline and the service corner, no matter what type of serve comes your way, you can pivot and return the serve with your forehand. Returning the ball via a backhand is so difficult so watch your position on the court. Stay deep as well, it is much easier to move forward than it is to back peddle and risk tripping over your feet.
Master the Top Spin return – once you have set yourself up to return every serve via your forehand add a bit of variety by placing some spin action on the ball (Cliff and Dean from Barriere LOVE this move). The topspin return begins with your paddle low and ends with the blade high above your opposite shoulder – a low to high movement with a subtle flick of the wrist to add spin. When a top spin is applied to a deep return, the ball will ‘jump’ towards your opponent when it hits the court and tends to push them further back into the court OR….. try a Backspin Return ….. this one can really catch your opponent off guard as the serving side MUST let the ball bounce prior to returning it. The Backspin is mastered by starting with the paddle face up high with a down cut on the ball. This movement will cause the ball to bounce back toward the net away from your opponent. Keep your eye on the ball and your opponents paddle and you can often see these return shots (but usually not able to do much about hitting them). This shot adds to the humor in Pickleball as everyone laughs watching someone trying to hit this return.
A really strategic move (one that I love to mix up with my deep center returns) is to put a bit of backspin on the ball but hit it as a short ‘dink’ (into the Kitchen/NVZ). This is effective as your opponent is expecting a deep return and is often at the back-base line. If they are not ready for a soft dink by the net, they are often caught out of position. This type of return does give your opponent the advantage of getting to the net before you do (remember most points are won at the net). This serve return is best used on serves that are soft rather than those ones that have been drilled just over the net. In summary, if you are setting yourself up with consistent forehand returns (ideally with a topspin), the forward momentum you get from your forehand can get you to the kitchen in one fluid movement (in a position to score more points). You want to keep your opponent as far away from the net as possible.
I hope to see a few people trying some of these strategies in the upcoming weeks (Monday and Tuesdays 2-4 at the Brriere Ridge gym/ Tuesday 6-8 at the Barriere Seniors Center).
Especially, I would LOVE to see people getting up to but staying out of The Kitchen.
By Judi K (and the volleyllama.com)