Last month my post covered the basics and strategy involved with serving. Thanks to everyone who commented to let me know the information was helpful. This month I would like to give you some things to think about regarding return of serve.
Strategy – Return of Serve in Doubles
The number one goal on return of serve is to put the ball in play. I hear it said many times “the worst thing you can do in pickleball is to miss your serve”. Missing your serve is not a good practice, however, I would ask you to consider this question. Which is worse, missing your serve or missing your return of serve? I make the case that missing a return of serve is worse than missing your serve. When you miss your serve you only miss the “opportunity” to score. Every time you hit the return of serve out-of-bounds or in the net, your opponents get a point! Position to receive serve is also something to think about. In my opinion you should stand behind the baseline. A smart serving team is trying to hit their serves deep, not short. A short serve automatically brings the serving team to the net in a strong offensive position.
The number two goal on return of serve is to get to the net. It is easier to win points from the net than it is from anywhere else. The return of serve is the one time that you can usually beat the other team to the net because they have to let the ball bounce before hitting it. One mistake to try to avoid is walking through your shot; players are anxious to get to the net after returning the serve and they quite often start moving their feet before they hit the ball. When you walk through a shot, you have a higher chance of hitting the ball either in the net or out-of-bounds.
The third goal on return of serve is to avoid hitting a short return. A short return allows the serving team a better chance of getting to the net easily with a dink or to hit a power shot at you which will be increasingly difficult to return the closer they are to you. Remember goal two; the team that gets to the net first usually wins so try not to bring your opponent to the net by returning short. Most often a hard serve is the one you will return short because you didn’t have time to react. Short returns generally happen when we get “handcuffed” by being in the incorrect position to receive. If a player serves hard, position yourself a step or two behind the baseline so you have time to set up to hit a good deep return. Just be on your toes in case they do try to hit a short serve.
Soft Return vs. Hard Return
If you hit the ball hard and low on your return, you will probably get more errors or weak returns from the serving team, but you will usually make more errors yourself. You also have less time to get to net before the ball is returned at you.
If you hit the ball higher and slower, you will probably make fewer errors yourself, but will usually get fewer errors from the opponents. Keep in mind that a high deep return gives you a lot more time to run into the net before the server gets to hit the ball. If you’re tired, have bad knees or just have trouble moving into the net for any reason, you might want to try to use a higher deep return when possible.
Remember the number one goal mentioned above, if you’re having trouble doing what you would like with that tough serve and you’re trying to win, just put the ball in play no matter what! Pickleball is a sport where shot placement, steadiness, patience, and tactics have a far greater importance than brute power and strength.
See you on the court!