In our first blog post entitled Pickleball Strategy Begins with a Winning Serve I talked about how important an effective serve is for gaining control of a rally in order to win the point. So I thought it would be a good idea to follow that post with an in-depth discussion about pickleball serves strategy.
I don’t think we need to talk more about the pickleball serve rules because I discussed them pretty thoroughly in the first blog post. Before beginning, though, I want to talk briefly about the various types of serves. Let’s get that out of the way first. Here they are:
- High Soft Serve
- Power Serve
- Angled Serve
- Snap Serve
Sounds simple, right? Not! There are many variations of each of these types of serve so it’s a lot more complicated than it might seem. The high soft serve, for example, is sometimes called a lob, and of course you can hit it down the middle or into the corner. The power serve is purely and simply a fast hard, flat serve; it too can be hit down the middle or into the corner. The angled serve can be hit softly or hard into the corner. Other variations of the three main serves include: backhand, topspin, and slice. We’ll talk more about the various types of serves in a later post. Our topic today is serving strategy
What is the Best Pickleball Serving Strategy?
According to Mark Renesson, “all things being equal, the team serving the ball only has a 40% chance of winning the point,” whereas, “the receiving team has a 60-40% chance of winning the serve so why not try to change those odds?” (The Pickleball Show podcast, episode 7 with host Chris Allen).
So how do you change the odds in favor of the server? When serving, your objective should be to force your opponents into making a mistake by hitting what’s known as an unforced error. Any professional pickleball player will tell you that the team that makes the most unforced errors will lose the game. Pure and simple! What serve strategies can you use to force your opponent to make a mistake? Let’s look at the best three strategies for a winning pickleball serve.
Strategy #1: Hit your Serve to your Opponent’s Backhand
Keeping in mind that one of the strategies for taking advantage of the serve is to hit deep, a particular spin on this is to hit to your opponent’s backhand. Most players, as we know, have stronger forehands than backhands. If you can hit to your opponent’s backhand you can often elicit a weaker return. In the next video, “Gaining an easy advantage with the serve,” Mark Renneson from Third Shot Sports shows how you can get a better angle serving from the corner, thereby forcing your opponent to hit a backhand return.
Strategy #2: Hit your Serve Deep
You want to land your serve deep, 2 to 3 feet in front of the baseline in the opponent’s service court. If you serve deep your opponent will not be able to take the initiative and go on the offensive. Often times a deep serve will even drive your opponent back, which will make it more difficult for the opposing team to charge the net and take an advantageous position for an ensuing rally. Also, a deep serve will likely cut off the returner’s option to hit the return of service to your corners, thereby putting you in better position to take control of the net and the point.
It’s really a no-brainer. If you hit your serve deep the opponent has a greater distance to travel to the net than if you served short. This means it will take him longer to get to the kitchen line so you have a good chance of beating him to the net. In other words, pushing your opponent to the baseline with a deep serve makes it harder for your opponent to get to the net and take the offensive. A deep serve also gives you more time to get ready for the return of service.
You can find several good examples of pickleball serving drills emphasizing the deep serve on YouTube. Here is one of the best:
Strategy #3: Vary your Type of Serve
Your strategy for gaining the advantage when serving should be to vary the type of serve in order to increase the chances of your opponent hitting a weak return. In the introduction to this blog post I identified the different types of serve. Without going into a lot of detail as to how to become proficient at these serves, which is something I plan to tackle in a later blog post, I do want to mention the different serve types and explain briefly how and why mixing them up can be used effectively to put your opponent on the defensive.
Here is a video called Add Variety to Your Serves, by Deb Harrison, known as Pickleball Deb. She has many videos on YouTube and is one of the best teachers of the game in terms of strategy and strokes. In this video she picks out a handful of different serves and shows how using them can keep your opponent off guard. Deb asks, “Do you hit every serve the same way? If so consider adding some Variety to the pace and spin you impart on the serve.” Here are the serves she demonstrates:
a. Deep topspin serve
b. Nose leading serve
c. Deep curling towards sideline serve
d. Twist serve
e. Lob serve – deep and high (best used against the wind)
In the next video, an episode of Pickleball 411 entitled Three Serves and Why You Need Them, which is hosted by Rusty Howes, three pickleball instructors demonstrate the different serves they use and explain when and why they use them. Again the purpose of the video is to show that by mixing up your serves you can accomplish a great deal more than if you stick to only one serve type. Here is a synopsis of the video.
- High soft serve by Jennifer Lucore: hit it high and deep so the receiver has to create his or her own speed.
- Hard Power Serve by Alex Hamner: hit it low, deep and hard to forehand corner, backhand corner or down the middle.
- Soft Angled Serve by Bob Youngren: this serve is helpful for mixing up the rhythm.
Finally let’s take a look at a video by the Pickleball Guys, Johnny and Phil, a somewhat humorous pair, who actually have a handful of very useful videos on YouTube. In this video they talk about general pickleball strategy as well as serve strategy. Although one premise of the video is that you should hit your serve deep, more importantly, they take a close look at four different serves with an eye towards their underlying theme, which is the importance of varying your serve so that your opponent does not know what to expect. Here are the serves they demonstrate:
- Flat hard serve
- Spin serve
- Lob serve
- Angle Serve
In this post we talked about pickleball serve strategies and focused the best three strategies that pickleball players, regardless of skill level, should be able to master.
- Hit your Serve to your Opponent’s Backhand
- Hit your Serve Deep
- Vary your Serve Type
In my next blog post I’m going to hone in on the fundamentals of the best pickleball serves so you can incorporate them into your game. The stronger the serve the more opportunities you will have to force your opponents into unforced errors and increase your chances of winning the point.
I look forward to hearing from you and welcome your feedback.