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Pickleball Third Shot

It seems as if every shot we talk about in these blog posts is the most important shot in pickleball. First it was the serve, then the return of the serve and then the dink. Well, now it’s the third shot. How can the pickleball third shot be the most important shot in the game? Keep reading to learn the answer to this question.

What is the Third Shot?

Before talking about the importance of the third shot we need to see where it stands with respect to the sequence of shots beginning with the serve. We can define the third shot in pickleball this way:

  • The first shot is the serve
  • The second shot is the return of serve
  • The third shot is the transition shot hit by the serving team

So now we know what the third shot is.

Why is the Third Shot Important?

The third shot in pickleball is important because the serving team is hitting it, on most occasions, near the baseline as the opposing players are positioning themselves at the no-volley line. The third shot is hit by the serving team and follows the return of serve.So it’s not only a very important shot, but also it is a very difficult shot to execute.

Picture it. You and your partner are at the baseline because the return of service was deep and kept you back there. While you’re waiting for the return of service to land your opponents are charging the net and most likely have already arrived at the net when you’re ready to hit the third shot. It doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? What kind of shot do you hit for your third shot?

What are your Options for the Third Shot?

In the following video Deb Harrison discusses the three options for the third shot.

  • Drop shot into the kitchen
  • Hard low shot
  • Soft deep lob

Now let’s take a close look at how to hit each of these shots and when to hit them.

Hitting the Third Shot Drop

The third shot drop gives the serving team time to advance to the net. In most cases when you hit a third shot drop you are taking some pace off the ball by lifting the ball, thereby giving yourself the opportunity to charge the net and be in position to gain control of the volley at the net, where most points are won. Now I think you can see why the third shot in pickleball is so important. A good third shot drop can allow you to advance to the net before your opponents can get there. Or even if they are at the net by the time your drop shot arrives, they will have to hit it upwards over the net – not an easy shot and one that could give you an advantage.

The challenge of hitting an effective third shot drop is that you are at the baseline, and you are trying to hit a shot from deep that will land in the no-volley zone (or kitchen). This is not an easy shot. The tendency is to hit the ball too far.

Most professional and advanced players hit the third shot drop using the Continental grip because this allows them to keep the paddle facing slightly upward whether hitting forehand or backhand. This grip also gives the player more control over the paddle.

In the next video from Pickleball 411, courtesy of Pickleball Channel, Web Gabielsen demonstrates the technique for hitting the third shot drop

The third shot drop is not a soft forehand; it’s actually a very different type of shot. The trajectory is a flatter shot, which is harder to control. People often hit it too hard because they have to hit it over the net from far away, which means that the ball will often go right to their opponent. It’s important to follow a few key steps in order to hit a successful third shot drop:

  • Make sure you stay low to the ground; stay low through contact; this will allow you to hit the ball up and drop it into the kitchen.
  • Make sure your paddle face is open.
  • Make sure your motion is similar to a serve or a softball toss.

It is important to understand that to hit an effective third shot drop you need to have the ball reach its apex on your side of the net before it goes over the net so the ball is on its way downward prior to going over the net. What this does is force your opponents, if they are at the kitchen, to counter by hitting the ball up. This will almost always give you the advantage.

Hitting the Hard Low Third Shot

In this video Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports talks about using a hard low shot, or low and fast drive, for the third shot and when to hit it. The best time to use this shot is when your opponent’s return of serve is short. It allows you to move forward into the court as you are hitting the shot.

In the next video entitled “3 Times NOT to Use the Third Shot Drop” from Pickleball 411 sponsored by Pickleball Channel, Phil Dunmeyer explains when not to hit a third shot drop:

  • When the return of serve is short
  • When your opponent stays at the baseline
  • When your ability to hit a drop shot is compromised
Hitting the Third Shot Lob

This is my favorite pickleball video of all time. It lasts only nine seconds and demonstrates as concisely as possible a perfect third shot lob.

There are many YouTube videos on how to hit the lob shot. In a later post we will discuss the lob shot in general in much greater detail. Right now we simply want to suggest that a lob shot can be a very effective third shot under the right circumstances

Wrapping Up

When we talk about the third shot we realize that what happens with the first and second shots determines the strategy you are going to use for this shot. We assume you are serving deep because you want to keep your opponents back at the baseline. Of course, you have to stay back too because you can’t hit the ball on the fly on the third shot. Now you’re back, and your opponents return service deep to you so they are charging the net while you’re at the baseline determining what shot to hit for your third shot. Here is where the three choices we’ve discussed in this article come into play.

You really have only a split-second to determine how to hit your third shot, and what you do with it could very well determine the outcome of the point. This is what makes pickleball such an exciting sport. It is such a fast-moving game, and it requires split-second decisions that are strategically critical to every point.

I hope you have time to get out onto the court and enjoy the game. I’m playing almost every day – along with tennis and paddle tennis – and I truly love the sport. Please don’t hesitate to fill out the form below to send me your questions or comments.