In a previous article entitled “Mastering the Best Pickleball Serves” we talked about two pickleball serves: the spin serve and the backhand serve. In the Best Pickleball Serves: the Hard Serve and the Snap Serve we talked about the hard serve and the snap serve. In today’s blog post we are going to discuss two other serves: the high soft serve and the soft angle serve.
Like a pitcher with a repertoire of four or more types of pitches (fast ball, curve, change-up, slider, etc.), a server in pickleball needs to have command of at least a few different pickleball serves. It’s hard to say which is the best pickleball serve. It depends on how well you can hit them.
Each of the different types of serves can be equally effective depending on the game situation including your skill level, your partner’s skill level, your opponent’s skill level, and game score and game conditions. If you play pickleball you know what I am talking about. When serving you need to take your time, determine what serve to use, and execute it to perfection.
High Soft Serve
Another name for the high soft serve is the lob serve. It is a high-trajectory shot with medium to slow pace aimed so that it lands as close to the baseline as possible. Obviously one purpose of the high soft serve is to keep your opponents back at the baseline. The other purpose might be to counter balance your other serves (such as a hard serve or a spin serve). Having the high soft serve in your repertoire can keep your opponents off guard.
Another advantage of the deep lob serve is that it forces the receiver to use his or her own power to return the serve. This can cause the receiver to miss hit or miss play the ball. Anything that can put your opponent off-balance could work to your advantage. The high soft serve gives your opponent a lot of time to decide how to return the serve. Although this sounds like bad strategy, in reality this can be good because, as we all know, if you have too much time to think about a shot there is a good chance you are going to overthink it and hit a bad shot. Often the receiver will hit the ball into the net or hit it long trying to compensate for the lack of pace on your serve.
Here is an excellent video on how to hit the high soft serve by David Alexander. It is entitled “Lob Serves and How to Beat Tennis Players” from Pickleball Diary #14. Coach David is one of the most inspiring coaches and produces top-notch videos. Sometimes they can be bit long, like this one, but they are well worth viewing in their entirety because you can learn so much from him regardless of the topic. Here he shows how to perfect a deep lob serve and how to practice the shot until you master it.
Alexander also demonstrates how to put side spin on a lob serve so that it bounces to the right after hitting the ground. If you watch carefully you will notice that he does not put a lot of spin on the ball but just a little to force the opponent to slow down on the return of service, which can often give the server a slight edge.
I played pickleball this morning at Caloosa Park in Boynton Beach, FL, and my opponent in one match served to me this way after serving a few hard flat serves. It caught me off guard, that’s for sure. I had to slow down and wait to see where the ball was going to land before returning it. This slight hesitation forced me to lay back a little, and I was late charging the net. So the lob serve with side spin can be a very effective serve. The lob serve with a little side spin that bounces to the right slows the ball so that bangers have a hard time with it.
Soft Angle Serve
The soft angle serve is a very difficult serve to master and should only be attempted once you can consistently serve without faulting. The soft angle serve starts out much like the power serve, but you are not aiming to hit the ball deep towards the baseline; rather, you want the ball to land just beyond the kitchen or non-volley zone and just inside the far sideline.
This serve is especially effective against players who stand too far behind the baseline for return of serve or for slower players who have a hard time moving quickly around the court. If you can put a little under spin when serving into the ad court or topspin when serving into the deuce court it will make the serve even more lethal and require the player returning serve to move even further to return the ball. Even if your serve is returned there is a good chance the returner will be out of position. It is not an easy shot, but it can be very effective if hit properly.
I had a hard time finding a video of a soft angle serve, but in this video by Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports called “Gaining an Easy Advantage with the Serve,” Mark demonstrates angled serves midway through the video. His mantra is always try to hit to your opponents’ backhand because chances are it is weaker than his or her forehand.
I wouldn’t call these serves soft, but they are not particularly hard either. The point is that the angled serve, when hit from the ad court to a right-handed player, can be very effective if you can angle the serve short towards the sideline especially if you can put a little side spin on it. I use this serve occasionally when I want to mix up my serves between hard serves and lob serves. Like Mark, I wholeheartedly endorse the strategy of hitting to your opponent’s backhand whenever possible.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. Both of these serves are easy to learn, and both can be very effective if mixed in with an occasional hard flat serve. Or perhaps use a hard flat serve most of the time and mix in the high soft lob and the soft angle serve. Three serves, if you hit them well, are probably all you need to be at the top of your game whether you are beginner, intermediate or advanced player.
Please let me know what you think of this article. What is your go-to serve? What do you think of David Alexander’s video? Use the Comments box below to share your opinions or views on anything that has to do with pickleball.