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Monday, November 30, 2015

Dink Game Strategies

In my last post about dinking, I described the dinking technique as similar to sitting in a chair. For many players, that description also applies to their attitude about the dink game. They think dinking is a passive game of patience where the strategy is just to keep the ball in play until their opponent makes a mistake. That certainly works for some players – those with amazing patience and skill. Others need to use different strategies with the dink game.

First, let’s discuss when to dink. A dink should be an option only when both opponents are at their kitchen line. If one or both opponents are back, a better shot is to keep them back by hitting a ball to or just behind their feet. If both opponents are at the kitchen and you have to hit a ball from below net level, then you should hit a dink. Otherwise, your return will be upward and give your opponents a chance to smash it downward and win the rally. This same thought process works in reverse. If your partner is caught away from the kitchen line, a soft shot - like a dink - will give him an opportunity to regain position.

After the dinking game has begun, you can be passive if you are patient and skilled. Playing this game means finding your opponent’s weak spot and exploiting it. This typically means hitting to the backhand, particularly if you are also forced to hit your backhand. However, rather than being passive, I have found that I am more successful with a more aggressive dink game where I move my opponent around to create openings or even go for outright winners.

One aggressive strategy is contrary to the easiest and most common shot of crosscourt dinking. Crosscourt shots are easier because the net is lower in the middle and the angle gives the returner more room for error. A more aggressive strategy is to dink into the middle, especially to a player's backhand. As with any middle shot, this can create confusion between your opponents about who should make the return. Openings are created when both opponents move toward the ball.

One of my favorite aggressive dinks is to “roll” the ball with topspin down the line after several crosscourt shots. The opponent directly facing me may be bored with inactivity or may have drifted toward the center either in anticipation of a possible poach or middle shot. A deeper dink behind the opponent’s feet down the line can result in an outright winner. It helps to wait for the right ball to make this shot. I always use a forehand because it is easier to “roll” to impart topspin. A ball with a higher bounce also makes the shot easier.

Another effective shot (but a shot very difficult to execute) is to lob off the dink. A good lob over your opponents immediately puts them in a defensive position. Remember, though, that a badly struck lob will likely end the rally in your opponents’ favor – either through an overhead smash or the lob going out of bounds. The element of surprise is your biggest advantage with a lob.

There is one final element to an aggressive dink game – never back up unless necessary. Many players will step back when a shot is hit to their feet to take the ball on a short-hop. While this step gives you more time to assess your options, it also gives your opponent more time to prepare for their return. Maybe even more important is the mental aspect. An aggressive player takes the ball in the air while a passive player allows it to bounce. Always take a ball in the air when possible to keep your weight toward the net and to keep an aggressive frame of mind. 

The main principle of an aggressive dink game is to keep your opponent guessing and on the move. Never play “catch” with your opponent unless you are sure that he will always be the first to make a mistake. Hit your dinks to different parts of the court and different players. A short video from Jeff Napier called Powerful Two-Part Pickleball Strategy illustrates the concept of aggressive dinking.

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