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Friday, December 18, 2015

The Return of Serve

The return of serve is the one of the easiest shots in pickleball, second only to the serve. The serving team must remain back near the baseline because they must allow the return to bounce. Therefore, there is little pressure for the returner to make a perfect shot. The return of serve is important, though, as it sets up the action that follows the shot.

Goals of the return of serve

The first goal of the return of serve is the same as that of the serve (and aligns with the second essential tactic) – keep it in play. Hitting the return of serve out of play results in a free point for your opponent.

 second goal of the return of serve is to hit it deep into your opponents’ court. This accomplishes several important results. First, it makes your opponents’ return more difficult by reducing their angles and options. Second, it gives you more time to get to the kitchen line. Third, it makes your opponents’ shot longer and gives you more time to adjust. Fourth, it makes it more difficult for your opponents to get to the kitchen line.

In contrast, the return of serve should never be short (with the possible exception of trying to catch your opponents off-guard). A short return allows the serving team an easier path to the kitchen or a winning shot.

The following video from The Pickleball Guys called Return of Serve emphasizes the goals of the return – along with a little comic relief.

Hard and low or high and slow

A hard and low shot is always the sexy shot. It looks good…until it doesn’t. A hard and low shot is more likely to force more errors from your opponents. It also will result in more errors from you – and points for them. Another negative aspect of this shot is that it gives you less time to get to the kitchen. As the non-serving team, you have an inherent advantage in getting to the net that should not be compromised.

A high and slow shot has just the opposite effect. It will result in fewer errors for both teams. It also gives you more time to get to the net.

A short video called Improve Your Game with the Soft Return from Pickleball Channel discusses the reasons why the high and slow return is the better option.

As always, the choice lies with the player. I prefer the high and slow shot due to the kitchen advantage. But I also mix in some hard and low shots to keep opponents from getting into a comfort zone.

Where to return

The single best place to hit the return of serve is down the middle and, preferably slightly to the side of the opponent’s backhand. A middle shot almost always creates a moment of confusion as to which player will take the ball. That confusion works to your advantage, at least to the extent that both players move toward the ball and create openings for you to exploit.

Another option for strategic placement of the return is to a corner of the court where an opponent must hit a backhand. The backhand is typically the weaker side and should be exploited when possible. The problem with this return is that it narrows the target and will likely result in more errors.

A third option is to hit every return to the weaker player. Of course, this is true of every shot. 


Summing up, the return of serve is important because it sets up the rest of the rally. The keys are to keep it in play and get it deep. A high and slow shot helps you get to the net. One part of the return I didn’t include is spin. The following Deb Harrison video called Return of Serve covers the return in general and the use of spin specifically.

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