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Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Third Shot

The first shot of a game is the serve. It is the easiest shot to execute since the server has complete control of the ball. The second shot of the game is the return of serve. It is the second easiest shot to execute since the opponents on the serving side must stay back to allow the ball to bounce. The third shot is hit by the serving team and follows the return of serve. It is one of the most difficult shots to execute since the shot generally occurs near the baseline and the opponents are likely to be positioned at the kitchen line. There are 3 options for the third shot – a hard low shot, a lob, or a drop shot into the kitchen. The following Deb Harrison video called Third Shot Options discusses these options.

The hard low shot

This shot is a powerful groundstroke hit low over the net in an attempt to hit it past your opponent or cause them to make an error. It is a stroke that is used by beginners and mid-level players due to their comfort with driving the ball. However, it is effective only against low to middle level players who have not yet mastered the volley game. The low hard driving shot typically reaches the opponent above the net and can be easily volleyed at a variety of angles and back to the feet of the serving team.

A variation of this shot can be used to keep the opponent on his toes. It is a low shot with topspin as described in my Spin post. When properly executed, the ball will drop below the top of the net on the opponents' side. This makes their return more difficult and greatly reduces the chance for a winning return.

Neither of the hard low shots accomplish what you really need from a third shot – time to get to the kitchen line. As discussed in other posts, the game is won and lost at the kitchen and the opponents are already positioned there. You and your partner need to get there, too, and a hard shot won’t allow it to happen.


This shot is a high arcing ball over your opponents head. It must be perfectly hit in order to both clear their reach and still land in front of the baseline. A short lob will be smashed back and a long lob will be a fault. It an extremely difficult shot to execute from the baseline and is not recommended until completely 

The drop shot

shot is essentially a long dink shot. It is a soft looping shot that peaks on your side of the net and lands in your opponents’ kitchen. Like a dink, it should be neither high enough to bounce above the net nor hard enough to reach your opponent without bouncing. The third-shot drop is difficult to hit due to its low margin for error. The diagram below shows how fine the line is between success and failure.

It is, however, the best option for the third shot so let’s go through the technique.

The third-shot drop is not a regular groundstroke that is hit with a low trajectory using a paddle that is positioned perpendicular to the court. Instead, the ball is hit upward using an open paddle face, meaning the top of the paddle is tilted backwards. This helps the ball move upward at the right angle to reach its apex on your side of the net.

The shot requires that your body get lower than a groundstroke to also help lift the ball upwards. Finally, there is very little backswing. The swing is almost like pushing the ball toward the kitchen.

The following short video from Pickleball Channel called Improve Your Third Shot Drop with Wes Gabrielsen is an excellent presentation of the shot. 

The video includes an unusual drill to introduce the shot. The shot motion is similar to tossing a ball underhanded. The arc is also very similar. Tossing a pickleball underhanded with the goal of landing it in the kitchen is an effective method to get a feel for the shot.

A second video called The Third Shot and Why It's Important! from Pickleball Channel is below. This video discusses why the third shot is important and how to transition to the kitchen line. This is important as you learn the shot. Some third-shot drops will inevitably be too long and allow your opponent an offensive return. Do not charge to the kitchen line when your shot is long. Instead, assume a ready position and earn you’re your way to the net with similar shots while advancing and split-stepping on the way forward.

Finally, a third video called 3rd shot gain line from shows the third shot drop being used in actual play.  Note how the players move together to the kitchen line with the drop shot.

In many cases, your shot will be too long, i.e., long enough that your opponent will smash it for a winner. Don’t be discouraged and don’t over-adjust such that you hit your drop shot into the net regularly. Remember the second essential tactic – keep the ball in play. A ball in the net is a certain loser. A ball hit too long can result in an opponent's error.

1 comment:

  1. What is the best way to return a ball that has a lot of back spin. I play with group of people that return the serve with a ton of back spin, and I find it hard to return it on the third drop shot. It goes into the net or I pop it up to high and get it slammed back in my face.