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Friday, February 12, 2016

Pickleball Statistical Analysis - Return of Serve

Following up on the statistical analysis discussions of the posts on Unforced Errors and the Drop Shot, we will now cover the third area of play listed in my post on Pickleball Statistical Analysis - the return of serve. The conclusion (Results Nutshell) reached by Noel White regarding the return of serve was:
The return of serve (the 2nd hit) significantly effects which team initially gets to play more of a serving round offensively and which team plays more of the serving round defensively. Approximately 50% of the time the return of serve makes it easy for the servers to get off a good 3rd hit. The other 50% of the time the return of serve is hit in such a manner that the serving team gets off a poor 3rd hit that is predominately a defensive hit.
Noel observed that approximately 50% of the service returns landed near the opponents' kitchen line or mid-court. These short returns allowed the serving team to advance to the kitchen with ease and eliminated the kitchen line advantage held by the returning team.

Obviously, the remaining 50% of service returns were deep, either a high soft shot or a low hard shot. The deep return forced the serving team into a defensive mode and allowed the returning team to maintain the kitchen line advantage.  Noel notes:
"A deep hit line drive as a return of serve turns the servers’ 3rd hit into a defensive shot rather than an elective offensive creating drop shot. 20% of the time the servers hit their 3rd shot out of bounds when the receiving team hits a return of serve that is a deep line drive to the back of the court."
This analysis aligns perfectly with my recommendation in The Return of Serve:
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.
That would normally be a good place to conclude but Noel offered one more observation that is worth comment:
"The strangeness of all this observing was - - - a receiving team would hit one return of serve deep at one time and then hit the next one or two returns of serve short or mid-court. There did not appear to be any strategy to this type of hitting. Am not sure what to make to this. There just appeared to be a large gap in the consistency and/or purpose in returning the serve one way or another.
Am wondering when players are receiving if they are aware that their return of serve shot can significantly impact the ease or difficulty of what the servers can deliver as a 3rd shot."
This points to a lack of understanding of the importance of the return.  I won't revisit the previous discussions but instead would highlight the need to focus on keeping the return deep.  It is imperative in order to set up the rest of the rally to your advantage.

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