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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Different Third Shot Strategy

In my post The Third Shot, I discussed 3 options for the third shot but ultimately stated "(the drop shot) is, however, the best option for the third shot...". While that remains true for the vast majority of players, some top level players have found one of the other options to be very effective due to the advances made in equipment. 

The first option I listed in that post was the low drive with topspin. The biggest problem with this shot is that it is hit so hard that it provides insufficient time to move to the kitchen. At most, the serving team can advance 1-2 steps before stopping to split-step. But this shot is now gaining traction.

The Pickleball Show had a recent discussion with Matt Staub, one of the top players in the world, about changing his third shot strategy away from the drop shot to the topspin drive. Matt discussed several factors in his new style:
  1. Equipment advances (both ball and paddle) allow for more powerful shots and greater amount of topspin. 
  2. Opponents are hitting the ball harder with the new equipment and players must adjust just to stay even.
  3. The ability to hit a harder shot that drops below the top of the net negates a lot of the advantage that has always been owned by the non-serving team being positioned at the kitchen.
Matt emphasizes that the shot is not intended to win the point, although that may happen more often than with the drop shot. Instead, the intent is to set up the fifth shot, which is the drop shot or something more offensive if the return volley is weak. 

While Matt uses the drive regularly on the third shot, it is particularly effective when the second shot - the return of serve - is short. This aligns with my post Third Shot Drive where I stated "A driving shot that is ineffective from the baseline can be much more effective from a closer position". The drive strategy adds yet another element to the game by increasing the pressure on the service returner to make a deep return. This also increases the odds of a few free points when the return is hit out of bounds or in the net.

That brings us to the next logical step in the way the game is changing. The show's host, Chris Allen, talked about how the serve and return of serve have traditionally been "formalities" that merely got the rally started. The power and spin created by the new equipment has allowed those shots to become more of a weapon with opportunities to close out the rally. Players that don't change will just fall behind.

I hope I captured the main points of the discussion, but I recommend listening to the show and subscribing to Chris' content. A link to this particular podcast with Matt Staub is below. Click on the picture.

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