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Monday, August 8, 2016

Side or Serve?

My fall tournament season started a couple weeks ago but will reach full bore next week with tournaments at Aiken and Beech Mountain. One of the decisions that rarely arises in social play is the option of taking first serve or taking choice of the side of court. I have some opinions but Sarah Ansboury has written an article with her views. My comments will follow her article.

Serve vs. Side, a Pickleball Dilemma

One of my favorite questions is “What should you choose if you are able to choose between serve vs. side?” I find this very interesting because people seem to have very strong ideas about the “correct answer” and their justifications for their views are so varied.

Some say, Always Serve First

I have heard people say always serve no matter what, while others say I want the chance to break the serve and get the opportunity for 2 serves rather than one. Frankly, I don’t have strong feelings in most cases. I played a tournament recently where we lost the choice so we just choose the side we started on in the first game for the entire day. That way we didn’t have to think about it and we seemed to be having some good mojo.

Playing Outdoors…the Weather Factor

When playing outdoors, I will often consider the placement of the sun or wind. In many cases, especially in singles, I have won or lost games simply because of the side which was chosen. I make my decision based upon the side I want to be on if it goes to a third game. If it doesn’t go to a third game, great! But if it does I prefer hitting with the wind to my back when we switch side at 6.

I recall playing for the single’s bronze medal in the US Open. My opponent chose to serve first, which was fine with me because there was a fairly good breeze that day. Throughout the first game, and the first six points of the third game I needed to keep reminding myself that I would do better when we switched sides. Staying confident and positive was just as important as having the wind at my back! I discussed this with Rusty on a recent Pickleball Channel episode which you can view here.

What do You Prefer?

The simple answer to the side vs. serve dilemma is for you to figure out what you prefer. If you have a strong preference hitting into or against the wind, you may wish to consider that. If you want to “break” your opponent quickly, then you may prefer not to serve first.  If you feel serving gives you an advantage out of the gate, great. Whatever you prefer that is the right answer. Perhaps it is just for the day, and the next day it may be something totally different.


Sarah's article discusses only sun and wind as factors...and they are the primary decision drivers when playing outdoors. But there is at least one additional factor that may apply either outdoors or indoors - visual distractions. I wrote about play at Carolina Courts last fall and talked about "visual clutter". That site was so massive that row after row of courts had people moving and balls flying continuously in my field of vision. Other sites have backgrounds, e.g., bleachers, that some balls blend into, making the balls hard to pick up.

In those circumstances where one side has any distraction disadvantage, my preference is to take choice of side where I take the disadvantageous side first. This allows me to have the better side during the more important later parts of the match/game. I agree with Sarah that having the wind at your back is beneficial.

I will only choose to serve first when no benefits can be seen for a side and my partner has a strong preference to serve first. Otherwise, I will almost always choose side. Another benefit to making the same choice every time is that it becomes an automatic decision that requires no deep thought process...which can also distract from actual play.

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