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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Return - Deep and High

A couple of weeks ago I did a series on drills. The last drills I discussed included the serve, the return of serve, the 3rd-shot drop, and the dink. Over the next several weeks, we will refocus on these basic shots. Today we will continue with the second shot - the return of serve.

A lot of information on the return of serve has already been included in previous articles. These are archived in Chapter 3: The Groundstroke & Return of Serve, the second chapter of the "book" from A Pickleball Life. It can be found along the left side of the blog. But there is now a constant stream of new materials available. We will examine some of those materials and add them to the archive. Today's first article is called Return Serves Deep and it comes from Jeff Napier.

Return Serves Deep

With practice, you can learn to return serves with some control. So where should you put the returns? In most cases, you should return deep – as close to the opponents’ baseline as you can.

There are three main reasons:

It is hard for the opponent to do anything offensive with a deep return. Their best bet is a drop shot into your non-volley zone, but it is difficult to do that accurately from the backcourt.

If your return is somewhat higher than you would like, the opponent can’t take advantage of that height very well from the backcourt.

The final reason is that it allows you to approach the non-volley line before the opponent can, since they have to wait for your return to bounce, putting you at a strong advantage.

The biggest exception to the rule is when the serve is short. If you receive the serve in the forecourt, you have options to return it as a dink, with backspin, especially diagonally, or sometimes very fast and low as a passing shot.

Another exception that works surprisingly well is a short or drop shot slice. The athletic experienced player will not have much trouble with a short slice. In fact, the experienced player may make a spectacular offensive shot with your short slice, but the beginning and intermediate players will almost always over-estimate the distance it is going to travel, or have trouble countering the spin.

When you are playing with beginners and return the serve very high, you may find it amusing as they struggle with timing, and mis-hit the ball into the net or out of bounds.

When you are playing with intermediate players, a fast, low return will work better than a high, floppy one. As you start playing at a higher level, you’ll find that high, lazy returns work just as well, and possibly better, as long as they are close to the baseline. By returning high, it gives you time to approach the non-volley zone before your opponents can come forward.


A follow-up second article from Jeff Napier called High Return of Serve is shown below.

High Return of Serve

At intermediate levels of play, the best return of serve is often low and fast with the hope that if it is fast enough, the opponents will not be able to return it well. As the level of play goes up, that strategy no longer works. The opponents can handle any return of serve you might try. In top-level play, the best return of serve can be a rather high return close to the opponents’ baseline. At all levels, it is important for the return to go deep – as close to the baseline as you can reliably manage. But in advanced play, there is a reason that a fairly high return is better. The reason is that it gives you time to get to the kitchen before they do, putting you in an advantageous position for what comes next. What usually comes next is a gentle drop into your kitchen, and you’ll already be there, nice and relaxed, and easily able to handle your opponents’ dropshot.


Some players (bangers) will never believe that A soft and high return is their best option. Maybe a video showing that shot is used by the top pros can change their minds. A Mark Renneson video called Returning Serve and Moving Like The Pros focuses more on movement than the shot. But note that every pro hits a similar looping return rather than a hard low return.

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