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Monday, September 11, 2017

Targeting: Where and Why - The Return of Serve

Be sure to positively identify your target before hitting the ball...

This is the second post describing skills and drills sessions that I am leading with a group of experienced players. The first, Targeting: Where and Why - The Serve - focused on the serve targeting strategies. This post progresses to the second shot - the return of serve.

One reminder before starting - there is a set of premises that guide us in through the decision-making process. These were covered in the article Targeting: Where and Why.

Return of Serve Targets

The return of serve should be a relatively easy shot since no opponent is waiting for your ball at the NVZ line. Therefore, targeting for a return of serve can get very specific. 

Target 1 The first target is deep down the middle. A deep return of serve accomplishes 3 important things. First, it reduces the horizontal options for the opponent because the net covers more of his field of opportunity. Second, it will increase the difficulty for the opponent to get the net simply due to the increased distance he must move. Third, a longer return gives the returner more time to move to their ball and make a more controlled third shot.

A down-the middle serve creates 3 more potential advantages. First, a right-handed Player Blue A would be forced to hit a normally weaker backhand shot. Second, Player Blue B would be pulled to the far right of his court to cover for the weak backhand of his partner. This opens the court down the opponents' left sideline. Third, a ball hit between players always holds the potential to cause players to get confused about which partner will take the shot. Both players could converge to the ball, leaving a more open court to exploit. In the best of all scenarios, neither partner takes the shot and the ball passes between them for a winner.

Target 2 - The serve to the down-the-line deep corner creates 2 advantages when Player Blue A is right-handed. First, the same advantages of a deep serve as discussed above are gained. Second, a right-handed player will be forced to hit the return with his backhand, generally the weaker side.

A good video showing a drill to these targets is the Pickleball Channel's Improve Your Return of Serve with this Easy Drill - Skills and Drills.

What about Stackers?

The previous discussion was based on opponents playing with traditional positioning. Does targeting strategy change when the opponents stack? In a word - yes. Stacking with both players on the same side of the court creates opportunities to jam them together or leave most of the court uncovered.

Targets 1 and 2 remain the same with for the same reasons. Target 2 becomes a an even better option because Player Blue A must move a across half the court to make the shot. Target 3 becomes a option only because the Blue players are so close together. It is likely that both Blue players will move to their left immediately after the serve. If they do,this target provides no advantages. However, if Blue Player A delays his move to the left, he may choose to take the ball and leave the entire court open. This target should only be used when the stacking team is slow to move.

Please note that the court diagrams above and strategies are all for the right service court, but they also apply to the left court as well with the only difference being the impact on right-handed or left-handed players.

1 comment:

  1. Great advice on returning deep and down the middle. I see a lot of beginners making it hard on themselves with the return, as you say deep and down the middle puts them at the advantage and keeps opponents in the back-court.