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Monday, October 9, 2017

Targeting: Where and Why - The Fourth Shot (After a Drop)

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

This will be week 4 of the series on targeting. The first, Targeting: Where and Why - The Serve - focused on the serve targeting strategies. The second, Targeting: Where and Why - The Return of Serve, focused on the return. The third, Targeting: Where and Why - The Third Shot, focused on options for the serving team's first return. The natural progression for this week is the fourth shot, i.e., the return of the third-shot drop or drive.

The usual 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. The primary goal of the fourth shot is to begin constructing the rally in your favor. The target is dependent on the type of third shot and the opponents' positions on the court. Today's article will cover the third-shot drop. Next week will cover the third-shot drive.

Scenario 1 - Opponents fail to gain the NVZ and remain back

This is nearly the best of all worlds in pickleball. You have control of the net and your opponents are not even close. Since we have learned that the team controlling the net has a greater probability of winning the rally, you start with an advantage. The key is to now use that advantage to apply pressure.

A good drop shot will bounce such that the ball remains below the top of the net. This prevents driving the ball as it will have to be hit upward and a hard hit will carry out of bounds. Instead, the shot should be hit with a slightly upward arc and deep enough to reach the opponents' feet. Much like the return of serve when both opponents are back, the target should be their backhand sides.

It is also helpful to attack the player who is least ready - the hitter of the drop shot. That opponent may not have fully recovered to the ready position following his shot and will have a more difficult shot.

Keeping opponents deep provides several advantages. Players have longer shots. Longer shots are more difficult and provide you with more time. Players are less likely to hit an offensive shot as they are in a defensive position. Players have fewer angles to hit passing shots.

Scenario 2 - One opponent advances past his partner

This is the second best scenario. You still have control of the net and your opponents are not split. The strategy is similar to scenario 1 but your choice should focus on the player farthest from the net. The first objective is feet and the second objective is the backhand side.

Scenario 3 - One opponent advances to the NVZ and his partner stays back

This is so similar to the previous scenario that some wonder why it is separate. The primary strategy is identical - focus on the player farthest from the net. But the wide distance between opponents provides an opportunity that should not be ignored when presented. The wide alley should be exploited when the player in front of the opponent in the back has the drop hit to his side.

Scenario 4 - Both opponents advance to the NVZ

While this scenario is the worst for a team facing a third-shot drop, it is normally a neutral situation at worst. The objective of this fourth shot is to move from neutrality to an advantage by putting the opponents out of their comfort zone. As always, the target is feet and backhands. These positions require a dink. Most players like to dink crosscourt because the longer shot has more room for error and the net is lower in the middle. Therefore, Red A may choose Target 3 even if it is to Blue A's forehand side. Other players like to dink straight across. Try to target the backhand side, though.

All of these scenarios are based on the assumption that the third-shot drop is hit so that it bounces low in the NVZ. A drop shot that is long or a drive both present the opportunity for more offensive shots. Those will be discussed next week.

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