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Monday, October 16, 2017

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

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

This will be week 5 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 last week was the fourth shot, i.e., the return of the third-shot drop or drive...and we covered the targets off the drop shot. This week will cover the targets off the third-shot drive. It will be very similar to last week with one exception - the drive generally precludes the opponents from gaining the NVZ line.

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 opponents' positions on the court.

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

As stated last week, 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 drive, by definition, will be hit hard. It may or may not be high enough to be "attackable" as discussed in Saturday's article - many drives become "unattackable" when hit with topspin that causes the ball to drop below the net. But attackability does not change the target, only the aggressiveness behind the shot. The ball should be hit 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. An attackable ball should be driven back while an unattackable ball should be lifted over the net with a slight arc. The energy for the shot is aided by the speed with which it was hit by the opponent.

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. All of these advantages are enhanced with a low driving shot.

A second target for advanced players

This scenario opens another opportunity for those who have developed a drop volley. A drive hit by opponents from their baseline gets to you so quickly that they cannot advance very far. A drop volley can be effective when an opponent's momentum is away from the net, when the opponent has limited mobility, or when you can impart some backspin on the drop volley. The target should be the NVZ as close to the net as skill allows.

It should be noted that this strategy is higher risk than the deep return. If the opponents can reach the drop shot and hit a decent return, your advantage of controlling the net has been given away.

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.

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