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Saturday, January 13, 2018

7 Down-the Middle Secrets

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

So far you have read all kinds of thoughts about hitting the return of serve down the middle. Mark Renneson, other instructors, and I have helped us learn the best strategy. Its time for Prem Carnot to chime in. His article 7 “Hit to the Middle” Secrets Every Pickleball Player Should Know is shown below.

If you’ve been playing pickleball for any length of time you’ve probably been told by some player (probably more advanced than you) to “Hit to the Middle”.  Maybe you’ve even congratulated your team on a winning shot by saying “Down the Middle Solves the Riddle!” (With or without a somewhat obnoxious “Yeah, Baby!” added before or afterwards…)

Hitting down the middle is often an excellent strategy, but it’s also frequently mis-understood and incorrectly implemented.  In this article, we are going to cover some of the lesser-understood strategies and nuances tied up in this oft-repeated phrase.

#1) Hit to The Middle Because the Net is Lower There

Basically, you’ve got 3 options.

Hit in front of you, hit to the middle, or hit cross-court.

As long as you are hitting to the middle (even if you are correctly aiming a few feet left or right of the center line depending on where your opponents are), you’ll still be able to take advantage of the fact that the net is up to a full 2 inches lower in the middle, and that mean’s you’re less likely to hit the ball into the net.

And THAT, is always a good thing.

Because… Hitting the ball into the net is NEVER a good (or winning) strategy.

We ARE clear on that, right??  😉


#2) Hit to The Middle Because It Takes the Angle Off

There’s a time and a place for sharp cross-court dinks or sharp angles down the sideline, but unless you are very accurate and can end the point with your sharp angle, most of the time, hitting a sharp angle just leaves your partner’s sideline wide open for your opponent to take advantage of.

When you hit to the middle, it limits your opponents options and helps you keep control of the point.

#3) Hitting to The Middle Does NOT Mean Hitting to The Middle

And you thought it did, silly you. 😉

Okay, to clarify, maybe when your frustrated partner grumbles under their breath “Hit to the middle!” they DO mean to hit to the middle of the court.  But that’s only because they haven’t learned this particular nuance.

I’ll say it right now.

DON’T hit every shot down the line in the middle of the court.  (Yes, that would be convenient if it were that simple, but sorry, Charlie, it isn’t.)

It’s not that simple because your shot placement MUST take into account where your opponents are.

I know, shocking, right?

Well, for some of you, especially with more racket sport experience, this might be obvious.

But for MANY players, especially when you are just starting out or working on a new skill, you focus so much on hitting a particular shot (can you say d.r.o.p.s.h.o.t.?) to a particular place that you forget to see where your opponents are and what they are doing.

If you are blindly aiming for a particular spot on the court without considering where you’re opponents are, chances are you might be hitting it directly TO them, and at the very least, you will miss out on taking an opening because you literally aren’t looking for it.

So what should you do instead?

Hit to the MIDDLE of the area between your opponents.

If your opponents are each positioned exactly in the middle of their side of the court, then it would happen that you would be aiming near the centerline of the court.  But MOST of the time, the spot you should be aiming for will be left or right of the center of the court.

But even then…

#4) Don’t Always Hit EXACTLY to the Middle Of the Two Players

For Newbie-Beginner players, just leave it at the point I made above.  But for Novice-Advanced players, it will probably help to hit slightly off center from the middle of the two players, slightly toward the person with the backhand in the middle. (Assuming you have two rightys with better forehands than backhands).

No matter what level player you’re at, sometimes you’ll be playing against opponents who both have strong shots toward the middle (for example, a right-left combination with good forehands in the middle, or two righties, one who prefers their forehand and one who prefers their backhand.

These are STILL good times to hit to the middle because chances are they will BOTH go for it and confuse themselves.  Which brings us to point #5.

#5)Hit to the Middle to Construct Your Point

Now this is key.

This is where pickleball can start to be like chess.

Yes, your opponents may get confused when you hit to the middle, but don’t be disappointed if one of them manages to get the ball back over the net to you because, Grasshopper, you are smarter than that.

You were not hitting to the middle to win on THAT shot, you hit to the middle to set yourself up for an even BETTER shot down the road.

And it is that second (or even third or fourth shot) after you hit to the middle (when your opponents are STILL off balance after the confusing middle shot they are still congratulating themselves for returning) when you can take advantage of  their teetering stance or their open sidelines to take your winning shot.

#6) Hit to the Middle Because it Keeps Your Partner in the Game

If you’ve watched the national matches you’ve likely seen those loooooong cross-court dinking ralleys where two players are hitting back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, on the diagonal, while their partners are doing their best to stay awake.

Well, when you have 4 top players on the court, that is sometimes the way to go.  But whenever you hit a sharp cross-court shot, your opponent will probably return that shot to you, which makes it VERY difficult for your partner to even reach the ball, and it also puts a lot of pressure on you to make sure you are consistent and keep the ball in play.

When you hit to the middle instead, you open the possibilities back up, where you OR your partner can be ready to hit the next shot, which will often be a put-away.

So, if you’re reading between the lines here, you’ll realize:

If you’re playing with an equal-or-better partner, hit to the middle to keep them involved.

If you’re playing with a weaker partner, STILL hit to the middle to keep yourself involved. Because if you go for a sharp cross court shot and your partner is not shifting correctly to cover their alley, chances are your opponent will go down the line on your partner’s side.

#7) Hit to The Middle, but Probably Not ALL the Time

Call me Captain Obvious, but if you are hitting toward the middle chances are you aren’t hitting to the side.

Sure, you might mess up and hit it in to the net, but hitting it wide is probably not going to be a problem.

Also, you may know that just keeping the ball in play is often enough to win a point (more often than not, your opponents will inevitably hit the ball long, wide or into the net).

So, thinking yourself extremely smart, you might decide to hit every single shot into the middle.  After all, you’ll keep the ball in play and reap all the benefits outlined above, right?

Well, depending on your skill level, hitting to the middle ALL the time may or may NOT be a smart strategy.

So how often should you hit to the middle?

Well, like I said, it depends on your skill level.

So do you know what it is?

Yes?  Awesome.  Keep reading.

Come back Monday for Prem's guide to targeting by skill level.

Prem Carnot, The Pickleball Guru, is the author of the #1 Best-Seller, Smart Pickleball. You, too, can use his simple "Yes or No" criteria to determine your precise skill level AND get skill-level specific guidance on EXACTLY what to focus on to take your game to the next level. Claim your FREE copy of his Ratings & Goals Guide at:

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