Myth # 5: Just Get The Serve In?
Another of my favourites. Having been "schooled" on the squash court originally by Sharif Khan of the Khan squash dynasty (widely considered one of the all-time great squash players), I remember everyone except Sharif saying "the serve's purpose is just to get the point started". In the alternative, he set us on the right track by teaching that the serve should be an offensive (not meaning naughty) shot putting pressure on your opponent from the get go. Fast forward, I have carried that advice to the Pickleball court with some positive results as suggested below.
Introduction: Some say that in general, serving is the most under-valued part of the game given the alternative generic guidance that "if you don't get the serve in play you can't win the point". I would argue just as Canada's best Pickleball pro Steve Deakin does, that a conservative serve is as bad as a missed one! An opponent's unbalanced return is to the server's team benefit, and a better set up for the serving team's "most" important third shot.
Don't be afraid of missing a few aggressive serves. The corollary is that the pressure put on you from the opponent's team superior return of a conservative serve will cause more harm (points lost overall in a match) than a few missed serves. Also perhaps you can get in a few ego deflating "aces" (my favourite is a spinning-outwards serve just past the kitchen line inside the top corner of the service box) as you do in tennis, or at the very least effect a return "pop up" or slow ball, putting your opponents out of position and providing the possibility of an easier put away on your side. Finally if you want a bit more power and additionally maintain better balance, take a step into the serve and don't hit it while you are standing still and directly facing your opponents. This step serve is more difficult to do of course if you drop serve.
Don't Serve and "Drift". The most prevalent mistake made by beginners and plenty of intermediate players, is to wander a few steps forward from the baseline after your serve. The problem? Your opponents mission is to drive the ball back to you as close to the baseline as possible to keep you back while they travel to the kitchen. If you are a few steps into the court, the ball is now at your feet with a predictable outcome - one that is not good for you even if you manage to get your paddle on the ball for a weak return as you retreat! Also, how do you hit a third shot drop if you are out of position? Stay behind the baseline and watch for a short return just in case.
Also, placement is key. Shot placement is an important consideration in winning serve strategies: deep serves to keep your opponent well behind the baseline; spins that make the ball's trajectory flatten on impact and change direction; serves that take advantage of your opponent's weaknesses (like a relatively weaker backhand or trouble with faster pace); serves that are low to the court (especially with those pesky tall players); and, a set of landing targets that you feel comfortable with and can mix up as required.
Finally, unpredictability as a winning strategy. If your opponents know that your serve is relatively the same every time, they will be ready and will be able to execute an easy return. Mix it up between short, long, left and right, lob - and keep them guessing. Always look up to see where they are positioned before serving. They may be cheating expecting you to hit a certain serve. Pick your target and you can take advantage. Examples to look for include but are not limited to: an opponent standing well in front of the baseline anticipating a short serve - strike the serve at their feet with authority or lob it so they have to retreat to let it bounce; standing with a bias to one side or the other - strike the ball as far to the opposite side as you can with an outside or inside spin depending on the court side: and, given observed weaknesses (such as weaker backhand) in that match (not always the same depending on the day), take advantage by capitalizing on that weakness! After all, even though goal #1 is to have fun, it's also good to win once in a while :)
If you are also interested in reviewing Pickleball's serving rules, the video below is quite helpful.
Hope that you enjoyed Myth Buster # 5 "Just Get The Serve In". The next Pickleball Passion Blog will cover # 6 of the 10 Pickleball Myth Busters!