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Strategy - Other Thoughts

The Serving Team

Because the serving team has to let the ball bounce before hitting it, they are at a disadvantage to the returning team, but only if the player returning the serve follows his/her return in to the net. That leads to a rule for the serving team.

The Rule: If the player returning serve doesn't come to net, you should always hit the ball back to him and come in to net yourself!

Assuming that both players on the returning team come to net, the member of the serving team that is hitting the ball has three choices:

  1. Hit a high deep lob
  2. Hit a dink shot and come to net
  3. Hit the ball hard at the opponents in hopes they will either miss or make a weak shot that you can attack.

What the player should choose to do depends not only on where the return of serve goes but also on the player's ability and his partner's ability and the ability of the opponents. The perfect shot for the perfect player is of course to make a perfect dink and follow it into the net thereby taking away the returning teams advantage. However since we are not all perfect, I'll go on.

Playing against the deep Return of Serve


If you're a novice through "B" club player, still learning to dink, and not a powerful hitter, your best bet against the deep returns is probably to lob.

Although you may not have a great lob, you will find it improves quickly with practice. After a little practice, you will notice that it isn't easy for your opponents to put their overheads away unless they are very good!

If you are a good player with the ability to dink from the baseline and have a lot of power, then you should mix up your dinks with your power shots, dink when ever possible, and lob or hit low when you can't! Remember the dink won't do any good unless you follow it to net!

 

Playing against the 3/4 court Return of Serve
Many of the tournament players will smack this ball hard and many will hit a dink and come to net. Many more good players could improve their game if they would use the dink instead of hitting it hard in this situation. A good dink will always work, where as a good hard hit will only work some of the time. The Novice and Intermediate players should be working at hitting dinks whenever they get that 3/4 court ball. It will take time to perfect the shot, but once you can do it, you can expect the opponents to make mistakes against it. After you can do the 3/4 court dink reliably, you will have a good chance of making a dink from further back.

Playing against the short return of serve
If you can get to the short return of serve and its a fair amount below the net, then you should almost always use the dink. If you try to hit the ball hard from below the net, it is quite likely to go out or high enough for the opposing team to kill it. If however, you get to the very short ball and its fairly high, then you should probably hit it hard at the opponents because they have less time to react and hit the ball or even to think about letting it go if it was going out.

Adjust strategy according to what happens
Pay attention to which shots are winning points and which are losing. If something works then keep doing it. If it doesn't work, try something else. Be willing to change strategies at a moments notice. Talk to your partner about any ideas you or he/she might have.

If the return of serve is hit to you, what should your partner do
As the partner of the player hitting the ball, what you should do depends a little bit on knowing what your partner is likely to do and of course that depends a bit on where the return goes.

While everyone doesn't agree, I feel that the very worst thing you can do is to start running madly to the net before you know what your partner is going to try and do. By running to the net before your partner hits the ball, you pretty much take away your partner's option to lob, because you are now a target. If your partner hits a hard shot, you often get caught moving rapidly forward when they hit the ball at you. This makes it extremely difficult to adjust to the ball or change direction. 3. You pretty much take away the option for your partner to just play a nice safe return, because it could be hit hard at you. On the other hand, there have been a few times when running madly to the net did actually work well and when you are hitting a lob, you can tell your partner GOING UP or STAY BACK or something to stop his mad flight to another bruise.

The approach I recommend is to first try and figure out what your partner is going to do and move accordingly. That's fairly easy after you have played together a few times.

If you recognize that your partner is going to dink, then you should start moving forward with him. If he hits a good dink, you both will have moved all the way to the net. If he hits it to high, you should both immediately stop and get ready to defend. Then adjust by going forward or backwards according to what happens next.

If its a deep return and your partner looks like he is going to lob, wait to see if the opposing team is going to let the ball bounce before moving in to net.

If your partner looks like he is going to hit the ball hard, move in a little bit and wait to see what happens. If they hit a short low ball, you should move in and normally attempt to do a dink. If they hit a short high ball, you should move in and either kill the ball or dink depending on your opponents skills.

Having said the above, I must acknowledge that there have been a couple of matches where my partner receiving the return of serve has hit it so hard and so low consistently, that the opposing team was popping the ball up and therefore I also dashed madly to the net before he hit the ball and it was very successfully against those particular teams. Again, as I said at the beginning very little is always wrong or always right, but you should normally play the percentages.

The Story of Tom The Lobber

If a player, whom we shall call Tom The Lobber, can hit a perfect lob every time, you might think he should always hit that perfect lob. Unfortunately, on Monday Tom The Lobber played with a partner named Timid Tim who was really very good except he could never seem to return an overhead smash, so every time Tom The Lobber lobbed the ball, the other team smashed at Tim and of course Tom and Tim lost every time Tom lobbed.

On Tuesday, Tom The Lobber was excited because he was finally playing with a different partner named Fast Freddie whom he knew had the ability to return smashes and was very fast on his feet. Unfortunately, every time the return of serve came to Tom The Lobber, Fast Freddie was already running to net, and when Tom The Lobber lobbed the ball, Fast Freddie would get creamed by the opponents so poor Tom had to quit lobbing.

Since Tom The Lobber couldn't lob with Fast Freddie running to the net so quickly, Tom had to resort to hitting the ball hard because he had never learned to dink and didn't like to do it. Unfortunately, Tom didn't always manage to hit low and the team that had returned serve and was now camped at net would again hit the ball hard at Freddie. Fast Freddie was really very fast but because his partner hit the ball so hard, he was often still running forward when the ball was hit at him, which made it very difficult to change direction or adjust to the ball. Fast Freddie made some great gets, but at the end of the day everyone was calling him poor Bruised Freddie

On Wednesday, Tom The Lobber got stuck with another partner called Hapless Harry who had earned his nickname because he was a very poor at net and nobody wanted to play with him. After a few points, it became apparent to Tom The Lobber that with Hapless Harry running to the net they had no chance at all. So Tom suggested to Harry, that every time the serve was returned to them they should lob and try not to go to net except when it couldn't be avoided. After a few minutes, it became apparent that Hapless Harry was really good at lobbing and the opponents had little patience when their smashes kept coming back. Tom and Harry went on to win their next 5 matches and Hapless Harry is no longer called Hapless. Together they are called the Happy Lobsters and are much feared in the ranks of the "C" and "B" players.

The moral of the story is don't be afraid to switch strategies and try to find a strategy that fits your abilities and takes advantage of your opponents weaknesses. To do that you have to attempt in practice to develop all your skills. That means practicing trying to dink, trying to lob and return overheads, and hitting overheads. It also means not running around all your backhands, but rather trying to improve it. It means having fun and trying a few goofy shots in hopes that one might work! It means not always trying to win your practice matches, but rather trying to work on a particular skill.

True Life Strategy Stories :)

The other day I was playing a fairly serious match and my partner and I were losing about 12 to 3 in a game to 15. The other team had been lobbing a lot and we had too. However, we were making mistakes and the other team was not. All of a sudden, we hit the ball hard at one of the players at net and he missed what should have been an easy shot. We did it again and the same thing happened. So for the rest of the match, we hit everything as hard as we could at the same player and we won 15 to 14 much to their disgust. The important thing to note is that we noticed his mistake and changed our strategy and won the game! I don't know how often I have watched either tennis or pickleball matches, and seen a player miss a shot of some type and look very awkward doing it and the opponents would never give them that shot again! Pay attention to your opponents mistakes!

On the same day, I started playing a game with the player who had missed all the volleys. I knew that he was not as good at net as either opponent and that they would hit all balls at him and we would probably lose by playing offense. On the other hand, I knew that he was exceptionally good at lobs and that furthermore one of the other players overheads was a bit erratic and the other player had a very good overhead but didn't hit it extremely hard!

To make a long story short we drove them crazy with lobs and my partner happened to volley better when he did have to go to net and we won fairly easily. (after hitting 1000 lobs) Again, the main reason we won was strategy. With a different strategy, we might have be beaten soundly.

Having different strategies you can try will not always win the match, but it will always help and if the opponents are only a little better than you, it might make the difference. Every once in a while, it will help you beat a team that you really shouldn't!