I always tell my students to get to the line as quickly as possible (it is one of my principles for playing Smart Pickleball, after all!).
When you are receiving the serve, I recommend a deep and slow return so you can easily join your partner at the line.
On the other side of the court, when you see that your partner is going to make the third shot, run up to the Kitchen so at least one of you is at the line.
This is a common misconception that when you have the opportunity, get up to the line immediately.
But here’s what I’ll add – get to the line quickly and safely!
You and Your Partner – The Movable Wall
When at the line, I recommend that you and your partner be about six to seven feet apart, all the time. You and your partner then move side to side together.
You and your partner are creating a moveable wall so that you both are able to be in front of the ball and to reduce your opponents’ options. Your wall is moving side to side, left to right.
And left to right, side to side, is not the only way the wall moves!
You can probably see where I’m going with this now! The wall also moves up and down!
Be Always Sure You Are Right, Then Go Ahead
Slow and steady wins the race is not a bad adage here, but I think the one from Davy Crockett, Be always sure you are right, then go ahead, is better!
When your partner is about to hit the third shot, you want to make sure you advance to the line safely! There’s a few things you need to keep an eye on to make sure you are right before moving (or going ahead!) to the Kitchen.
First Things First! Is It a Good Drop?
Let’s say your partner tries to make that third shot drop. If it’s a not-so-great drop, and you ran up to the line, you’re pretty vulnerable for a slam!
Plus, if you run up, while your partner is back, you create a large gap between the two of you.
So how do you know if it’s going to be a good drop or not?
The apex (highest point of the arc!) of the ball should be about five to six feet above your Kitchen line to drop into your opponents’ Kitchen. If you notice the ball higher than that (seven+ feet), hold up!
Get in position to try a fifth shot!
Second! What’s Your Partner Doing?
You always want to keep your wall intact, keeping that six to seven feet from your partner. Not just while up at the line, but also when advancing to the Kitchen!
So do you move up with your partner, or does your partner move up with you?
It depends on who hits the ball. If you hit the ball, your partner matches your advancement to the Kitchen.
If your partner hits the ball, you match your partner’s advancement to the line.
Third – Move, Stop, Strike – Repeat as Necessary!
It’s certainly easier when receiving to join your partner at the line quickly! When serving, it’s a bit more difficult, but I know you can do it!
You and your partner know to move together to get to the Kitchen – how do you do it quickly and safely?
When you know it’s a decent enough drop, start moving up to the line. Right when your opponent is about to strike the ball,
After your opponent strikes the ball, return it, and continue advancing.
Repeat as necessary, until you get to the line!
What you’re doing is working your way up to the Kitchen, as opposed to running up there at the first opportunity!
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You’ve read my article on strategies to play against slammers, but did you know there’s other strategies that you can use against bangers?
And that these strategies are on the first two shots?
And you may not even have to use the third shot drop?
Intrigued? I thought so! Read on to learn how to play against your friendly neighborhood bangers!
A Quick (and Not Very Good) Physics Lesson
I vaguely remember physics way back in high school (not my favorite subject!). But I do remember something along the lines of equal and opposite reactions!
In pickleball, if you hit the ball hard, it’s probably coming back hard – if not harder!
When playing against a banger, that may be the last thing that you want! Bangers love to hit the ball hard – they love being able to hit it even harder!
Let’s Say You’re Returning a Serve…
You’re playing against a couple of bangers – they serve hard, and you just know that third shot is going to be a drive and not a drop.
This is why I recommend a high, loopy return of serve, as near the baseline (preferably about two to three feet) as you feel comfortable with.
Bangers don’t like this!
They’re forced to hit the ball pretty much flat footed instead of moving towards the ball and the Kitchen – if they’re going to power the ball, they have to use their own power, none of yours!
And if they are hitting it flat-footed, all the power comes only from the arm, not from the entire body.
This return of serve has an added benefit! It gives you more time to join your partner at the Kitchen!
And you know I’m a huge fan of making the shot that gives you more time. That high, loopy return of serve gives you time to run, walk, or maybe even stroll to the Kitchen and get set and relaxed for the banger’s third shot!
Serving It Up!
You’re serving against a banger – can you guess what type of serve I recommend?
If you guessed “a high loopy serve like you recommend for the return,” you’re absolutely correct!
The same principle applies – you’re not giving the bangers any of your power – they’re forced to generate their own. That’s good news, right?
And there’s even better news!
If the banger hits a really hard return of serve, he’s not buying himself time. He’s losing time! Losing time to get to the Kitchen!
When you see this happen, get ready to do a third shot drop – NOT!
If your opponent is powering the ball from near the baseline, that ball is getting to you much quicker than your opponent is getting to the Kitchen. That means your opponent is back.
And what do I say at my bootcamps?
KEEP THEM BACK! DO NOT BRING THEM IN!
Whoever gets to the Kitchen first usually wins the point. It is in your best interest (and your partner’s!) to keep your opponents back. When you notice your opponent struggling to get to the Kitchen, try hitting a ball that bounces somewhere near their feet.
Doesn’t have to a hard shot or even a drive – and it’s a much easier shot from your baseline than trying to drop the ball into the Kitchen!
And because this shot doesn’t need much power behind it, you’re giving you (and your partner!) time to get to the Kitchen!
How Good a Poker Player Are You?
I’ve got a great poker face – that’s because I don’t know how to play poker! (I know a full house is good, and I think it beats a flush!)
In other words, I would have no tells if my hand was good or bad. I would be sitting there with the same expression on my face if I had a royal flush or a pair of threes!
The next time you’re playing a banger, and you make a good dink or he’s about to strike the ball fairly low (mid-calf or lower), look for the tell.
And the tell is the paddle behind the player. When you see this happen, that’s a really good indication the banger is getting ready to really power that poor little pickleball.
You know how you have to pull back on a slingshot’s rubber band to make that stone go farther? Same thing! The banger is pulling his arm back behind his body to generate more power to hit the ball harder.
Now comes the easy part!
Get out of the way!
Slide to the left, slide to the right, or duck! The ball may go into the net anyway, but if you notice that tell, be prepared to get out of the way so you can watch the ball sail out of bounds!
After all, you’re not auditioning for the role of a baseball backstop!
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