I have only been playing pickleball for a couple of years. When I began my pickleball experience and the serve was explained to me, the mantra at the time was “Hit the ball high and deep.” The idea was to keep the players on the opposing team back in the court and away from the net as long as possible and hopefully force a more shallow return because they would then be hitting the ball from an area near their baseline.
Instructors would sometimes point out how the serving team is at a disadvantage because they start with both players at the rear or the court while the receiving team generally has one player near the NVZ. Now that younger players and athletes who are coming from other sports are entering the game, there seems to be change in the service philosophy. The serve has been given a new status as perhaps a way to earn the advantage.
After about eight months of play, this is something I figured out on my own and here is my take on the situation…
I have tried to develop three elements to my pickleball serve:
- Change of pace – I do not to use the same serve all the time. This prevents the receivers from knowing what to expect and any doubt in their mind can cause indecision or a poor selection of a return shot.
- Spin – When using spin, the serve will sometimes cause just enough disruption to throw off opponents. A sudden twist here or there will cause the returning player to make a last minute adjustment which may not allow them to execute the shot they have planned. There are ways to disguise the spin somewhat so it is not anticipated too early in the shot.
- A Hard, low shot – This serve is a bit of a risk. As Joe Baker points out in his videos, the harder the ball is hit the less accurate it tends to be. My success rate with this serve is better than 85%, but I still use it only selectively. Smart pickleball dictates that a player should pick-and-choose when to use certain shots and with only an 85-90 percent accuracy rate on this one, I don’t take chances in very close games; most of the time
With all this in mind, I use my general moderately fast, moderately high serve, but if I see a receiver moving up in the receivers box, I may change to hit it hard and fast. From time to time, I throw a spin at them just to keep them guessing.
Based on my observation in the games that I have played in club play, this is my biggest lesson:
On the serve, ball placement can trump everything else. If I can get the serve angled to the backhand of most of my opponents, I very often get a weak return. If the receiver is protecting their backhand and I can get it down the center line, I often get a weak return. I am only an average club player, but keeping an opponent off-balance has helped me win more points. I don’t necessarily win on a service ace, but as a result of a weak return and winning with a follow up third or fifth shot!
I am not an expert and I don’t proclaim to be a coach or instructor so don’t take my word for it. There are excellent players who are coaches and/or instructors and they currently seem to be offering similar advice.
You can read Death of the Meaningless Return By Mark Renneson, Third Shot Sports
Pickleball 411: Three Serves and Why You Need Them
And below is a video with Jennifer Lucore, Bob Youngren and Alex Hamner demonstrating a variety of serves.