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Master The Return of Serve in Pickleball: Tips & Techniques

In pickleball, the return of serve is your first opportunity to seize control of the point, whether you're playing singles or doubles. This crucial shot sets the stage for the rally, and mastering it can significantly impact your game's dynamics. Below, we delve into strategies for both singles and doubles play, ensuring your return of serve becomes a formidable part of your pickleball repertoire.

How To Hit An Effective Return

Here’s some generic strategy that can be applied to both singles and doubles play:

Hit Deep - Aim for deep returns to push your opponent back, buying you time to position yourself and stop your opponent from attacking. You want to make your opponent's 3rd shot as difficult as possible. If you can have them pushed deep and unable to step in and attack, then you will be in an excellent position for your next shot.

Vary Your Returns - Keep your opponent guessing by mixing up your shots. Use changes in height, spin, and direction. Try not to let them get in a rhythm with their third shot by hitting the same type of return each time.

Target Weaknesses - Exploit your opponent's less dominant side, often the backhand, to challenge their control and accuracy. Maybe they don’t like slice or heavy topspin or don’t move so well to the ball. Look for anything that can give you an advantage and put them under pressure. A good time to spot some weaknesses is during the warm-up. See if you can spot anything obvious.

The Doubles Return Of Serve

In doubles, a big perk for the returning team is starting with one player at the kitchen line, right away. Because of the two bounce rule the returning team can quickly get one player up close to the net, putting them in a strong position. The serving team, however, has to hang back at first. This is why making a good Return of Serve is key—it lets you keep this upper hand and control the game. Let's look into how to use this advantage well:

Use Height - As well as depth, height can be your friend to buy you time to get up the the kitchen line. Adding a little extra height from time to time will also ensure there’s less chance of your opponents hitting an easy 3rd shot. Just make sure you don't hit short and high as that will be an easy drive for your opponents.

Use The Middle - Many players forget about the middle and send the return to either player. Returning the serve down the middle of the court can confuse your opponents as they might struggle to decide who should take the ball. This strategy also limits their options for attacking on the next shot. Additionally, aiming down the middle gives you a bigger target area, increasing your chances of a successful return since there's more room for error.

Communicate - You can communicate beforehand to let your partner know where you will try to return the ball. Talk to each other about strategy and practice with your partner to develop a rhythm and understanding of complementing each other's return game.

The Singles Return of Serve

In singles pickleball, the return of serve is pivotal in shifting to offense. The same two-bounce rule applies but because you have more court to cover by yourself you need to be more selective about your returns. Here’s some strategy to think about:

Use the space - Aim your returns to the corners to maximize the ground your opponent has to cover. This not only tests their agility but can also force errors or weaker returns. Send a larger percentage to their weaker side. It's also a great strategy if you see your opponent is out of breath. Get them moving even more!

Be aware of angles - Even though it’s great to attack the corners and get your opponent moving, it’s also important to remember that the more angles you hit, the more angles your opponent now has available to return their 3rd shot. If you are not so great at covering the court or are out of breath and need a few points to recover, keep the ball more central and rely on consistency and depth. You also want to avoid giving your opponent an easy passing shot. So try to choose the best time to hit into the spaces vs central and deep.

Stay Back - If needed, stay back. Even though there is more space to get your opponent running than in doubles, it can also backfire if you hit a bad return. You don’t want to leave yourself exposed moving into the net while they have an easy passing shot. If in doubt, stay back and get yourself back into the rally.

Return Of Serve Footwork

Be Ready - Have an athletic ready position and keep your weight toward the front of your feet. Be ready to react and change position quickly.

Fast Feet - Many players get caught out, moving too slowly to the kitchen. If you are committing to coming forward, then move swiftly. The faster you move then the harder your opponent's 3rd shot will be. Avoid focusing on your return so much that it slows you down. This can be a common problem!

Return Of Serve Practice

If you don’t have a partner to practice with, the best alternative is a ball machine. Most local clubs or facilities will have one you can rent by the hour.

Also, consider investing in a lesson with a local coach. A coach can introduce you to a variety of serve types, enhancing your practice sessions. Understanding the potential serves you might face is crucial. Being able to return different styles of serves strengthens your position in the game.

Here's a video showing you most of the main types of serve you may receive:

 

For more serve-specific tips you can read our article: How To Attack Using The Pickleball Serve.

Return Of Serve Drills

Try some of these drills to give you a stronger overall return:

Depth - Focus on hitting returns deep in the court. Use cones or markers to set targets in the back area of the court. Practice both forehand and backhand returns, you want to have a similar consistency of depth no matter what shot it is.

Spin - Practice adding spin to your return. Use topspin to help with height and depth. You can use the TopspinPro to maximize your topspin skills. Here’s our Topspin 101 Guide. Add slice to keep the ball low and swing it away from your opponents.

Direction - Practice aiming your returns to specific court areas. This is crucial for both singles and doubles to have the confidence to mix it up—work on hitting your targets with minimal error. Singles play often becomes a game of precision, and consistently hitting your spots can be the difference between winning and losing points.

Practice Points- Simulate match conditions with a server aiming to put you under pressure. This helps improve your reaction time and adaptability, which is vital for both singles and doubles.

Summary

By tailoring your return of serve strategy to the specific demands of singles and doubles play, you can significantly enhance your overall performance. Depth, precision, and adaptability are your allies in turning the return of serve into a strategic advantage. With practice and patience, mastering these aspects will not only boost your confidence but also elevate your game to new heights.

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4 responses to “Master The Return of Serve in Pickleball: Tips & Techniques

  1. Excellent content with depth on the return of serve. Thinking of a return of serve as a way to just start your point leaves a lot of opportunities on the table.

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