As I became a more frequent pickleballer, I found myself drawn to watching more of the weekend coverage and matches of pro pickleball (both tours…I’m not going down that wormhole). I took inspiration from the play of top players, and a reasonably athletic person, I took to copying much of their technique as well as some of their strategy.
What I didn’t copy initially, though, was the Erne. Seeing athletic marvels like Tyler Loong and Dekel Bar and Ben Johns leap through the air at the last second, clearing the kitchen and putting their unsuspecting opponents away- that didn’t seem like something I could replicate. It was like a Lebron James chase-down block: a lot of fun to watch, but I ain’t doing that.
However, as I watched more and more mixed double matches, I got more familiar with Team Newman, and I stared in awe as I saw Lindsay Newman move- not particularly quickly sometimes- to the side of the net to be in a position to Erne the ball back. She did it often, and she did it effectively.
That I could do, so I began to study what she was doing in order to pull it off. Here are 3 things I noticed:
-You don’t have to go at the last second, but don’t be early: even if you’re moving to get to your Erne a split second late, the ball is still in an up position for you to hit, and by taking it out of the air so early, your opponent is still in a terrible position to hit a competitive return. However, elite players are able to adjust if you tip your hand too soon by being able to get around the ball, hitting a lob, or trying to speed one up at your body. Still- we don’t have to be an aerial acrobat like the top pros to make this a part of our game.
-Watch the ball and your opponent to know when they’re especially vulnerable: this is what Lindsay is really a master of. When the ball was hit at her opponent’s feet and he/she was moving away from the center of the court, often the only ball to be able to hit back was a soft dink along the sideline. When an opponent is in a vulnerable position like that, Lindsay pounced and was in an Erne position to put the ball away.
-Even if you don’t get the Erne, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed: what I also came to realize in watching the Newmans’ strategy is that the other team was fully aware that Lindsay was going to go for the Erne often, yet it continued to remain a successful strategy. Why? If the opponent knew they were in a vulnerable position and Lindsay was likely in Erne position, the opposing team would often do all they can to pull the ball back to the middle to avoid getting Erne’d. That resulted in a soft, attackable shot for Riley Newman, and often a ball he could put away (or directly led to a put-away a shot later). I found this holds true in my own play: the threat of an Erne is often as valuable as the Erne itself, and we’re at a GREAT advantage as players if we know exactly where our opponent is going to hit the ball next.
So my takeaway from all this? Erne more! I’m surprised in some of my higher-level rec play that I’m not seeing skilled players go for the Erne more given the advantages. I’ve teamed up with some partners that know my Erne-heavy style that now move with me when shots might put our opponents in a vulnerable position, and we’ve even gone so far to try to set each other up.
While my basketball days are past me and I’ll never get the satisfaction of dunking on someone like Ja Morant, at least I can still Erne.