There’s been plenty of internet discourse on whether the pickleball serve is an aggressive weapon of a shot or not.
On one side, we have Zane Navratil and his now-outlawed Zane-saw spin serve. Surely, that was a weapon of a shot, right?
On the other hand, we aren’t Zane, and we don’t have ungodly athleticism nor the hours upon hours to practice and perfect a serve of the type. A simple, conservative serve should suffice and get the point going. Isn’t the goal to get to the net, anyway?
Either way, pickleball is not tennis, and even Zane did the analysis to show that pros quickly adjusted to his serve to the point where he wasn’t getting aces on his serve anyway.
However, I think all of this chatter misses a bigger point when it comes to the serve and pickleball as a whole. That is- little things make big differences, and while we don’t need a sexy powerful serve to impress our competitors, there are some things we CAN be doing with our serve that slowly tip the odds in our favor and help us be in better position to win each point.
So while when we usually talk about a great serve on the pickleball court, we’re usually referring to the pace someone hits it with.
But today we want to discuss 3 ways you can improve your serve game without trying to hit it harder- and let’s face, the harder we try to hit it, the fewer we’re going to hit in bounds.
1- Consistently landing a serve within a few feet of the baseline
Instead of obsessing about the speed of our serves, we’d be far better off if we obsessed over the depth of our serves!
When we hit a deep serve, we naturally keep our opponent at the baseline or behind it. When we do so, we’re preventing our opponent from getting to the net- or, should they try to crash to the net too quickly, they’re going to find themselves out of position for the next shot. The longer we can keep our opponents deep while we make our way to the kitchen, the longer we have the advantage to win the point.
Ditch the fast serve…keep them deep!
2- Not varying the style or shape of your serve
We’ve written before about the advantages of keeping our opponents uncomfortable by varying our approaches. Whether that’s in drives vs drops or speed-ups in dink battles, the less comfortable our opponents are in knowing what shot we’re going to hit, the better position we ourselves are in to win the point.
And the serve is no different! Even if you have a strong serve, your opponent gets a little better at returning it each time. After a while, they know just what your serve will do, and they’re going to be ready to hit a deep return back. You can only hit a whiffle ball so hard with a glorified ping pong paddle!
So it behooves you to have a few serves that you can mix in throughout the course of a game. Sure, they aren’t going to be as good as your best serve, but your best serve is going to look all the better after you’ve played a few soft, shallow serves to your opponent.
Keep it fresh!
3- Consistently making your opponent hit the return with her/his backhand
This is a change I’ve made recently to my own serve game that’s paid big dividends.
9 out of 10 players that I encounter prefer their forehand to their backhand when making a return…and if that number is wrong, it might be 10 out of 10!
Simply, people don’t typically control the ball as well with their backhand as they do with their forehand. Sure, they might return it back, but it’s apt to have less spin, less power, and to come up shallower than the forehand alternative.
If we can harness the control of our serve and consistently force our opponent to a backhand return, it again nudges the point in our favor.
So, whether you think of the serve as an attacking shot or not, use these 3 ideas in your game to set yourself up for success by using the serve to gain a tactical advantage.
Until next time…