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Pickleball Strategy: Attack a Short Return of Serve

by Pickleball Superstore October 19, 2022

Pickleball Strategy: Attack the Short Return of Serve

How many times do you reserve a pickleball court and practice your return of serve with a friend? You probably only need one hand to keep track. It’s perhaps the most under-trained and most important part of your game. This article will discuss the pickleball strategy on why to attack a short return of serve.

The 3 Goals for a Return of Serve in Pickleball

  1. Put the Ball Back in Play ­– This may be obvious, but sometimes we get a little bit overzealous and try to smack the ball back as hard as we can. It happens to all of us. If there is one thing you take away from this article, please work on getting your return of serve to land in the court (and the deeper the better).
  2. Get to the Net – A strong return of serve that is deep (and in) will help you and your partner get set at the net. It is easier to win points at the net (the non-volley zone or the kitchen), so the team that gets their first has the advantage. 
  3. Avoid Hitting a Short Return of Serve – Hitting a short return gives your opponents (the serving team) a better chance to get to the net quickly. Short returns are typically a result of a hard serve – it can leave you feeling handcuffed and reactive. Position yourself further back to receive when you are expecting a hard serve. It’s easier to move forward on a shorter serve than more backward on a deeper serve.

Attacking a Short Return of Serve in Pickleball 

A short return of serve is a gift to the serving team because it sets up a strong third shot. You can do two things when you have a short incoming return of serve: a drop or a drive.

Third Shot Drop Pickleball Shot

third shot drop prevents your opponents from attacking by putting them immediately on the defensive (especially if they’re playing and staying back in the court). The third shot drop also gives you and your partner time to move in and control the net. This shot should only be attempted when you feel you do not have a good opportunity to drive the ball.

Some tips on third shot drops:

– Pick your placement and stick to it. Don’t second guess yourself.

– Remember to split step so you are prepared to hit your shot; getting your feet in the right position is key.

– Move forward with your body through the dropshot (and keep approaching the net!).

Third Shot Drive Pickleball Shot

A third shot drive is when you drive the incoming return of the serve. The goal is to get your opponents to pop up their block shot or win the point outright. Sometimes you’re lucky, and you do win the point immediately, but the third shot drive is meant to set up what’s next. Always expect the ball to come back – that’s honestly just a good rule to work from when playing pickleball. Use the drive to set up an easy put away from you or your partner.

The best time to hit a third shot drive is when the return of serve is short and bounces high. This is the optimal time to blast a winner.  In your head, drive that shot down the middle - low and with pace - with topspin if you can.

When a short return of serve bounces up, pick a spot, get your body / feet into position and go for it. Third shot drives will also keep your opponents on their toes – keep your opponents guessing, not anticipating.

Avoid hitting a drive when you are off balance and behind the baseline – this gives the other team too much time to react.

The Takeaway

The return of serve is an essential aspect of any pickleball player’s game. It will immensely raise the level of your game, and you may see more consistent wins each week. Do your best to fit in some time to practice your returns and attacking short returns.  Let’s go!

Pickleball Videos

There is a great video on the Pickleball Insights blog: Pickleball 3.5 skill set page called “How to BEND Your Slice Return and Force a Bad 3rd Shot in Pickleball

Pickleball Court Dimensions

As you practice your deep return of serves, refer to this blog article called Pickleball Court Dimensions. Know how much space your have on the pickleball court.

Pickleball Superstore
Pickleball Superstore