May 03, 2022

Pickleball best shots & advanced tipsPickleball player

Assuming you’ve already read our other blog posts on Pickleball, you already know the basics: you run around, you hit the ball in-bounds and you don’t volley in the kitchen.

But unless you’re playing against cavemen, children or a cadre of your friends who’ve been drinking beers all afternoon, you’re going to need a few shots in your arsenal if you want to start winning games against real opponents. Read on for some tips.

Going Beyond
the Basics

You know the rules of the game and you know the basic tips. You’re facing forward, put your paddle in a ready position with your knees bent. You’re wearing your Willy California Ultimate Pickleball Shorts and you’re amazed (as always) by the mobility and comfort.

But you’re still going to lose if you can’t wrap your mind around the kitchen.

The kitchen, or the no-volley-zone, is a seven-foot-wide rectangle in front of each net where volleying the ball means you lose the point.

Much of pickleball strategy revolves around the kitchen. Why?

The Kitchen
and Leverage

Standing right at the kitchen line gives you flexibility. You can lightly tap shots back to your opponent, you can drive a shot hard, or you can perform a rapid overhand volleying smash. But if you’re way at the back of the court, you have less options and your opponent has more time to react.

Therefore, it’s almost always a good idea to get to the kitchen line ASAP while preventing your opponent from doing the same. The best way to do this is in the first few points.

A Controlled
Serve

Pickleball’s serve is completely unlike tennis. It’s underhanded, it’s slow and it has different purposes. The physics of a wiffleball mean it simply can’t ever go as fast as a tennis ball. You’re just not going to smoke your opponent with your serve very often.

As with many things in pickleball, you’re better off not putting too much mustard on the hot dog.

Play controlled, patient and soft. The goal is to land the ball deep in your opponent’s court — ideally on their backhand side — to ensure that they’ll be at a disadvantage on the return.

The Return

Returning the serve is equally important. When you’re on the other side of the net, you actually want to follow the exact same strategy as the serving team: land the ball deep in your opponent’s back-court. This prevents them from closing to the net, while also buying yourself time to get there. Similarly, target their weaker backhand side.

There’s a lot of strategy to consider with the return. Think about your opponent’s play style. Sometimes you’ll want to lob, sometimes you’ll want a slice with a lot of topspin. But again, you’re better off being controlled and strategic. Pickleball is often a game of errors. Whoever makes the least, wins.

Rush to the
Kitchen

After the return, it’s dinnertime. Hustle to the kitchen (or no-volley-zone) line as fast as possible. As mentioned above, this will create options for you. As for those options, see below...

Main Types
of Shots and
Strokes

Groundstrokes:
Generally speaking, a groundstroke is any shot that has bounced already. These include dinks, slices and drives.

Volley strokes:
These are mid-air strokes. You can perform them anywhere but the kitchen. Volleying rapid little hits or huge overhand smashes are game-winners. If you can prevent your opponent from volleying, you will win more often.

Dinks:
An absolute staple of the sport, the dink is a groundstroke by the kitchen line. The idea is to hit the ball as softly as possible, to land the ball somewhere just over the net. By keeping the ball low and landing it just inside their kitchen, you can prevent your opponent from volleying.

Dinking has a lot of advantages. It’s anticlimactic, but it will win you games.

Against newer players, it’s tricky to return. Against pros, it’s a great tool for slowing the game down.

That said, dinking requires more finesse than you might think. Make sure to bend your knees and try to get under the ball for this precise little tap. Try to aim diagonally for a cross-court shot. This gives you room to hit and makes your opponent run for the ball. Or, aim at their feet, to make them hop out of the way.

There are many ways to dink and we encourage you to try them all. Spin it, tap it or fake it then hit them with a sudden drive!

Drives:
Speaking of, these are hard horizontal groundstrokes, meant for the back court. Try to use these when you have an opening or to throw your opponent on his back foot.

Lobs:
Lobs are strategic: a high, arcing shot, designed to slow the game down. If you can lob your ball behind an opponent at the net, you can force them to run back to the baseline. However, lobs can be risky. If you’re not accurate, you may be opening yourself up to a smash that will be impossible to return.

The Erne:
One of the coolest shots in Pickleball, beginners are often stunned that the Erne is even legal. Basically, if you can move out-of-bounds quickly enough around the kitchen, it’s legal to return a shot, even from beyond the post!

Advanced players will even leap over the no-volley-zone to execute a well-timed dink back on their opponent. Just make sure your feet have touched the ground outside the kitchen or the shot won’t be legal.

The Third Shot Drop:

Finally, and arguably the most important shot in a pro’s game, this shot ties back to our discussion on serving and returns.

Let’s say you serve the ball and your opponent returns it perfectly — way at the back of your court. You have to stay at the back, but he's already running for the kitchen line. By the time you hit the “third shot” of the set, your opponent will be waiting for it right by the net. If you try to drive it, he might volley it right back, and keep you on the defensive. If you try to lob it, he will smash it right down on you.

The third shot drop is a low, accurate shot that lands precisely in your opponent’s kitchen, forcing him to do a soft return.

This has bought you critical time to rush to the kitchen line yourself and equalize the playing field.

Of course, the third shot drop is easier said than done. Hitting an extremely precise, light shot off a fast return will always be tricky. But master it, and you will win dramatically more games.

Good Luck!

We hope these tips were helpful! Lastly, don’t forget the most important tip: have fun! Just kidding. It’s practice. But you already knew that!