Returning a serve in pickleball is more important than most players think. The first couple of shots set the rest of that rally in motion and can allow you to position yourself in a way where you have the advantage.
In this article, we will be going over how to return a serve in pickleball from the basics to more advanced tips.
Basics of Returning a Serve in a Pickleball Game
The Two-Bounce Rule
USA Pickleball defines the two-bounce rule as…
“When the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce before returning, and then the serving team must let it bounce before returning, thus two bounces.”USApickleball.org
As far as positioning goes for properly returning a serve in pickleball, you want to stand at least 18 inches behind the baseline. If you are standing right on the baseline and your opponent serves it deep, you run the risk of getting stuck or having an awkward shot. By standing back you allow yourself to have your first move be forward instead of backward which not only set you up to hit a better shot, but your momentum is already going towards the net.
How to Perfectly Return a Serve in the Pickleball Game
Now that we have covered the rules and positioning associated with returning a serve, let’s get into the strategy and tips on how to effectively return a serve for both beginners and advanced players.
1. Return the serve deep:
Returning a serve deep gives you the time to get up and control that net. Both players on the other side must play back in order to obey that two-bounce rule. This gives you the upper hand. If you can keep the ball deep for the first few shots you can keep your opponents a the baseline until you get settled in the front of the net.
2. Use your momentum:
Using your momentum is the reason that your positioning is so important. As mentioned above, you should stand 18 to 24 inches behind the baseline. When you return the serve you want to move forward to hit the return. Since your momentum is already going forward you are saving precious seconds to get to the net. It’s simple pickleball physics. There is one thing to keep in mind. When your momentum is going forward, you may have a tendency to hit the shot long and over the baseline. Take that into account and control the shot.
3. Reach the net as early as possible:
Now that you have perfectly placed your return of serve, and made it to the net, stand your ground and take control. The most important advantage associated with returning is that you have the opportunity to get to the net first. We discussed in my article about strategy, make sure you are right on the line. If you are even 6 inches behind the line your opponent can still hit it at your feet.
4. Hitting the return shot at the center of the court:
Another way to take advantage of the return is to hit a screamer up the gut (a low shot down the middle). If your partners haven’t followed step #1 of my strategy guide, they have yet to communicate about who is taking the middle shot. Most likely either both players will go for it, or they will both freeze like a deer in the headlights and hand you the point on a silver platter. If you;re playing a singles game you want to favor the opposite corner and really get your opponent moving.
5. Practice the spinners:
Although hitting a shot with spin is a more advanced shot, it can cause a world of confusion for your opponents, so I recommend practicing it. Both backspin and topspin create unusual bounces that can throw off your opponent’s timing which could lead to them feeding you a perfect shot or hitting it out of bounds. In addition spin also can add control to your shots. Backspin allows you to take a slightly bigger swing and the ball will not go as far. Topspin can allow you to hit it hard and have the ball will drop faster keeping the ball in play.
6. Take Advantage of Weaknesses:
The return is a great opportunity to take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses. The serve shot is pretty easy to return and therefore sets you up to really hit the shot you want. If your opponent has a bad backhand hit it to their backhand. If they are not quick, play the long game, if they are not great at short shots, hit the drop shot. The return is your opportunity to hit their weak points and throw them off.
7. The Dink return:
Once you have exhausted your deep return, and your opponents have adjusted, it’s time to hit them with the dink return. This is a more advanced maneuver because if you mess it up your opponents are at the net. To execute this shot you want to really keep that paddle open and give the ball a gentle backspin shot. It does not have to be perfect, but anything in the kitchen with some backspin should do the trick. The backspin is important because it dulls down that bounce giving them less time to run up and return the shot aggressively.
Play back so you can leverage your momentum to get to the net. Hit your return deep to buy some time and keep your opponents back. Once you are at the net you have the ability to control the tempo. You can either keep them back and play a long game or bring them up with shorter dink shots. Feel free to comment down below with any questions you have.