Pickleball Return Of Serve: 7 Ways to Improve Consistency

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The return of serve in pickleball is one of the most underrated and essential shots. Far too many people just try to return a serve safely over the net. This is the wrong idea to have. A strategically returned pickleball shot gives you the opportunity to run up to the net and claim the advantage right out of the gate. Here are some tips to help you perfect your return.

young man hitting a piclkeball return of serve

8 Steps to Return A Serve Like a Pickleball Pro

More Resources: 10 Doubles Strategies & Tips to Win More Games

1. Return the serve deep

Returning a serve deep gives you the time to get up control that net. Both players on the other side must playback in order to obey that two-bounce rule. 

Being the team net first is beneficial and effective in pickleball. It’s going to give you more control over the rally an allow you to be more accurate with shots with less room for error. 

2. Use your momentum

When you return the serve you want to move forward after 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. If you are moving forward while simultaneously trying to return the serve, it’s going to risk accuracy. Make sure you firmly plant your feet, then hit the shot and continue to move up to the net.

Player positioning when returning a serve should be 18-24 inches behind the baseline.

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 a serve in pickleball is that you have the opportunity to get to the net first. 

We discussed in our article about strategy,  to make sure you are right on the line without making contact with it. If you are even 6 inches behind the line your opponent can still hit it at your feet. 

4. Hitting the return of serve at the center of the court

Another way to take advantage of the return of serve is to hit a screamer up the gut (a low drive down the middle). 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 singles pickleball you want to favor the opposite corners and really get your opponent to run around the court.

5. Practice the spinners

Although hitting a shot with spin is a more advanced shot in pickleball, it can cause a world of confusion for your opponents, so I recommend practicing it if you’re a beginner. 

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.

Watch this video to learn more about generating spin.

Resource: Best Pickleball Paddles For Spin

6. Take Advantage of Weaknesses

The return of serve 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 or don’t have great fitness, 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 stroke. 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.

Return of Serve: Understanding The Basics

As I said above, the return of serve is not just like any old shot. It gives you the power as a receiver to have control, and take advantage of the rally right out of the gate. 

Before we get into the tips and execution, it’s very important to remember the basic pickleball rules at the start of the rally. 

The Two-Bounce Rule

I know the return of serve can be exciting. Especially when you get a juicy serve hit right to you. However, patience is key. If you go for it without letting the ball bounce you will receive a fault 

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.”

Be patient and let the ball bounce before you execute your now perfect return of serve. 

Return Of Serve FAQs

Can the return of serve in pickleball land in the kitchen?

If the serve lands in the non-volley zone (kitchen), the serve is considered out. If the serve hits the line of the non-volley zone (kitchen), it is also considered out. 

Can Anyone Return A Serve In Pickleball?

The server must serve to the opponent who is diagonal from him. The receiving player must also let the ball bounce once before returning the serve. 

Bottom Line

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.

Return Of Serve FAQs

Can the return of serve in pickleball land in the kitchen?

If the serve lands in the non-volley zone (kitchen), the serve is considered out. If the serve hits the line of the non-volley zone (kitchen), it is also considered out.

Can Anyone Return A Serve In Pickleball?

The server must serve to the opponent who is diagonal from him. The receiving player must also let the ball bounce once before returning the serve.

Bottom Line

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.

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