If we were to ask you the essential characteristic of a pickleball serve, you would likely say it has to be in. Since the only time you can score is when you serve, most people would probably agree.
After serving in, what’s the next most crucial characteristic of the serve?
This is when we hear a variety of answers. Some people say a hard serve, and others say one that spins. We believe it’s a deep pickleball serve.
A deep pickleball serve can influence the return shot, both teams’ positions on the court, and the ability of the serve team to execute the 3rd shot successfully.
Before examining the effects of a deep pickleball serve, let’s consider the problems with a short serve.
First, a short serve brings the return team into the net even faster. They already have a positional advantage, and the “big mo” (momentum) will help them reach the non-volley zone more quickly. Ultimately that allows them to establish themselves at the kitchen in a solid offensive position and be ready to hit the fourth shot.
Secondly, a short serve makes it easier for the returner to hit a deep return. Deep returns cause all sorts of additional third-shot problems for the serve team. Deep returns keep the serve team near the baseline, and most players find it harder to hit any type of third shot from behind the baseline. In addition, if the serve team is standing too close to the baseline after hitting the serve (which is too often the case, but that’s the topic of another discussion), they may need to move back to hit the shot. Their momentum moving in the wrong direction makes the shot less effective.
Third, the serving team misses the opportunity for a pickleball “power move” and possibly an easy point. A deep serve often elicits a short attackable return. If the serving team takes the short return early, they usually trap the returner short of the NVZ. A well-placed shot at the returner’s feet doesn’t have to be walloped to cause them trouble. Even if they manage to get it back, the chances are good that the serving team has used their “big mo” to get to the NVZ. At worst, the two teams are now neutral.
Now let’s dig a little further into the deep pickleball serve strategy and its potential to influence the return and the third shot.
Since your opponent needs to move behind the baseline to return the serve, momentum is not in their favor, and it’ll take them longer to get to the non-volley zone. They aren’t as easily able to capitalize on the positional advantage of the return side.
If they are near or behind the baseline and are not particularly fast or adept at using a split step, you may force them to hit the ball while moving, increasing the likelihood of an error.
Although it doesn’t happen every time, you increase the possibility of getting a short return. That offers the serve team, who has the scoring advantage, the potential to attack while their opponent is still moving forward. Remember, this shot doesn’t have to be struck hard, just well-placed.
Speaking of the “big mo,” if you do happen to get that short return now, your momentum is carrying you forward. Typically, you get a couple of quick steps toward the net, taking away a little of the returner’s offensive advantage.
The Imagined and the Reality
Many players are reading this thinking, yes, I know that and I hit my serves deep. Ok, maybe you do, but are you sure? Why not take a video camera and check yourself? Hopefully, the video aligns with your belief, but if it doesn’t, which is often the case, this is an easy shot to change. And the benefits are plentiful!
It’s easy to focus on hard or spinning serves, but adding pace or spin takes time. Don’t forget a deep serve is easier to implement and a multitude of benefits.
Please tell us how you use the deep serve to force errors and win points in the comments below.
Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)