CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Forehand Takes the Middle or Do You Respect the X?

A commonly heard phrase in the pickleball community is the “forehand takes the middle.” A player often uses it right before they cross the centerline to hit a middle ball traveling to the opposite side of the court. But is that the right strategy? Do you know “Respect the X?”

Early on in our path as pickleball instructors, we started to notice a common error: players from one side of the court crossing over to hit a shot on the other side of the court. We heard players telling their partner “forehand takes the middle.” The justification was this pickleball strategy is the forehand is a stronger shot than the backhand shot.

To be clear, this is not always an error. There are plenty of times when crossing over to have the forehand take the middle makes sense: covering the middle and lob coverage as two easy examples.

BUT is the “forehand takes the middle” the right strategy?

Crossing over for the sake of crossing over or because of some “forehand takes the middle” idea often leads to unnecessary errors. And it’s not smart pickleball.

Unnecessary because you have control over whether you break the X or, instead, respect it.

Perhaps the most common form of not respecting the X that is causing your team to lose rallies is the player on one side coming over to take a third shot drop that properly belongs to their teammate if the team was Respecting the X. The most common reason given for this is “forehand in the middle.” This is an error (lower case “e” error if you want to look at it that way, which is what we do inside Better Pickleball).

Three reasons it is an error:

    1. It is a more difficult shot, mechanically, for the player coming over to hit the third shot. This player is reaching away to hit the ball. Their teammate would be hitting a ball coming into their body.
    2. The player coming over leaves their side of the court open and vulnerable to attack.
    3. The one very few players know: they “pin” their teammate back behind their shot. The pinned player cannot move forward and attack if appropriate.

The X applies at the NVZ line and also in defensive settings. If you want to see these and a board breakdown of the third shot error, check out this video at In2Pickle on YouTube – https://youtu.be/ItFZ5JWm_hw.

Do you always Respect the X?

There are times when you can break the X – specifically, whenever there is a shot that makes more sense to be taken irrespective of the X. Think of a poach opportunity where one player will come across to attack a high ball. That is an example of breaking the X, with a purpose.

As you develop as a pickleball player, adding these sorts of pickleball strategies will significantly help you. Seeing the game better will mean you are playing the game better.

Next time someone tells you, the forehand takes the middle you might want to let them know that it might be better for your team to Respect the X.

Want to dive deeper into Respect the X? Here’s a playlist just for you. https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRe6hjjhF-o4tSBHKPscxPhJgBeQnc5oI

Tony Roig

Hola. Hello. Konichiwa. After 40 years playing tennis, I am now a full-time pickleball player and professional. As a 5.0 rated Senior Pro Pickleball Player and an IPTPA-certified Master Teaching Professional, my focus is on helping players like you learn to play their best pickleball. In 2016, shortly after starting to play pickleball, my friend Tom and I jumped into the highest division at the first US Open in Naples, Florida. That morning it became clear just how much there is to learn in this seemingly simple sport – a lifetime of learning if you so choose. Since 2018, I have been on a mission to share my knowledge of pickleball so other players can enjoy the game at a higher level and attain their pickleball objectives. When not studying or playing pickleball, I like to travel with my other half, Jill.


  1. Avatar photo George on January 16, 2022 at 1:25 am

    Interesting presentation. However, in either way, one of the players needs to move towards the center line, leaving his/her side of the court open for attack. If that player does not move back immediately to field any shots coming to him/her, there is an opportunity for the other team to score a point, particularly if they can implement a drop shot.

    • Avatar photo Tony Roig on January 16, 2022 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks George. The player on the other end of the X axis will need to move less (opening less court). The important thing is to analyze the game and figure out what makes sense for your play. Appreciate the comment.

  2. Avatar photo Rob Morris on January 16, 2022 at 5:39 pm

    Love this concept Tony. Understanding this concept I choose to break the X based on how angled the ball is coming along with how far across the centerline the ball is. If I feel comfortable taking the shot I will call it…communication is key. If I do break the X, hitting the ball in front of my partner is important so I don’t leave the open court as vulnerable to a returning shot by my opponent.

    For shots near sidelines returned to the middle respect the x is most important as the player across from the one hitting the ball needs to be covering the sideline. Also the shot from the sideline towards the middle will also have a sharp angle which will be harder to hit unless you respect the x.

    • Avatar photo Tony Roig on January 16, 2022 at 6:24 pm

      Awesome to see this level of analysis about the X and its application on the court. Thanks Rob.

  3. Avatar photo Anne on April 6, 2022 at 5:34 pm

    I still don’t know what the X is for. Please explain the diagram. Thanks!

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