Get to the kitchen line?

We are constantly told by coaches to get to the kitchen line as soon as possible. This is generally good advice. The dominant court position is up at the NVZ line and depending on the skill levels of the competing pairs, the majority of rallies are won from that position. The problem is that the advice can be translated into ‘get to the kitchen line at all costs’. This leads to players running like lemmings to the cliff edge, often with similar consequences. The advice is probably so frequently drilled into players because many beginners and lower intermediates seem very reluctant to go anywhere near the kitchen and often give away easy points by hanging back and leaving large gaps for short and cross court winners.

It is important to recognise that you can’t always get to the kitchen line in one go. This advice is aimed particularly at the serving pair. Normally you would expect the receiving pair to be at their kitchen line already. The receiver’s partner is there from the start and the service receiver will generally play a return deep to the opposing baseline to pin the serving pair at the back of the court and have sufficient time to join their partner at the kitchen.

This is why, for the servings side, there is a great deal of emphasis on the third shot drop. The first shot is the serve, the second shot is the (usually deep) return of serve, the third shot is played by the serving side (usually from the back of the court). By now their opponents will be at their NVZ. The point of the the serving side playing a drop shot at this point is that the ball should land in the kitchen or at least be below net height before it can be volleyed.

What happens next will depend on how good a drop shot it was. It may allow the serving team to get right up to their kitchen, neutralising the advantageous position of the receiving side and initiating a dinking rally. It may be a poor drop and can be attacked with a volley above net  height. If so, staying back to defend is likely to be the best option. Or it may be legally volleyed back firmly from at or just below net height and you may have made some progress into the mid court transition zone. One response to this may be to play another drop shot (which is likely to be easier to play since you are closer to the net) and resume your advance to the kitchen line.

The message here is that it is good to be able to play drops shots (sometimes referred to as resets) from anywhere on the court. And this may often mean playing awkward shots from around your feet. The only way to improve your short game is practice, doing drills or doing conditioned games that focus on these shots. You can of course practice these shots in recreational and social play. Just tell your partner what you are doing and why.

Finally, you don’t have to play a third shot drop all the time. A drive down the middle can win a rally or get a weak return against a pair who are not well organised and tend to leave a yawning gap down the middle of the court. Or a drive at the body of your opponent whose reactions are a bit suspect or are holding their paddle too low. Straight at their backhand shoulder can be particularly effective!. If the service receiver is a bit slow coming to the net, hitting the ball back to their feet while they are on the move can reap dividends. And you can’t beat a good lob used sparingly enough to be a surprise.

Rule change for 2024

Carries or scoop shots are no longer allowed, so these are now faults and lose the rally. In my squash days this was described as an egg and spoon! However, unlike I think every other racket game, double hits are still not faults in pickleball as long as both contacts with the paddle are in the smooth execution of the same stroke and unintentional. I’ve notice that some if not most of us occasionally have double hits. In my case it is usually because I haven’t middled the shot and the ball clips the guard strip. This is almost impossible to do deliberately and doesn’t seem to make any difference to the shot. If it is one continuous stroke – no fault.

Observations from a matchplay session

At a Heaton matchplay session on December the 20th I saw a number of recurring errors worth mentioning that we all make from time to time when serving or receiving serve.  When your partner is serving, as we know, you need to stay back in the court to allow the second bounce. Too often we stand a couple of feet inside the court. This invites the returner of the serve to drive the ball back to your feet. You either have to play a half volley around your ankles or, even more difficult, play it while back pedaling.  Either way, the returner of the serve has the opportunity to advance to the kitchen in anticipation of a week shot from you. So stand back on or behind the service line when you partner is serving. If you have to move forward to get to a short return of serve (easier than back pedalling to play a shot) you are moving in the right direction for your momentum to take you towards your kitchen line. In particular, you have an opportunity to attack the incoming service returner.

Some of the players were trying to return serves with a heavily spun or fast low drive. Nothing wrong with the idea but risky if not executed well. Trying to spin excessively (i.e. lots of wrist, exaggerated arm movement) risks losing both power and direction. It can be particularly difficult is the serve is fast, low and sliced. Your return can quite easily go into the net or drift out. It will often land three-quarter court so brings your opponent forward when ideally a return of serve should generally be deep to the baseline to keep them back while you advance to the kitchen. The depth of the return of serve is generally more advantageous than speed or spin. In fact a medium paced or even slow return that lands close to the server’s baseline can be the most effective return of serve as it gives you plenty of time to move up the court and join your partner at the kitchen where, of course, he should already be!

Dink drill

Dinking is a very important part of the game, especially at the intermediate level and above. At the highest level it is not unusual to see dinking rallies of 10 or more, often many more, These are very tactical, The idea is that your opponent has to be hit the ball below net height, making it difficult to attack. Ideally your opponent will need to step into the kitchen to play the ball after the bounce. If they are able to reach in and volley, the lower the ball and closer to their feet the better.

Variation 1. The drill requires two players, the ‘coach’ and the ‘student’ The coach initiates the drill by dinking to the feet of the student. The student dinks the ball back to the coach. After playing the dink the student should stay in the same position. The coach will then play a dink to on to the student’s backhand. The student dinks back to the coach who has not moved. The coach then dinks to the student’s back hand for the second time.. Assuming a right-handed student this requires the student to move further to their left who then dinks back to the coach who has remained in their initial position. The coach then dinks again to the student’s backhand who, for the third time dinks back to the still unmoved coach.

At this point the coach is in their starting position and the student is 3 steps to their left. The coach’s next dink, their fourth, is played to the student’s forehand. The student dinks back to the coach.The coach’s fifth and sixth dink is again to the student’s forehand. The student continues to dink back to the coach. After the coach’s sixth dink  the student is back at the starting position directly opposite the coach who has not moved throughout the drill.

The drill can be repeated as often as required. It can be made competitive by a point being scored every time the rally breaks down. Note: the coach stays in the original position throughout. The student,after playing a return dink to the coach, should stay in that position in anticipation of where they know the next dink will be played to.

Variation 2. This drill is the same as above but this time the coach moves along the net to mirror the position of the student. Instead of staying in the same position as above, the coach will move along the net to be directly opposite the student as they return the dinks. The student plays a dink back to the coach who is now directly opposite them. This means the drill is comprised of the coach and student moving up and down the net together, 3 dinks to the student’s backhand and 3 dinks to the student’s forehands.

Video. How to dink consistently