Position for receiving the serve

Observations from our matchplay session 20/03/24. If I would pick out one thing from today I would say it is issues around the serve and return of serve. Theoretically at least the serving side is at a disadvantage so a good serve is important to help neutralise the receiving pair’s advantage. From the receiving side’s point of view a good deep return of service is essential to maintain their positional advantage. The serve and return set the scene for the rest of the rally. I found I was having difficulty in returning heavy top spin serves today although I got a bit better as the session wore on. These are serves that kick up and are difficult to judge especially if they are deep and you haven’t given yourself enough space behind the baseline to react and adjust. Playing kickers from your ankles will never be easy! In addition some receivers were vulnerable to serves down the middle of the court. This is a high risk serve as it can easily land in the wrong service court but can be very effective. It will often pass fairly close to the receiver’s partner at the kitchen line and cause a degree of surprise. Both the vulnerabilities above are partly a matter of how the receiver is positioned to receive the serve.

Rally Scoring

Nine of our players went to a DUPR rating session run by coach Michal Cicvak at the
John Charles Centre for Sport, Leeds. DUPR is the major pickleball rating service that is used by most tournament organisers to assign players to the correct level-based groups for their events. For many of us this was the first time we had to get our heads round the old badminton scoring system where you only win points when you are serving that is still used by most tournaments.

Rally scoring is used in many recreational groups these days, partly because most people find it simpler but mainly because games tend to take less time when there is pressure on courts due to high numbers of players. We use rally scoring in our matchplay sessions because the seeding system we use for allocating players to games is based upon game point averages rather than games won or lost. To this end we have adopted  the rally scoring system that is gaining popularity in some tournaments and many commentators claim will become the norm over the next couple of years. The game that pickleball originally based its scoring on, badminton, moved to rally scoring in 2006. Squash followed 3 years later in 2009. They both did for the same reasons, to make the sport more attractive to spectators and TV viewers. Pickleball is predicted to come to the same conclusion, sooner or later.

The doubles rally scoring system we have adopted is explained on the Pickleball News web site Rally Scoring For Doubles Pickleball.

Down the middle – a happy hunting ground

Observation from this week’s PB sessions. The centre of the court is still proving a happy hunting ground for easy points. Generally, the centre would be the responsibility of the player with their forehand in the middle. So, assuming 2 righthanders, the player on the left of the court would have the main responsibility of covering the centre. However, if the left-hand court player is pulled wide the righthand court player should move across to cover the middle with their backhand. This is the basic principle of following the ball and moving laterally as a unit. It’s only a guideline but it is normal in tournament play for the stronger (and in our case possibly the more mobile) player to take the left-hand court as, with their forehand in the centre, they cover about 60% of the court. Dragging that player wide is a good strategy as the centre is then covered by their partner’s backhand.

You could think about dinking battles as an illustration. Dinks to the middle would normally be dealt with by the player with their forehand in the middle. Dinking wide to their backhand will mean the middle has to be covered by their partner who has to deal with a dink to the centre with their back hand. Advantage us! Most players’ backhands are less reliable that their forehand and more likely to dink into the net or pop the ball up to attack. Often, certainly at our level, they don’t get across to cover the middle anyway and leave the centre open for an easy point. And if nothing else we’ve got them moving, playing on their backhands and outside their comfort zone. Who knew dinking could be such fun!

PS. If a pair have a right-hander and a left-hander they would normally play both forehands down the middle. So if you are playing against them, all wide and down the line shots would go to their backhands. Worth remembering but wide and down the line shots have a higher risk of going out. The centre can still be profitable if they are not good at communication!

PPS.  A pair with two left handers  would normally play the same as two righthanders as described above. The stronger/more mobile player with their forehand down the middle but in the right-hand court.