CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Why It Pays to Hit a Deep Pickleball Serve

If I 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 I hear a variety of answers.  Some people say a hard serve, and others may favor one that spins. I believe it’s a deep pickleball serve.

A deep pickleball serve can influence the return shot, both team’s positions on the court, and your team’s ability 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, in a short serve, you’re going to bring your opponents into the net even faster. They’re already running forward, and the “big mo” (momentum) is going to help them get to the non-volley zone more quickly. Ultimately that allows them to establish themselves at the kitchen in a strong offensive position.

Secondly, a short serve makes it easier for your opponents to hit a deep return. Deep returns cause all sorts of additional third shot problems for your team. Deep returns keep you near the baseline, and most people find it harder to hit the third shot from behind the baseline where they may have to move backward.

Third, you miss 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 will 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.

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 they are moving, increasing the likelihood of an error.

Although it doesn’t happen every time, you may get a short return. That offers you the potential to attack while your 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 get a short return now, your momentum is carrying you forward, and typically you get a couple of quick steps toward the net, taking away a little of the returner’s offensive advantage.

Lastly, a deep serve to their weakest shot, which for most players is their backhand, may force a return fault, and you win a point without having to hit another ball.

Conclusion

It’s easy to focus on hard or spinning serves, and like any good player, variety will help you win more points but don’t forget how a deep serve can set up the rest of the point.

Please tell us how you use the deep serve to force errors and win points in the comments below.

4 Comments

  1. James R. Crane on July 13, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    what I really liked about that lesson was that you, contrary to what people keep telling me which is to hit to the farther person, you found the weakness and that is what I am trying to work on. Great advice CJ.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on July 14, 2019 at 2:13 pm

      James, as a rule of thumb hitting to the farthest person from the NVZ is generally a good strategy. What you couldn’t see in the video is that not only did Peter take a step to the center, he angled his hips (look at his feet) and was leaning to his left, signaling he was going to poach. In fairness to him, my favorite drop from the odd side of the court is to the even side backhand. But with a mid-court high bouncing return and it was the perfect time to change it up. Whenever you can spot the weakness, take advantage of it!

  2. Mimi Lim on July 13, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    Hi C.J.,
    I’m 66 and started playing Pickleball with my husband in March. We are both extremely new players of this fun sport. After about 8 times, I developed tennis elbow on my right elbow (my dominant paddle side). I think I was probably holding my paddle wrong, even though I had been watching your videos. What kind of exercises or other tips do you have for remedy so I can play again in the future.
    Thank you.
    Hopeful Pickleball player,

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