In mixed doubles pickleball play—particularly high-level, competitive mixed doubles play, like tournament play (*to note, this pickleball blog focuses on very common patterns of play at high-level, competitive pickleball (e.g. pro pickleball), and certainly does not speak to every mixed doubles pickleball play or match-up)—one partner will oftentimes step across the centerline and take shots on his/her partner’s “side” of the pickleball court. Speaking by the percentages in high-level pickleball, this is usually the male stepping across into his partner's side of the pickleball court. In fact, sometimes, the male partner will take 75% of the pickleball court. As an unknowing bystander, it can be easy to think that the male partner is being a “ball hog” or taking his female partner’s shots. However, this actually may not be the case. In fact, this can be good pickleball strategy.
The goal on the pickleball court in competitive play is to apply as much pressure on your opponents as possible. To apply pressure, there are two general things to focus on: (1) whichever partner can hit the best shot and apply the most pressure on the pickleball at that time should take the shot; and (2) the shot should be hit at the opponent who is weaker at handling the pressure at that time. While this is not always true, oftentimes (particularly in competitive play), this means that (1) the partner on the pickleball court with the greater size, reach, and power will hit the pickleball (stereotypically, this would be the male partner, but, again, this is not always the case); and (2) the shot should be hit at the weaker opponent, who would have more trouble handling the consistent pressure (stereotypically, this would be the female partner, but, again, this is not always the case).
As a result, there are some similar patterns that occur in high-level, competitive mixed doubles pickleball play (for instance, the pro pickleball level)—particularly when at the Kitchen line. These similar patterns are:
- Assuming that the male partner is a right-handed player, the female partner will play the even/right-hand side of the pickleball court, and the male partner will play the odd/left-hand side of the pickleball court. This will make it easier for the male partner to insert himself into the point, as his forehand will be toward the middle of the pickleball court.
- The female players on the pickleball court will oftentimes hit most of the shots on the pickleball court, as they are the common targets. As a result, these female players may fall into a crosscourt dink battle.
- If you find yourself as one of these female players, expect to be the target and expect to be the target of all attacks and offensive shots. Also, expect to find yourself in a crosscourt dink battle. If so, be sure to remain patient. Although you may want to stay in the crosscourt dink with your female counterpart, don’t forget to move the pickleball around in the crosscourt dink. In other words, hit different spots, depths, spins, speeds in the crosscourt direction. This will add additional pressure on your female counterpart by making them move around (which will hopefully result in a pop-up put away), while at the same time keeping the pickleball away from your male opponent.
- The male partner will insert himself into points. This may mean that the male will step across the centerline to put away pickleballs that sit high above the pickleball net. However, it may also mean that the male partner comes over to even hit dinks or speed-up shots on the other side of the pickleball court. The male partner will step over to (1) help his partner by relieving pressure because, as noted above, most of the shots will usually be targeted at the female player; (2) apply as much pressure on his opponents as possible (remember, whoever can hit the strongest shot, should take the shot!); and (3) be aggressive, shorten points (those crosscourt dink battles can be long!), and change the typical pattern.
- If you find yourself as the male player in this common pattern in a competitive situation, it is important to draw the line of when to insert yourself into the point. It is a delicate balance, and the balance is different for every mixed doubles pairing. If you choose to insert yourself at the wrong time, you could throw off your partner who is perfectly positioned to take the shot and/or give your opponents more court space to hit their shots.
Both partners—both the male partner and the female partner—should look for an opportunity to put the pickleball away or create a winning scenario. Although the crosscourt dink battle is the typical pattern, not every shot should be hit as a crosscourt dink. Speed-up shots, dinks or shots behind the aggressive player, lobs, etc. are just some options.
Also, to note, if you find yourself in this typical pattern, it is important to keep the male player “honest” by hitting behind him every so often. This will help keep each player on his/her side of the pickleball court, and open up more room to attack the targeted player. However, you need to pick your shots carefully, as the male player (that you may be avoiding) could use that as an opportunity to insert himself aggressively into the point. As a result, it is important to keep the pickleball low and unattackable. Also, to note, if you are playing an advanced team, beware of an Erne if you hit the pickleball too close to the sideline behind the male player (that you may be avoiding).
In summary, if you are watching a competitive mixed doubles pickleball match (for instance, pro pickleball), do not be surprised if the male players try to “take over” the pickleball court. It is not uncommon for the female players to take on a role that is to set-up their male partners for a winner. The female players are typically the grinders, hitting most of the shots, remaining patient, and setting up the male players for the put away shots. Because the female players are doing all of the hard work, these male players will oftentimes come across the centerline to help relieve pressure. These male players are not “ball hogs.” Rather, this can actually be good strategy for pickleball mixed doubles in competitive play.
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