Imagine you are at the Kitchen line, engaged in a dink battle. You speed up a pickleball only for your opponents to hit the pickleball back at you even faster. After losing the point, your partner gives you a look and encourages you to be patient and wait for the right one to speed up. But, what does that mean?
When Should You Speed Up the Pickleball?
We all like to hit the pickleball hard and speed it up at our opponents. However, we need to be patient and find the right ball to speed up.
Generally speaking, you should look to speed up the pickleball when:
- You are balanced. If you are off balance, you will likely hit a poor speed up. Make sure you are balanced and composed before you speed up the pickleball on the pickleball court.
- You are in position. If you are out of position, then your opponents will have a better chance of countering your speed-up attack, as there will be more court space for them to work with. So, be sure to speed up when you are in position on the pickleball court.
- The pickleball is attackable. This typically means that the pickleball sits at or above the pickleball net (whether in the air for a volley or after a high bounce), so you are able to hit the pickleball with some kind of downward trajectory (as opposed to hitting up on the pickleball). To note, for some advanced pickleball players, this could also be when the pickleball is below the pickleball net, as they are able to manipulate the pickleball with so much top spin that the pickleball goes over the pickleball net, but then quickly starts to travel downward due to the spin. However, this is very difficult to do for most pickleball players, so focus on balls that are at or above the pickleball net.
- Your and your partner’s hands are faster than your opponents’ hands. Oftentimes, a speed up will lead to a counterattack shot from your opponents, which is typically another fast shot. In other words, a speed up will often lead to a hands’ battle on the pickleball court. These hands’ battles will typically come down to whose hands are faster—yours and your partner’s or your opponents’. As a result, speed up the pickleball more when your and your partner’s hands are faster than your opponents’ hands.
- You can disguise your speed up. A speed up is not intended to be a winning shot. Rather, a speed up is intended to set up a winning shot—for instance, a speed up at your opponents to induce a pop up, so you or your partner can hit a put away shot. You are more likely to execute this speed up strategy effectively if you can disguise your speed up. In other words, do not telegraph when you are going to speed up the pickleball. Otherwise, your opponents will not be fooled and will be able to counterattack more easily.
- Your opponents do not like pace. It may go without saying, but if your opponents do not like speed, then your speed-up shots will be more effective.
Where Should You Speed Up the Pickleball?
Now that you have some clues of when to speed up the pickleball, where should you hit your speed up? It depends, and you have options.
Option #1 – An Off-Speed Speed Up – Typically, you do not want to hit your speed up shot as hard as you possibly can. This is because your speed up will sail out of bounds. And, if your opponents are smart, they will simply duck and move out of the way of your overly aggressive speed up. As a result, your goal should be to hit your speed up at about 70% power, and focus on placement of your speed up. The key placements for this off-speed speed up are:
- The Middle of the Court – As they say, “down the middle solves the riddle.” Down the middle shots can get your opponents out of position and/or fighting over the pickleball. So, consider hitting your off-paced speed up down the middle, splitting your opponents.
- The Open Court – Although two players working as a team can cover most of the pickleball court, there are typically open spaces that you can attack. Look for these open spaces and place your speed up there.
- The Paddle-Side Hip or Shoulder (i.e., the “Chicken Wing”) – The paddle-side hip and shoulder are common places to attack as they are difficult to defend for most players. These spots are the transition point between a forehand shot and a backhand shot, which makes it difficult for players to react quick enough to defend a speed up. So, hit your off-speed speed up at these targets, and put your opponents in an uncomfortable “chicken wing” position.
- Down, Down, Down – Any shot that has a downward trajectory at your opponents is a good shot. This includes speed ups.
No matter where you hit these off-paced speed ups, don’t forget to mix it up. Keep your opponents guessing, and they will struggle even more with your shots. And, remember, try to use 70% of your power and emphasize your placement over your utmost power.
Option #2 – The All-or-Nothing Speed Up – There is one situation where 100% power is a good strategy, but it is an all-or-nothing shot. A high-power, high-pace shot could be used if you are going high on your opponents and hoping that they will not be able to get out of the way. The extra speed will help you achieve this, as the extra speed will cut down on your opponents’ time to get out of the way.
This all-of-nothing 100% speed up is most effective on players that are:
- Have a wide stance (so they are slow to move their feet);
- Hugging the Kitchen line (so they have less reaction time);
- Less mobile; and/or
- More likely to hit out balls.
However, beware of using this shot too much in recreational play. Although this shot is good strategy at times, some players may view this high speed up like “chin music” on the baseball field or even a “Nasty Nelson” on the pickleball court.
Lastly, consider speeding up the pickleball at the opponent that is directly in front of you (more than the opponent that is crosscourt from you). This is because the opponent in front of you will have less reaction time. If you speed up crosscourt, your opponent will have additional time to react to the pickleball, as it has to travel farther crosscourt. There are exceptions to this rule (for instance, if your crosscourt opponent is out of position, can't handle pace, etc.). However, most of the time, the down-the-line speed up is a smarter shot.
Consider these keys when determining when and where to speed up the pickleball on the court. And, no matter when and where you speed up the pickleball, always be ready for the next shot. Always expect your opponents to get the pickleball back and counter your speed up.
Remember that the goal is not for your speed up to be the winner. Rather, your goal is for your speed up to set you and your partner up for a winner. So, be ready for that next shot.
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