Many pickleball players believe that the serve is simply a shot to start the rally. As a result, these pickleball players will generally loft in a soft serve, focusing largely on keeping the serve in the proper service box. They do not focus on power, placement, spin, or any other strategy.
While it is important to avoid hitting your serve out of bounds or into the net—as you will not be able to score any points doing that—this thinking and strategy to simply get your serve in is holding your pickleball game back. The serve in pickleball is not just a “point starter.” Rather, adopt the mindset and pickleball strategy to be aggressive on your serves.
Being aggressive on your serve could mean a few things:
- Hitting your serve with power or pace;
- Serving deep near the baseline, pushing your opponent back behind the court space and into the fence or boundaries of the pickleball court;
- Hitting your serve to tough spots—for instance, to backhands or pulling your opponent out wide on the court (particularly, when your opponents are stacking);
- Serving with spin off of your paddle—for instance, a serve with heavy top spin or inside out spin (to note, this is as opposed to spin that you put on the pickleball by using your hand, which was outlawed under the 2023 pickleball rule changes);
- Serving with height, so that the pickleball bounces high and makes for an awkward point of contact on the return of serve; and/or
- A combination of all of the above.
For instance, imagine a heavy top spin serve that has decent power and some height (about 10 feet or so) that looks like it is about to sail out of bounds, before the top spin causes the pickleball to bite down out of the air and land just inside the baseline, and then bounce high off the court pushing the receiver into the fence. This aggressive serve will lead to weak returns of serve and keep your opponent back behind the baseline (as opposed to stepping into the court). As a result, you—as the server—will have an easier third shot (e.g., a short return without much pace or spin), plus more room to work with because your opponent has an additional step to take to get to the Kitchen line. This aggressive serve will increase your chances of winning points on the pickleball court.
However, everything in life is a balance. Beware of being too aggressive on your serve. A missed serve is a missed opportunity to score points. An occasional missed serve (i.e., an occasional serve that sails long) may be acceptable. But, if you are missing too many serves, or not seeing the benefits of an aggressive serve (i.e., a short, easy shot for your third shot, or additional space to hit your third shot since your opponent is back in the transition area), then go back to the drawing board by either focusing on your serve as a “point starter” or by drilling your serve until you have a higher success rate. The risk-reward ratio is important when pushing the limits on your serve.
Change your mindset when it comes to your serve in pickleball—try to be aggressive on your serves!
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