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Fine-Tuning Your Serve

Where Should I Hit the Ball?

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December 2020 Issue

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A Proper Warm-Up

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By Alice Tym

Traditionalists are not going to like this, but getting out there and dinking for three minutes is not a proper warmup. Think about it. All points start with a serve and return. Then there is a third shot or fifth shot drop. Maybe some dinks get in there, but if you can’t hit a few shots first, you don’t get to the dinks! Furthermore, dinks are easy. Using up valuable warmup time to do them is a waste of time. They don’t help you determine the wind speed and direction, or the court perspective and depth (some courts have close fences, etc.). Dinks don’t help much with information on court surface speed. With a three- minute dink warmup you’re not ready to play, and you really are woefully unprepared.

Instead, have a useful routine. Have one you can adapt to practice matches (10-15 minutes) and one you can adapt to tournament play (3 minutes). Do not waste a moment. The match really begins when you walk on the court, not when the referee calls 0-0-2. The minute your match is called, start stretching with an exaggerated walk, ankle lifts, and some side-to-side twists. When you reach the court, begin the warmup by starting with a purposeful first hit. Both players should be at the baseline. Instead of just casually putting the ball over the net to your partner, use that first hit to get your range. Start the ball as if you’re serving deep. Bend your knees. Watch where the ball lands.

In the warmup you must find the baseline, because it’s better to hit the ball long than short since it’s easier to pull the ball down and in rather than hit out on the ball once the match begins. Nerves shorten most shots, so you should warm up long rather than short on both your serve and your groundstrokes. If the ball is long, it’s an easy fix—bend your knees. That will bring the ball down into the court without your having to change your stroke.

Next, both players should move toward the No Volley Zone and simultaneously work on volley exchanges with control and pace. Make the shots playable for your partner, but hit them with authority. Once you have become comfortable with the deep volley, have one player step back and hit a few lobs so that you can check the angle of the sun, speed of the wind, and work on your footwork preparation.

Each player should hit a few drops to the partner at net, and the partner volley or place the ball deep in return. Now you’re ready to dink. Get down low and work the ball side to side. Work on your control and get comfortable with staying low. There is no logical reason to dink for three minutes and then play a match of serves, returns, first volleys, and putaways.

Confidence comes with preparation. Have a routine that gives you confidence and information on the conditions. You need to be able to count on your routine whether it’s a windy day, evening under the lights, against bangers, or against good third shot droppers. You’re ready and you have the checklist to help you adapt.
Warmup Focal Points:

1. EARLY PREPARATION. Paddle back early. If you play bangers you’ll be ready.

2. BEND YOUR KNEES. This will keep the trajectory of the ball at a lower angle so the ball you hit is a “heavy” ball.

3. WATCH THE BALL. Watch the ball from the moment you hit the starter ball in the warmup. It’s game time right then, not when the referee asks if the players are ready.

4. MOVE FORWARD. Warm up by moving forward into your groundstrokes. Your goal is to be King of the Mountain. That means you need transportation to get to the NVZ line. Good groundstroke follow- through is that transportation.

5. GET DOWN. Get down and stay down on your dinks. Practicing and warming up by staying low will make you comfortable in that position. Muscle memory and all that!

6. PADDLE UP. Keep your paddle up and leading the way on your volley. Don’t be lazy. Sight the ball early.

7. CONTROL YOUR OVERHEAD. Your overhead in the warmup needs to help you establish a rhythm. Establish a confident swing. No need to overplay it. The overhead in pickleball is a position shot; you establish good position and you prevent your opponents from obtaining good position.

8. CONFIDENT FOLLOW-THROUGH. Don’t quit on the ball. Stay with it. Warm up with an extended, exaggerated follow-through. You’ve got this.

9. PURPOSEFUL PRACTICE SERVES. Take practice serves and use that time to see how the conditions affect your serves. Make sure you know the wind direction and speed. See what kind of serves your opponents like to use. Gather information.

10. SYNCHRONIZE. Make sure your partner is ready. Ask if she needs any certain shot to hit to feel comfortable and ready. Forge a bond by making an encouraging comment. Your partner’s warmup is as critical as yours. Yes, the players are ready!

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