July 21, 2023
Tying Tennis & Technique in Pickleball
By PPR’s Neil Witherow
One of the most fascinating aspects of teaching both tennis and pickleball is explaining how technique ties together; in other words, how the different shots relate to each other and have a number of commonalities. I am also a strong advocate of how the two sports complement each other. Let’s talk about those two subjects.
Why pickleball is great for your tennis game
Most recreational tennis players think that pickleball negatively impacts your tennis game, usually referencing how racquetball is totally different from tennis. On the contrary, pickleball is great for your tennis game, and here’s why:
Pickleball strokes are very similar to tennis strokes, and because the paddle doesn’t have strings and is smaller, in a way you have to be more precise in pickleball, particularly when generating topspin. It’s true that the basics of pickleball are way easier to pick up than tennis, but more precise and advanced shots can be more difficult to achieve, which is good practice for your tennis game.
(A note about pickleball volleys: many of these have topspin, so it seems like this may affect your tennis volley; however, I don’t find myself wanting to hit topspin on my tennis volleys after playing pickleball. I think the reason is that my brain recognizes that my tennis racquet is not small and maneuverable enough to be able to hit topspin volleys with much success.)
Because the court is smaller and the ball and paddle are lighter, you don’t need as big of a backswing, forward swing and follow-through as in tennis. In tennis, many players have larger swings than necessary, so playing pickleball helps to simplify and reduce the length of the tennis stroke.
Pickleballs bounce lower than tennis balls, so you have to bend your knees even more and get the paddle even lower than in tennis, which is what we’re encouraging most tennis players to do, right? I love how easy tennis seems after I’ve been playing pickleball, especially regarding getting low enough when preparing for shots.
Because pickleball is closer quarters than tennis, and the paddles are so maneuverable, you’ll see some really quick net rallies, which again makes volley wars seem easy in tennis.
Overarching technical concepts in pickleball
Whether it’s a serve, return, drive, drop, dink or volley, most shots in pickleball (except side- and underspin) have several concepts in common, and control and the right balance of power can be achieved through these concepts. I have come to realize this as I teach a lot of beginner and intermediate players, some of whom don’t come from a tennis background. They tend to use the arm only in their backswing and end up taking a bigger backswing than needed. The paddle also goes straight down, rather than creating a slight circle. I think this is because the body is not engaged enough, so instead of correcting by only trying to shorten the backswing, we need to acknowledge the root problem and encourage using the following concepts:
Load & low
In tennis, there is a lot of focus on the unit turn and getting low to the ball on groundstrokes. In pickleball, the concept is the same. Because power can be generated more easily and quickly in pickleball, you don’t have to turn as much, but there should be at least some turn, and the arm should go along with the turn. It’s almost as if you’re absorbing the ball, and the shoulder, hip and foot should make a small backward motion.
The loading (or knee-bend) part of this is even more important than in tennis, because the ball bounces lower.
Rotate & rise
The turn & load part of preparation is the most important part of the shot, since when you are turned and loaded, the rest comes more easily.
You generate the right amount of power and control when you rotate and rise (straighten the knees) through the forward motion of your shot, and as you do so, you extend and raise the arm throughout the follow-through.
Climb the mountain
The path of the paddle should go from low and near the body, to an extended and higher position (climb the mountain). However, before it does, there should be a slight circle with the paddle, just like in tennis. Much smaller than in tennis, but the paddle should not go straight down on the way back and then up on the way forward.
Most of the time when good tennis players become pickleball players, you will see them integrating a small circle into their swing. When more power is wanted, the circle is bigger than on a drop or dink, but even on those softer shots, it helps the continuity of the shot to have that tiny circle to the backswing. Once the circle is done, the mountain is ready to be climbed. If more topspin is desired, the mountain can be steeper.
Hopefully you’ll find this helpful when teaching players of all levels.
Happy pickling! •
PPR and PTR Certified Professional
Director of Racquets,
The Club at the Township