Tricks to improve your court positioning
When talking about where to stand and controlling court space, I often compare pickleball to the game of Monopoly. In this popular board game, the goal is to own as much “property” as possible and ultimately win the game by taking away all real estate from your opponents. Pickleball is similar where we create situations that penalize our opponents every time they land on our “property.” So how does this work? By taking court space away from your opponents, you are adding pressure to them and increasing your odds of winning each point.
The first opportunity you have to take real estate away from your opponents is on the serve. As you hit a serve, what you’re looking to do is draw a weak response. Many people want to hit hard serves, but depth is by far more important. If you hit a deep serve, regardless of pace, you will most likely get a short return.
To practice deep returns, place a layer of masking or painter’s tape about 8 feet from your opponents’ baseline. Make an effort to return every serve past this point. By lengthening their court, you will shorten yours when they return your serve short.
THE RETURN OF SERVE
The next opportunity to take real estate away from your opponents is on the return of serve. Whether the serve is short or deep, hit the return as early as you comfortably can. Don’t wait for the ball to apex and then come down before you hit it. Strike the return of serve as it is ascending after the service bounce. Taking the return early moves you two or three steps into the court—closer to the net.
The second way to gain real estate off the return is to lift the ball with an open face, rather than driving a hard shot. The harder we hit the return, the less time we have to get ourselves up to the kitchen line. Lift the ball softly and continue moving toward the net. The early return, lifted with an open-faced paddle, allows you to get up to the kitchen line faster—putting pressure on your opponents to hit a better third shot.
Remember next time you’re on the court to think about pickleball as a life-size Monopoly game. Focus on taking real estate from your opponents and you will become a better player.
A member of Team Engage, Brian Staub is a USAPA National Champion in doubles and singles, a US Open Pro Champion, and has medaled in many other top tournaments, including the Tournament of Champions. He is one of the most well-known professional players and commentators in the sport of pickleball. Brian has taught and competed in tennis at the national level and has competed in Europe—Belgium, England, Spain and France.