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High-Percentage Shots: What They Are And Why You Need To Hit Them

Players grumble about a "low-percentage shot" then they turn around and go for it again on the very next point! What is the lure of those crazy angles, powerful drives, net skimmers, baseline painters, needle threaders, and more? Players make one screamer, and they forget the other nine they bollixed going for the screamer.

Good players play percentage pickleball. But knowing what a high-percentage shot is for you is not so easy. It depends on geometry, your skill set, the skills of your opponents, the surface, the conditions, and the age of the players. For example, a lob is a low-percentage shot in pro men's doubles or against Florida's former NBA player Rick Barry, but it is a very effective shot in 75 mixed. This article will deal in generalizations, but you can adapt your assessment by using charting.

I always charted my tennis team players so they knew factually, not instinctively, what shots they could count on when the match got tight.

Start by charting your serves. Are you more accurate on one side than the other? Can you serve consistently deep? A high-percentage serve would be to serve over the center of the net on the crosscourt because there is greater distance and, therefore, less chance of hitting long. But that gives the opponent an angle, and on the right side of the court you are hitting to the opponent's forehand. Higher level players may choose to hit more down the center of the court, taking a chance on hitting long but not giving the opponent a chance to attack. Pay attention to your percentages, not the rush you get when you rip one down the center for an ace.

Know your own capabilities. You are in control of choosing higher percentages.

Same for returns. High and deep to the center is safe and strategic. Introduce higher percentage footwork here. Your return gives you time to get to the NVZ line. It is not just the shot you hit; it is also the position you assume. Go for a high-percentage position--and in pickleball that usually means forward to command the net. A high-percentage shot with a low-percentage position is an opportunity lost.

In the course of play, crosscourt groundstrokes are usually the higher percentage shot because of geometry (greater distance and court area, lower net), So, should you stack and force the opponents to hit down the line? Answering that question is where charting comes in very handy. Do you win more points stacking and forcing the opponent to hit to a specific place on the court? Or are you slow in reestablishing your own positions? It is all about your percentage of success.

Who should serve first? Should the better server serve first or do you want the stronger player receiving the return down the center? Or both? Maybe it is not so much about the serve as it is about the control of the center. If your partner is left- handed, you may want that player to serve first in order to have both forehands down the middle. That would give you a higher percentage position. And it would give you the opportunity to hit higher percentage shots down the middle because you would not be having to break the angle of the return that will probably come back down the middle to you.

Where does the safest third shot drop go? More angle, more time, more court to hit in makes the third shot angle drop a safer geometric option. That means better footwork on the part of the person hitting the third shot drop. Just because you are hitting the ball softly does not mean that you can cheat on using good footwork to get into good position. For better players, good footwork also provides a bit of disguise; players should set up to hit an angle or a center drop or a drive. For a change-up, you can go for a screamer down the line. Then play percentages as often as possible after you have kept the opponent honest at the net and guessing your next shot.

Volleying? The highest percentage shot means not breaking the angle of the ball. If the ball comes crosscourt, the safest shot is hitting back deep crosscourt. The paddle meets the ball head-on. The same principle applies if you receive a ball head-on down the line. Go back down the line. But, if you want to change the direction of the ball, you now have to use good footwork to play in a high-percentage position If you choose to hit the lower percentage volley, i.e., breaking the angle of the path of the ball, you must have an opening or at least better court position to make it worthwhile. Chart your volleys.

Can you redirect a crosscourt volley down the line 80% of the time? That may be a good ball machine drill worth charting.

What about overheads? These are perhaps the most overplayed shots resulting from delusions of grandeur.

They seem so easy, but in pickleball, placement usually trumps pace. Your opponent can run down an overhead because the court is small. So, where is the safest placement shot, the highest percentage shot? Down the middle is the safest if you have good court position because the opponent's next shot should come without much angle and now their court is open for the put-away angle. If not, keep going down the middle because you have control of the higher percentage shots and the superior court position.

Patience. Placement. Position. Percentages.

Playing percentage pickleball is not so cut-and-dried because there are so many factors. You cannot control all of them, but you can control your own shot selection. Eyes wide open. Chart yourself regularly. Accept the results and work on your weaknesses. Be mindful of geometry. Be that player who is unpredictable to others, but solid in your own skin.