Ihave had quite a few students ask me a lot about various strategies in doubles. Many of these questions concern where they should be hitting the ball. A lot of these players keep reading and hearing that a good strategy is to keep the ball in the middle of the court between their opposing players. Yes, this can be a good strategy against certain teams and it can also be the worst strategy against others. In this article I will explain when to use this strategy and when not to use the strategy of hitting to the middle.
Good Times to Hit to the Middle
1. You are playing against two lower level players that have not quite gotten the hang of communicating to each other. Often a team like this will get confused about who should hit the ball that is right in between both of them.
2. You are playing against two players that are of equal ability. This could even be a team with two very good players. It probably won’t happen very often but even the higher level teams can have communication skills and lose a point just because they were not sure which player was going to hit it. (Don’t overuse hitting to the middle with a good team.) Keep a team like this moving around and don’t keep hitting in the same spot over and over.
3. An occasional hard third shot down the middle rather than a dink can be effective.
4. You have created a gap between your opponents and you see an opportunity to hit a little rolling shot between them. This probably happened because you were moving the ball around during a good dink rally.
5. You are playing against a right-handed player and a left-handed player and they are positioned on the court so that both of their backhands are in the middle. Not always, but usually the backhand will be weaker with more errors.
6. Nothing wrong with hitting third shot dinks to the middle with most teams.
When Not to Hit to the Middle
Now there won’t be as many reasons not to hit the middle, but these situations will occur more often.
1. If you are playing against a team that has one player who is stronger than the other player. Most of the time in recreational pickleball and even tournament play there will be a player on the other side of the net who is the strongest player. When you are playing a team like this, hitting the middle can be the worst possible strategy. When you hit to the middle with a team like this, you are basically just hitting the ball to the best player every time.
2. Playing mixed doubles. I don’t want to be sexist, but generally in mixed doubles the male player is the stronger player. Now don’t get mad at me! I did say generally. There are many times where the female is the stronger player, but hitting to the middle usually means you are just hitting the ball to the male player.
3. You are playing against a right-handed and left-handed player who are stacking with both forehands in the middle (even against two even-skilled players). You are probably just hitting to the strength of this team.
4. Be careful not to dink a ball a little deep in the kitchen area because the forehand player will have more options with this shot and possibly can even use deception when getting to hit this ball. If you let a dink go too far down the middle, the forehand player will just swoop in and pop the ball at you.
Where Should I Hit the Ball?
Against these teams where middle is not your best choice you should be dinking to both edges of the kitchen. If you have good control of your dinks the best places to hit the dink will be a foot or more inside the kitchen line and also within four feet of each sideline. Don’t play it too close to the sideline because you don’t want to hit wide. Playing these edges will make it difficult for the stronger player on the other side of the net to take control of the court. With this strategy and placement you will be hitting to the weaker player and sometimes hitting behind the stronger player. At least you will be making the stronger player move to get to the ball. If you ever get a chance to watch strong mixed doubles male players like Scott Moore or Glen Peterson, pay attention! These guys are trying to hit every third, fourth and fifth shot of the rally. Usually for these guys the point has already been won by this time or they are dictating the play of the game. They are the best example of when, playing mixed doubles, the middle would be a bad strategy. If you hit the middle when playing mixed against them, you just hit the ball to the best player and he didn’t even need to move much to get to the ball.