At the Great Plains Regional, a player asked me why she was hitting the ball long so often (it wasn’t the altitude). At the US Open, I watched a top pro lift his backhand down-the-line passing shot only to see it volleyed away for a winner over and over again. At home, one of our players asked why her shots were so short and had no real authority. These players share a common, relatively-easy-to-correct fault. Your game and your improvement are predicated on certain basic cornerstones.
The key to control height, direction and depth is preparation. You must take your paddle back early. Otherwise, the ball is playing you rather than you playing the ball.
1. If your shots are going long, you may be hitting the ball off of your back foot because you have taken your paddle back late and are not ready to step into the ball.
2. If you’re lofting the ball, it’s because you’re late in your preparation, unable to step in, and consequently leaning back away from the net. You’re feeding the opponent cupcakes if he’s at the NVZ.
3. If your shots are falling short, you’re probably not taking your paddle back early enough to put your legs into the shot. You’re hitting the ball with your arms and upper body. This is a ticket to tennis elbow. Good players hit the ball with their legs. They drive their bodies into the ball. In pickleball this is a real advantage because that forward motion carries you up to the NVZ where you want to be. If you’re hitting off of your back foot, it’s the other guy who is getting to the net first!
4. Your movement to the ball will improve if you take your paddle back early. Whether it’s a wide forehand or an overhead, the first thing you need to do is take your paddle back to get you started moving in the right direction. When you get to the ball, you’re ready to make the shot.
5. If the surface is fast and the ball is kicking back at you, you must take your paddle back early in order to meet the ball in front of you.
6. If your opponent is a strong hitter, you have to raise the level of your game to match his pace. This begins with preparation. You can't hit what you are not ready to hit.
7. You must be able to adjust to the speed of various surfaces, wind conditions, ball types and background conditions. It’s much easier to adjust if you’re disciplined and prepared. Then you aren't rushed and you can make a smooth transition.
8. There’s always a desire to be a better player and to play with better players. To step up your game you need a solid foundation. Preparation is the key and getting your paddle back early is the cornerstone to early preparation. When your paddle is back, your feet move. When your footwork is good, your body is in position to hit the ball with a forward motion. You have choices to hit early and go crosscourt or you can delay and go down the line. You are playing the ball, not vice versa. You are in control.