Everyone always talks about the serve in pickleball; or the return of serve – and we certainly know the third shot is the key shot.
So much discussion, and rightfully so, about those all-important processes of the game, but are you concentrating enough on your fourth shot?
When you’re the receiving team and you’ve done your job of advancing to the non-volley zone line, the goal is to keep the other team back.
Now, it’s not always possible, but if you can, take the ball out of the air. This will give you more choices and it will likely keep the serving team from being able to transition to the NVZ line.
The best way to be able to take that ball out of the air is to make sure you’re as close to the NVZ line as possible.
I like to teach beginners, once they’ve reached the line, to get in an “athletic” position – you know:
- bend the knees
- stand as if you’re getting ready to tackle someone
- not too tall, not too low
- paddle out front
This combination gives you the best chance to catch the ball out of the air, gives you more choices with your shot, and also gives you the best opportunity to keep your opponents from getting through the transition zone and up to the NVZ line.
Of course, your fourth shot is totally dependent on the other team’s third, right?
Here are your choices if you can play the ball out of the air for your fourth shot:
- Obviously if they play a soft, juicy shot up in the air, well, no problem. That’s easy. Smash!
- If they play a low, hard drive, your best bet is to volley that ball back as best as you can, deeper the better.
- If they play a drop that doesn’t quite drop in front of you, you can attack the shot and play the ball back to the deep part of the court, keeping the serving team back on defense.
All of the above are favorable to you and your partner.
But what happens when the serving team hits a good, effective third-shot drop?
Now, it’s the least likely scenario when playing with new or beginner-level players, but it does happen and it will allow them to move up all the way to the NVZ line.
When it occurs, you are limited:
- If you try to return the ball deep off a good third-shot, you’re going to either hit the ball out of bounds, into the net or into an approaching player who will be in a position to attack your shot.
- In this case, dink the drop shot and get ready to play the short game.
More often than not, particularly at the beginner level, the fourth shot can be played out of the air.
Make it your goal to get to the NVZ line and put yourself in position to take advantage.