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Tips and Drills To Enhance Your Pickleball Serving Strategy, Spin and Speed

by Eric Roddy on

Every single point in pickleball begins with a serve. It can dictate the direction a point will go, and it can be a huge advantage when used correctly at all levels.

The serve and its use differs drastically between singles and doubles, so I will do my best to speak to both throughout this piece.

Three Keys to Effective Serving

1. Depth is everything

No need to separate this out between singles and doubles, as this is universal across both games. Depth is king in pickleball and is the most important feature a serve can have. If you can consistently hit your serve near the baseline, you will get weaker returns and easier looks at third-shot drops or drives. Hitting your serve deep takes away your opponents’ time, delaying their arrival to the kitchen line, and provides you more space to hit a drop or drive. 

Serving deep, while important in both singles and doubles, is only essential in singles. While it is a bonus in doubles, it is not worth missing your serve long while attempting to hit it deep.

In singles, it's worth missing a serve or two if it means consistently getting shorter returns from your opponent over the course of two or three games in a pickleball match. In that case, the potential con of missing a few serves deep is outweighed by the pros of getting shorter returns and therefore easier third-shot opportunities.

I'm not condoning missing more than a few serves over the course of two or three games. The most important takeaway is of course to make your serves. But in singles, it is absolutely worth going for a bit more depth. 

2. Spin can be helpful in getting depth, but is a double-edged sword

In doubles, I like to use topspin to help roll my serve a little bit deeper in the court. The act of brushing up the back of the ball translates to the ball going further (combined with an upward swing trajectory), and will cause the ball to spin into your opponent after landing. Again, no need to go crazy on your serve in doubles – find a routine and combination of spin and power that results in a good, relatively deep serve that can’t be attacked, and stick with it.

On the flip side, trying to hit too much spin can cause you to miss in the net. It is crucial not to try to overspin the ball (whether topspin or slice), as that can cause poor swing timing and misses wide, in the net, or even long. Use spin sparingly. 

In singles, put the slice serve in your back pocket and only take it out as a change of pace or a mix up every now and then. Slicing the ball causes it to have back or side spin and will make it easier for your opponent to hit topspin and also be in position to rush the net on the return. A good slice serve can be a great change of pace, but stick with loopier topspin serves to help you get the ball deep (and spinning into your opponent).

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3. Speed is overrated

Another key that goes for both singles and doubles. The pros are by no means the standard for exemplary serves. Yes, a lot of them like Dekel Bar or Tyson McGuffin have great ones, but their ability to generate pace on their serves is not so easy to learn.

Instead of trying to bomb a fast serve, use topspin and think about the height of the trajectory of your serve instead. Hitting a higher-looping serve with topspin deep can be as effective – if not more effective – than hitting a fast serve.

Again, look back at the first key above. Depth is everything. Pinning your opponent back and delaying their transition to the kitchen is what translates to success. Hitting the ball deeper via hitting it higher can be a great way to achieve this. 

Basic Serving Strategy

Let’s talk about basic serving strategy. First, come up with a quick and easy routine to get yourself ready before every serve. A lot of players like to do the same few steps every time to help them build consistency and be ready. I like to bounce the ball a few times, bend my legs, and visualize my target across the net. Everyone has a different way to get ready – find yours and practice it before every serve. Don’t serve before you are ready!

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From a double strategy standpoint – keep it simple. Don’t be a hero and go for huge serves. On the other side of things, don’t baby your serve in to where your opponents can crush the return. If you are up big in a game, maybe you consider going for a bigger serve if you are feeling loose. If you are getting destroyed, it might be worth going for a bigger serve to try to get return errors. However, in doubles, just focus on making a consistent serve that is unattackable.

Singles in pickleball is where serving strategy comes into play. Again, I can’t stress this enough: go for your serve. It is crucial to hit an aggressive, deep serve in order to start the point in your favor and get looks at makeable third-shot drops and drives. The goal in singles is to move forward and apply pressure on your opponent, and starting the point with a deep serve is a fantastic way to do this early. 

If your opponent has a weaker side (forehand or backhand), do your best to target it with your serve. Remember that unlike in tennis, the service box is narrower, so trying to force your serve to one side and making errors is a risk, but it can be worth it if your opponent has a much weaker side. 

Lastly, be strategic about your variety. Again, depth is key, and if you are feeling good on your serve and able to consistently hit the ball close to the baseline, keep doing it. If you are struggling, throw in some variety on your serve. Work in an occasional slice, vary the height of the ball, and vary the speed. Keep your opponent on their toes and disrupt their rhythm on the return.

This drill is straight out of a movie. Picture you can’t come in for dinner (according to your parents) until you make X number of serves. For me, it’s 25 serves on both sides. Grab a basket of balls and work on finding depth on the serve. Muscle memory can only come from reps. 

Work on both topspin and slice serves. Work on hitting a target (place a cone or your water bottle in a spot and try to hit it). Work on varying speed and height. But at the base of everything, remember to practice getting the serve consistently deep.

Enjoy the grind, and remember, you can’t dink all day if you don’t start in the morning.

Eric Roddy

Eric Roddy

Eric is a PPA tour pro living in Charlotte, NC, sponsored by PROXR. In addition to playing PPA events, he teaches pickleball 2-3 hours a week, enjoys golf, and listening to his favorite band Goose.

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