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How to Hit a Perfect Pickleball Return of Serve in 5 Simple Steps

Written by Adam (HV)

February 3, 2022

pickleball return of serve

The second shot in every pickleball rally carries a lot of weight. Similar to the serve, this shot is overlooked. However, the return of serve in pickleball carries more weight because if you miss it, you lose a point. 

Today we’re going to look at a few ways to maximize your return of serve and how to use this critical shot to win more points. 

When you hit an effective return of serve, it:

  • Keeps your opponents back
  • Gives you time to get to the kitchen
  • and Creates a difficult third shot for your opponent

If you’d like, you can see the full step-by-step video on the pickleball return of serve.

5 Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Pickleball Return of Serve

1. Back Up

When you’re returning a serve, you want to position yourself behind the baseline and to give yourself space to hit the ball out front. Depending on your opponent, you will want to stand 2-4 feet from the baseline. From there you can adjust the distance based on your opponent’s serve. 

If you’re standing too close to the baseline and the serve is deep at your feet, a few things will happen:

  • It could force you to hit the ball at an awkward contact point which could lead to a pop up or short return
  • It could throw you off balance 
  • It could push you back and force you to hit the ball while on your heels or leaning back. This is a more difficult shot to hit.

Ultimately, all of these things lead to inconsistent returns and a potential loss of a point, so make sure to back up.

2. Hit the Ball Deep

When you return a serve in pickleball, it’s important to hit the ball deep and to keep your opponents back at all costs. There are a few benefits to a deep return of serve. For example, 

  1. A deep return gives you more time to get to the kitchen
  2. A deep return can push your opponent back, forcing them to hit the ball while leaning back – this forces a more difficult third shot. After all, a third shot from deeper in the court can be harder to keep consistent compared to a shot from the middle of the court, especially if you’re off balance. 
  3. And lastly, when you’re at the NVZ, and your opponents are back, you have more opportunities to hit the ball down at their feet.

A short return of serve has the opposite effect, it invites your opponents to the net giving them forward momentum, and if your return bounces high they can drive the ball or hit it down at your feet with pace.

3. Make Solid Contact

When returning the serve, you’ll want to make solid contact so you can keep the ball deep and set the point up in your favor. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure solid consistent contact.

  • Move to the ball – set your feet first and swing second
  • Hit the ball in your optimal contact zone out front – don’t hit the ball too far away from your body or too close to your body
  • Hit the ball as it peaks or as it descends – the ball has less pace at its descent which will be easier to return
  • Make contact in the sweet spot of your paddle with your paddle facing where you want the ball to go – your paddle face is one of the biggest indicators of where your shot will go – keep this in mind as you make contact

One important thing to point out here is you’ll want to avoid running around your backhand if possible because when you do this, it creates:

  • more steps for you to get to the kitchen
  • a gap and a target between you and your partner
  • And it’s a noticeable signal to your opponents that they can use against you

4. Move Forward

When you return the serve in pickleball, it’s important to get to the net. Although it’s tempting, don’t hesitate and watch your shot. Watching the ball after you’ve hit it does not change its trajectory, and the longer you hesitate, the more advantage you give to your opponent to either hit it at your feet or to catch you in transition. 

5. Be Strategic

Consistency in your return of serve is key because if you miss the shot, you lose a point. However, if you can get your return in with consistency, you want to be strategic to make your opponent’s third shot as difficult as possible and your fourth shot easier. And there are a few ways you can do this:

  • You can return to the middle – this creates confusion as to who will hit it 
  • Return with spin and or pace – if possible, try to keep it low to create a lower contact point for your opponent and to force the ball to skid
  • You can hit to your opponent’s backhand –
  • If you need more time, to get to the kitchen, you can return the ball with more loft
  • Or you could combine these elements – For example: return it deep to the back middle with spin and pace

How to Practice the Pickleball Return of Serve with a Friend

If you’d like to improve your pickleball return of serve, you can practice with a friend. Set up on opposite sides of the court with markers 3-4 feet from the baseline. One person will practice serves and the other will practice returns. Every ball that lands in the back zone earns a point and the first to 11 wins.

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