5 Ways to Pressure Your Opponents (while following the rules)
While highlight reel shots are terrific, a huge part of pickleball is finding ways to maintain the pressure on your opponents and to challenge them to to come up with something amazing. Here are a few things that you can do right away to make the other team sweat:
1) Use Your Serve to Gain an Advantage. We've heard it a million times before: "you should never miss your serve". And while we don't like hitting the ball out either, we think it is shortsighted to demand 100% consistency. The serve is the one time in PB where everything is under your control: you are standing still, with the ball exactly where you want it and you can even wait (within reason) for the wind to die down. And with these conditions in your favour, the serve is a great time to put some pressure on the opposition.
We're not saying try to make it unreturnable, but by aiming your serve well (making the returner move or hit from their weaker side), or by hitting with speed, you make it more likely that they will play a poor return that you can pounce on. Of course, there is some risk when you hit near a sideline or drive the ball fast and low, but there can also be significant reward. Don't go for so much that you miss every other serve, but look to use the first shot as a way to dictate play.
2) Consider the Drive. We know a woman who missed 9 drops in a row in a gold medal match. She and her partner either hit into the net or set up an easy put away for their opponents. Down 0-9 and embarrassed, the team decided that they might as well just swing away and hit the third shot hard. Their sudden use of power surprised the opponents and the hard-hitting team won a couple free points. But then they won a few more because they simply overpowered the other team who were not strong volleyers. The team rattled off 11 straight points and won the game.
The winning team was glad that they used their drive (although why they waiting until 0-9 is anybody's guess). We encourage players to test the waters with the drive early on and see what happens. If your opponents can handle your speed, you better think about the drop. But if you are able to overpower them, you've hit the jackpot and should keep going. Don't let myths about the 'slow game' cloud your good judgement.
3) Maintain a Winning Pattern. We commonly hear from people who think they should change things up so they are less predictable. While that argument has some merit, here's a better one: if what you are doing is working, keep doing it! Who cares if your opponents know what's coming if they are powerless to defend against it? If you find something that works, stick with it until it doesn't.
4) Change a Losing Pattern. While it is good to have a game plan, it is it is better to know when to abandon it. If things aren't going your way even though you are hitting the shots you are intending, it is time to reconsider your options. This requires being aware of what's going on and how you are winning or losing points. With this in mind, you can make an educated decision.
5) Return Like You Mean It. Too often players use the return of serve only to get to the net. But if your return is short and high, you're asking for a fast shot at the body. Instead, focus on consistently hitting the return deep enough that it pins your opponents behind the baseline. Making your opposition hit thirds from 25 feet from the net will make their life a lot harder.