Saturday, July 19, 2014

Add More to Your Serve

Pickleball players either take their serves too seriously, trying to juice the ball with spin or trying to figure out how to trick the opponent, or they do not take their serves seriously enough.  In fact, there is a separation between less skilled players who tend to be in the former group and the more skilled players who tend to focus on putting the ball in play only.

But, in the video linked here  and attached below, 3 of the better players on the planet show us three different types of serve, all of which are easily achievable with practice, and which may be significant improvements on the two methods above. The focus is not on how to do the serve, since that is intuitively obvious, but in what it is and why it matters.

In the video Jennifer Lucore, displays and explains the high soft serve.  Jennifer is a 47 year old female 5.0 player from Oceanside CA, who partners usually with Alex Hamner, a 50 year old 5.0 player from Carlsbad CA, also featured in this video for mixed doubles, and more often than not comes away with a medal, and more often than not the gold medal.

Jennifer displayed the High Soft Serve.  The High Soft Serve is a looping serve to near the back line of the court.  Some of the good things about this serve is that it is able to be done by most any player with a bit of practice, that it has a slow arc providing time for the receiving team of course to prepare for it, but also providing time for the serving team to be ready for a return.  It is also meant to be served to near the back line of the court, which puts the opposition receiving it behind the back line to make contact and return.

One thing in its favor is that it is a good mix 'em up type of serve, to keep the opposition guessing at what is coming.  As well, one of the things that few take into account is that the velocity of a ball hit to you is the velocity that you have to deal with.  For example, if someone hits a hard ball to you, you can just block it and return a ball that still has pace on it.  But, if someone serves you a looping slow serve, you have to put all the velocity on it to return it, since it has almost none on its own.

Next, Alex Hamner, Jen Lucore's usual women's dounles partner, presented the Power Serve, a low hard serve directed to the back of the court and either on the forehand side of the court for the returning player or to the backhand side of the returning player.

The purpose of this serve besides mixing up your serves is to keep the opponent back near the baseline, or to catch your opponent off guard if they have been creeping in awaiting your serve.

The power serve is an easy serve to miss, and should be practiced regularly if you plan to use it.  If you only hit 80% of your Power Serves I would recommend that you discontinue their use until you are 99% certain of getting your serve in.  If you and I are of equal ability, and I am going to get all of my serves into play, and you are going to miss 2 or 3 during a game, I prefer my odds of winning.

The third serve demonstrated by Bob Youngren is called the Soft Angle Serve.  Bob is a 70 year old 5.0 player from Fallbrook, California, and he winters in Surprise AZ, along with many of the better players in the country.  So, those of us who are seniors can relate to him a little better except for the 5.0 part.  At least he looks old.

This is a serve that should have only one purpose, in my opinion.  First of all, it is a short serve near the edge of the court.  If the opposition are stacking, then usually the opponent not receiving is positioned near the outside edge of the court at the non volley line.  The serve is to the corner of the court near where that player is positioned and a short serve will bring them both together, or stuffed, at that point, quite possibly off the edge of the court.  When the receiver returns the serve, he or she then has to scamper across court to cover the far half of the court.  This tends to leave a hole on the far edge of the court for a quick down the line return of the service return, by the original serving team.

Since I am left handed, I stack with many of my partners, and have been beaten by the third shot on occasion from this kind of serve.   In the video, Alex Hamner is the receiver, and Jen Lucore is at the edge of the court.  Since Alex is right handed, she either has to take the serve on her backhand as she does in the video, or rotate off the edge of the court to take it on her forehand.

Because stacking is used most often when one player is left handed, and one right handed, the situation is somewhat different in that situation.  A left handed player will approach a ball to the front corner of the playing area without breaking stride and has more options for handling the serve, which tends to minimize the damage that can be done with it.

First, I tend to focus my eyes on the paddle hand of the server, watching how it is turned and the velocity with which it meets the ball.  That gives me a jump on the serve to begin with.

Second, a short serve is often a bad strategy since it invites the opposition to the net.  Now, both opponents are at the net, though the receiver has to scamper across court.  A deep serve would have placed the receiver say at the back left hand corner of the court.

If you have served the Soft Angle Serve to me at the front left corner, I have to cross the court horizontally about 15 feet to get to the middle of the side of the court I plan to protect.  If you have hit a deep serve to the back left corner of the court, I have to move 21 feet diagonally to get to the middle of my side of the court.  I am pretty sure I can cover 15 feet of court faster than I can cover 21 feet of court.

As the video shows it is a serve best served to the receiver's backhand, and so can be effective for this purpose only when both players use the same paddle hand.  Otherwise there is no front corner where the partners will be stacked with the receiver no his/her backhand.

But, it is a variety serve, and things that can cause confusion can be advantageous.  The better players have seen it all, and so are not likely to be fooled or confused by this move.  Most of us are not in that category of better players and some of us easily confused on our best days by most anything.

The video gives us some serving ideas, ideas that should be practiced before putting into use.  If your serves are going to fail 20% of the time, you put yourself at a disadvantage in the game.

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