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Pickleball Strategy: Options for an Effective Third Shot
When serving,  your goal is to set the stage for an effective shot. Here is a serving strategy that sets the stage for your team to have a great chance at hitting an effective shot:

  1. a deep serve from Player A forcing
  2. a return deep into the middle of the court by Player C leading to
  3. the third shot by Player B has three distinct options based on a number of factors

This is an effective strategy and yes, it requires some racquet skills by the players involved. We”re going to dig into the options your team has when hitting the third shot but before we do that, let’s take a look at how to set it up.

Set Up for the Third Shot

Let’s say you are on the serving team and your opponents have just returned the serve deep back to you.

Avoid the Temptation to Creep in After Serving

Make sure you have not crept in and are then forced to step back trying to hit their return.  You will be off balance and you just made a difficult shot, next to impossible. Many players start to sneek in after they have served and this leads to real big problems real fast if your opponents hit a solid deep return.

Stay Deep

Instead, stay outside of the back line of the court in a position where you can hit this shot from a balanced position.

Have a Plan Before You Serve

If the return is between you and your partner make sure you are talking clearly and quickly on who is taking this shot. The guideline here is that it is usually it is the player who is hitting a forehand, if you are a lefty/righty team then the non server is hitting this shot.

Communicate With Your Partner

The key is communication and the first person that talks is what both players do. Simple one word communication like, “mine!” or “yours!”.

Options for the Third Shot

Note: For the sake of simplicity, I’m illustrating Player B as hitting the effective third shot. These strategies work equally well if it is your team’s server who is hitting the third shot.

Now comes the third shot of the rally, and it is not unusual for the serving team to falter at this point. It is hard to score a point in pickleball because the rally shifts the advantage to the receiving team. The serving team has to let the service return bounce and that means the returning team typically gets to the kitchen first.

Avoid Player D

The non-returning player of the opposing team (Player D) has been at the kitchen line since the rally started and as a result he or she should be in perfect position in relationship to the location of the service return, so first do not hit the third shot to this person very often, if ever.

Option 1: The High Lob

While hitting the third shot to Player D is not a recommended strategy, you can use their position against them by hitting the third shot as lob over them.

This option is effective if your opponents are not great at overheads, a determination you have made early in the match or from observing previous matches (never a bad idea). The lob has to be hit high enough to force your Player D back, but soft enough that it does not carry out. So if you are going to try this shot remember, high but soft. If you choose this shot often, then it is because your opponents have a problem with overheads. I recommend playing this shot at least once during a match because it does send a message to your opponents, that we may force you back, so don’t get too comfortable on the kitchen line.

Option 2: The Hard Passing Shot

Hit a passing shot that is flat and hard, with top spin if you know how is effective and it will expose weaknesses in your the team play of your opponents.

No point is ever won out of court so your margin of error may be one foot above the net. A higher percentage placement for this shot is in-between the two players hoping they both swing or maybe both leave it. Alternatively, you can also try hitting right at your opponent and see if they can handle it.

The key here is to hit an aggressive shot that stays in court and leaves your opponent minimal reaction time.

Option 3: Short Into the Kitchen

Going short and into the kitchen in front of the opponent who has returned serve (Player C) is difficult to defend. You are keying on the their lack of movement towards the kitchen.

Hit a shot that clears the net and yet soft enough that drops below net height before your opponent plays it. If it is too high and still above net height then they can hit down on it with an aggressive volley, reducing your chances of staying in the rally. Does not have to land in the kitchen, but must be below net height by the time they can reach it.

Important: If your partner is about to hit the third shot, you have one job. Stay wide enough from your partner, so your partner can play a cross court, do not step up too early and eliminate an option for your partner. 

Three Things Keys to an Effective Third Shot

Observing your opponents’ will aid your shot selection and effectiveness of this third shot. Here are three things to key on:

  1. Is the non-returning opponent aggressive in their movement to the kitchen?
  2. Is there a nice alley down the middle of the court?
  3. Is the serve returning opponent flat footed and not moving quickly to the kitchen?

Ultimately the third shot you hit in a rally is going to based on your racquet skill and your opponents weaknesses. Variety is always a good thing to keep them off balance.

I hope this helped! Good luck and have fun!