Pickleball Shot Selection from the Baseline

September 13, 2018

Shot Selection written by Dee Ahern

GAMMA Teaching Pro and Author

As we all know the serving team is at a disadvantage because the serving team has to allow the ball to bounce on their side of the court before moving up to the Non-Volley Zone (NVZ) line. Theoretically, the receiving team has made the transition from the baseline to the NVZ prior to the serving team striking the ball. Therefore, the serving team needs to be able to neutralize their opponents by dropping the 3rd shot of the game in the opponents NVZ.

The 3rd shot of the game dictates the tempo of the point. A 3rd shot drop will allow the serving team to slow the game down forcing the opponents into a dink game.  A 3rd shot drive will cause the point to be played out quicker, therefore speeding up the tempo of the game. A 3rd shot lob is useful if the opponents are at the NVZ line and you want to back them off the line.


Prior to the serve, the serving team should have plan:

  1. What type of shot they are going to hit:
    1. drive
    2. drop
    3. lob
  2. Where they will hit ball:
    1. straight
    2. cross court
    3. middle
  3. Which player they will target:
    1. left side player
    2. right side player

The shot selection will be determined by the nature of the return of serve.

In other words, the return of serve will dictate the serving teams 3rd shot selection. The serving team has to adjust quickly to the ball to make the desired shot or modify the shot to put themselves into the best possible situation.


How to handle 2 different types of serve returns:

** Best Shot Option and Why**


  1. Deep Return (within 3ft. from Baseline)

One of the best options is to DROP the ball in the opponents (NVZ), allowing you and your partner time to move quickly to the NVZ line.  Many players make the mistake of driving deep balls back, not allowing time to move forward. The deep return forces the player 2ft. or more behind the baseline causing their momentum to fall backwards. By the time the opponents make contact with the ball, the player is just re-entering the court from the baseline and caught hitting the next ball, 5th shot, a couple feet inside the baseline. If the opponents were smart, they would block drop the ball into the NVZ, beyond the serving teams reach.  Ideally, the serving team wants to be several feet from the NVZ line when the ball comes back over the net, allowing them an easier ball to hit.


If the return of serve is difficult to return and forces the player off balance, one option would to Lob deep over the opponents backhand.  This will allow you time to re-establish your balance and move forward to the NVZ line. The Lob will buy you time and move the opponents off their NVZ line.


  1. Short Return (mid court to NVZ line)


When hitting a short ball that forces you to run forward, an ideal shot would be to:

  1. DRIVE the ball across the net. By driving the ball, it will reduce your opponents reaction time and possibly catch them off guard. Several options of where to drive the ball:
  • Drive ball low across the middle of the net. This is a safe shot that could cause hesitation or confusion among the opponents.
  • Drive the ball at the opponent running up the NVZ. There is a good chance the opponent will be off balance which could compromise their power and accuracy.
  • Drive the ball at the opponent standing at the NVZ line, if their paddle is down and try to catch them “off guard.”
  1. LOB over the opponents, to force them off the NVZ line and take control of the net. This shot will buy you time and create space between you and your opponents.
  2. DROP the ball into the opponents NVZ to start the dink game. This shot will allow you time to get to NVZ line and stay balanced for the next shot.

In summary, the serving team needs to have an initial plan of what type of shot you would like to use and adjust accordingly to the type of return of serve.  The serving team has to have an open mind and be prepared to change shots in a moment’s notice. Good players can modify their shots, Great players can do it consistently.