He’d been thinking about the serve. He pointed out that serving in pickleball isn’t like other racquet sports because of the double-bounce rule. In pickleball, the side that gets to the net first wins more rallies — 60 to 70% more. Because the serving side has to wait back near the baseline because of the double-bounce rule, the receivers always reach the net first, and they win more often. He went on to say that it really didn't matter if he missed his serve — his chances of making an ace on the serve are small.
The first part of what he said made sense. He was right about being at the net — the position of power — and the receivers do have an advantage by getting there first. But what did that have to do with making or not making the serve? I said, "If you miss your serve, you’ve lost the possibility of making a point, and your opponents didn’t have to do anything."
He shook his head and said, “Since my chances of winning while serving are less than the receivers’, I should try an extraordinary serve to even the odds. I’m better off serving the ball with maximum power, skill, and deception and miss the serve entirely than delivering an easy serve. If my opponents are any good at all, they’ll send it back with thanks and a victory. When I serve hard or send the serve to the outside corner of the service box, for example, I’m risking a fault to achieve a point. My old tennis coach used to say that a service ratio of an ace to an error is a good ratio. The same thing applies here."
This was an approach to the game I hadn’t considered, but which was all around me in the way other people play.
He continued, “People concentrate on getting the serve into the box, but I disagree with that. You shouldn’t be afraid to miss a serve. Statistics say you won’t win that point very often anyway, so why not take a chance and try a tough serve? If it goes in, even if your opponent sends it back, they won’t do as well as if you handed them the ball on a platter. Serving hard and with as much skill as you can muster has everything to gain and nothing to lose [assuming you get it in 50% of the time]."
I nodded and let this sink in. The key to his strategy being successful depends on that last bit in brackets. If you get the serve in more than half the time, his strategy might work.
He went on. “This changes the serve in pickleball from a defensive opening to a power play that can win points and reclaim the edge (or at least even the odds). The question shouldn’t be what percentage of your serves are in. Instead, track the ratio of your service winners to errors. Track an error if you miss the box. Track a winner when your serve makes them miss or the return is weak and sets up an easy point for you. If the ratio is even or better, that’s great."
His method wouldn’t pay for beginners or inconsistent intermediate players, but for those who can usually place the ball well, it might be worth rethinking whether the serve should be only a game starter or if it has more going for it.
If nothing else, this kind of serve would keep your opponents on their toes because it would be unexpected, and that’s always a good thing.
What do you think?