Hitting a good serve return in Pickleball is crucial to set your team up to win the rally and get the serve back so you can win the game.
Pickleball Serve Return Technique
First, it’s important to understand how to hit a good Pickleball serve because you need to know the ideal serve in order to hit an ideal return.
A good Pickleball serve is a deep serve that hits near the baseline (a perfect Pickleball serve is one that hits on the baseline and skids).
Because the best serves are deep serves, you must learn how to return deep serves effectively.
That’s why you must…
Stand 4′ Behind the Baseline
When you set your feet to get ready to return a serve, you should be standing about 4′ behind the baseline. You will need to be well behind the baseline in order to return a deep serve. If you are standing on the baseline and the server hits a ball that lands on the baseline, the only possible way for you to return that ball is while you’re stumbling backwards trying to swipe at it, leading to a very poor serve return.
Standing behind the baseline allows you to move your body weight forward into your shot even if it’s a deep serve the opponent hits, which is exactly what you need—forward momentum allows you to hit an effective deep serve return.
Right as your opponent is contacting the ball with their serve, you should split step. This allows momentum to be stored in your achilles tendon that allows you to immediately push off either of your feet in the direction of where you need to go to hit an effective serve return.
If you find yourself often missing serve returns because you didn’t get to the ball fast enough, you are most likely not split stepping or not split stepping early enough.
Set Your Front Foot
Before you even begin to swing your paddle, you must set your front foot. This allows you to transfer your weight from your back foot to your front foot, creating forward momentum for a consistent serve return.
Set Your Paddle
While you’re setting your front foot, you should be setting your paddle where you need it to be to execute the proper shot.
If you’re hitting a backhand slice return, for example, your paddle should be set at shoulder height or slightly lower so that you can hit your swing at a downward arc in order to create a strong backspin slice return.
Shift Your Weight
Right after you set your front foot on the ground, you need to transfer your weight from the back foot to the front foot by pushing forward with your legs and hips.
At the same time as you shift your weight by pushing with your lower body, you should begin your swing so that your entire body is moving with one fluid motion to hit the ball.
Contact the Ball In Front of Your Body
Whether you’re hitting a forehand or a backhand return, you must contact the ball in front of your body with your elbow at or near full extension in order to maximize your consistency and depth of your return.
Make sure your grip pressure is very firm when you hit the ball so you can hit it deep. A loose grip will cause your return to be too short, allowing your opponents to hit an aggressive third-shot drive.
On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the firmest you could possibly grip the paddle handle and 1 being the lightest, your grip should be an 8-10 when you strike the ball. Feel free to hold the paddle lightly as you begin to swing and then tighten your grip right before impact.
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of Pickleball Oasis and plays Pickleball around the 4.5 level. He loves Pickleball and plays several days a week. He also takes regular lessons from one of the top Pickleball players and coaches in the world. He’s also a bestselling author and founder of TCK Publishing, a book publishing company.