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How To Return A Serve In Pickleball

Pickleball, the fast-paced and addictive sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis, has been gaining popularity around the world. With its growing fanbase, there's an increasing desire among players to improve their skills and dominate the court. 

One essential skill every pickleball enthusiast should master is returning a serve effectively. Whether you're facing a lob serve, a spin serve, or a topspin serve, understanding the techniques and strategies for each can make a significant difference in your gameplay. In this guide, we'll delve into how to return each type of serve with finesse and precision.

Returning a Lob Serve:

A lob serves in pickleball involves hitting the ball high and deep into the opponent's court, aiming to push your opponent's back and disrupt their positioning. Here's how you can effectively return a lob serve:

    • Positioning: Anticipate the lob serve by positioning yourself slightly farther back from the Kitchen line (non-volley zone). This will give you more time to react and move towards the ball.
    • Footwork: As soon as you identify the lob serve, move quickly towards the ball while maintaining your balance. Use small, quick steps to reach the optimal position for the return.
    • Shot Selection: Instead of trying to smash the ball aggressively, focus on hitting a controlled shot. Aim to return the lob with depth and placement, keeping it low and close to the baseline to prevent your opponent from attacking.
    • Angle of the Paddle: Angle your pickleball paddle slightly downward when making contact with the ball to create a downward trajectory. This will help you keep the ball low over the net and reduce the chances of your opponent executing an offensive shot.
    • Follow Through: After making contact with the ball, ensure a smooth follow-through motion with your paddle, directing the ball towards your desired target on the opponent's court.

Returning a Spin Serve:

Spin serves in pickleball involve imparting spin on the ball to create unpredictable bounces, making it challenging for the opponent to anticipate and return the ball effectively. Here's how you can handle a spin serve:

  • Reading the Spin: Pay close attention to the spin on the ball as it approaches you. Spin serves can have topspin, backspin, or sidespin, each requiring a different approach for the return. 
    • Note: A serve is unlikely to have a backspin due to the serving rules. Check out the full list of rules at our blog!
  • Adjustment: Adapt your positioning and footwork based on the direction and type of spin on the serve. If the serve has topspin, prepare to adjust your paddle angle accordingly to counter the spin and control the return.
  • Soft Hands: Use a relaxed grip on your paddle and focus on absorbing the spin with soft hands upon contact with the ball. This will help you maintain better control and stability during the return.
  • Timing: Time your shot accurately to meet the ball at the right moment, ensuring optimal contact and control. With practice, you'll develop a better sense of the timing required to handle different spin serves effectively.
  • Anticipation: Anticipate where the ball will bounce based on the spin and trajectory of the serve, allowing you to position yourself strategically for the return.

Returning a Topspin Serve:

Topspin serves in pickleball involve hitting the ball with forward rotation, causing it to dip quickly over the net and bounce higher upon landing. Here are some tips for returning a topspin serve:

  • Early Preparation: Anticipate the topspin serve by positioning yourself slightly closer to the baseline and adjusting your paddle angle to counter the downward trajectory of the ball.
  • Quick Reaction: React swiftly to the topspin serve, using your footwork to move into position while keeping your eyes on the ball. Be ready to adjust your positioning based on the speed and bounce of the serve.
  • Aggressive Return: Since topspin serves often bounce higher, take advantage of the opportunity to hit an aggressive return. Aim for a deep and powerful shot that puts pressure on your opponent and limits their options for a counterattack.
  • Slice or Block: Consider using a slice shot or a block to counter the topspin and control the return. By slicing the ball slightly with your paddle or executing a block shot, you can neutralize the spin and keep the ball low over the net.
  • Stay Balanced: Maintain your balance throughout the return, ensuring a stable and controlled shot execution. Avoid overcommitting or leaning too far forward, as this can compromise your positioning and timing.

Returning a Sidespin Serve:

A sidespin serve in pickleball can be tricky due to the sideways rotation imparted on the ball, causing it to veer off its usual trajectory. However, with the right technique and approach, you can effectively handle a sidespin serve and turn it into an advantage. Here's how to return a sidespin serve in pickleball:

  • Recognize the Spin: The first step in returning a sidespin serve is to identify the direction and intensity of the spin. Sidespin serves typically curve to the left or right, depending on whether the server is right-handed or left-handed. Watch the rotation of the ball closely as it approaches you to anticipate its path.
  • Adjust Your Positioning: Position yourself slightly to the side of the ball's anticipated path, depending on the direction of the sidespin. For example, if the ball is curving to your right, position yourself slightly to the left of its trajectory. This adjustment will give you a better angle for the return and help you counteract the spin.
  • Angle Your Paddle: Angle your paddle appropriately to counter the sidespin and redirect the ball towards your desired target on the opponent's court. If the ball is curving to the right, angle your paddle slightly to the left, and vice versa. This adjustment will help you neutralize the spin and control the direction of your return.
  • Soft Hands and Firm Contact: Maintain a relaxed grip on your paddle and focus on making clean, firm contact with the ball. Use your wrist to absorb the spin and guide the ball back over the net with precision. Avoid gripping the paddle too tightly, as this can hinder your ability to maneuver the paddle and adjust to the spin.
  • Follow Through: Execute a smooth follow-through motion with your paddle after making contact with the ball, ensuring that your paddle travels in the direction of your intended target. This follow-through will help generate power and accuracy in your return while minimizing the effects of the sidespin.
  • Anticipate the Bounce: Be prepared for the ball to bounce differently than a standard serve due to the sidespin. Stay focused and adjust your positioning and footwork as needed to meet the ball at the optimal point for the return. With practice, you'll develop a better sense of how the ball behaves after bouncing off the paddle.
  • Practice Regularly: Like any other skill in pickleball, returning a sidespin serve requires practice and repetition. Dedicate time to practicing your returns against various types of serves, including sidespin serves, to develop confidence and proficiency in handling different spins.

In conclusion, returning a serve in pickleball requires a combination of anticipation, technique, and adaptability. By understanding the nuances of different types of serves and implementing the appropriate strategies, you can become more proficient in returning serves and gain a competitive edge on the pickleball court. With practice and patience, you'll be ready to take on any serve and elevate your game to new heights.

Serves can be tricky but we’ve got the return! Reach out to our Experts about any questions that come up on the court! The JustPaddles Experts are available via email at, phonet at 866-382-3465, or live chat. As always, we're with you from Click to Court!


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