As a former high school and collegiate tennis player, the term “dink” has always had a negative connotation with those with whom I competed. It was a term predominantly used to describe a player who wasn’t really too good, didn’t “hit out” with their ground strokes and simply “pushed” the ball back to their opponent with little to no aggressiveness in the hopes of forcing an unforced error by his/her opponent. It was a strategy that would work well against “less seasoned” players, but would be ineffective when playing those of higher caliber.
Dinking in pickleball, however, is a very effective and necessary doubles strategy employed by the very best players and, quite frankly, is grossly underutilized by the beginning player. After entering my first pickleball tournament I learned the hard way the importance of adding the dink shot to one’s repertoire of shots. It’s a strategy that will likely foil any tennis player’s hard-blasting strategy. While the “hit-it-hard” strategy may work against “less-accomplished” pickleball players, those with a higher skill level will have a field day swatting away the hard stuff.
Dink to Force your Opponent to Hit “Up”
The dink in pickleball is a shot hit — particularly in doubles — with the intention of landing the ball at your opponent’s feet or in your opponent’s non-volley zone (kitchen). Remember, in pickleball, volleys cannot be executed in this region that extends 7 feet from the net. Because volleys cannot be hit inside this area your opponent will be forced to respond to the dink by either hitting the ball after it bounces or hitting a volley “up” to clear the net, making it very challenging for your opponent to hit it hard and keep it in the court.
I prefer to hit the dink shot with just a little bit of under-spin and sidespin. The effectiveness, however, lies in your ability to land it at your opponent’s feet or inside the non-volley zone. The dink shot can be executed at any spot on the court and requires a considerable amount of patience.
When to Dink — That is the Question!
The dink shot can be executed at any time, but it is particularly effective as the third shot. Consider that after your serve (shot #1) your opponent will return the serve (shot #2) and follow the return to the net. At this point, because your opponents are at the net and you’re at the baseline they have an inherent advantage. The best shot for shot #3 may very well be a dink shot that lands at your opponents’ feet or inside the non-volley zone. This will allow both you and your partner the opportunity to come to the net, thereby negating the advantage just held by your opponents!
A Dink for a Dink
If your opponent dinks, the highest percentage response is — you guessed it — a dink. Responding with a hard-driving volley or groundstroke is a very low percentage shot. Chances are that, because you have to hit “up” to clear the net, such a hard-driving shot will be difficult to keep in the court. Responding with a lob is an equally low percentage shot, especially when playing against higher-skilled players. The dink, while not necessarily the sexy option, is the best shot selection.
When Not to Dink
The dink is typically a smart and effective shot. However, it is not the most effective strategy when you and your partner are at the net and you have pinned your opponent to the baseline. You have a distinct advantage at this point. Don’t negate this advantage for you and your partner. Instead, keep your opponent pinned to the baseline — and don’t let him get to the net — you’ll increase your chances of winning the point.
Practice, Practice, Practice
To be good at the dink shot requires practice and repetition. With that in mind, see you on the courts! For additional doubles and singles strategies, click here.