I see it seemingly all the time when playing pickleball – particularly in singles from players who don’t have a tennis background and haven’t yet learned proper court positioning strategy. They execute a nice, deep return-of-serve or a penetrating groundstroke that pulls their opponent wide to one side or the other.
They then advance [correctly] to the non-volley line – but, to the center of the court – ten feet from each sideline. By going straight to the center of the court after a deep shot that pulls their opponent wide, they have dramatically minimized their positional advantage.
So what’s wrong with advancing to the center of the court? Quite simply, they haven’t put themselves in the best position on the court to counter their opponent’s next shot.
Prepare for an Attempted Passing Shot
With a shot that’s hit deep and towards the sideline, the opponent, at this point, has a couple of shot options. When playing singles, the most common response (option) is going to be an attempted passing shot – a hard drive that is hit beyond the reach of the person at the non-volley line and lands in the court of play for an outright “winner.”
Remember, this is singles and most players don’t possess the stamina, patience and skills to play a “cat-and-mouse” (drop/dink/scramble) game as the entire court is in play. An attempted passing shot by the opponent will be the attempted response the vast majority of the time.
Maximize your Advantage and Take Away your Opponent’s Easiest Shot by Bisecting the Angle of All Possible Returns
I think we can all agree that, all things being equal, the player at the non-volley line has the obvious positional advantage – and, like all good competitors – desires to maximize that advantage.
To maximize the advantage, the player at the non-volley line should, therefore, take away the opponent’s easiest shot – which, in this case, would be a shot towards the center of his options – and, instead, force them to hit a more difficult and risky shot towards the edges (sidelines).
So how does one take away their opponent’s easiest shot when they are at at the non-volley line and their opponent is back and is pulled wide? The answer is quite simple:
“Bisect the angle? Are you serious?” Don’t roll your eyes just yet. This concept is critically important because, if executed correctly, it will give you the best opportunity to cover your opponent’s next shot.
To bisect the angle, we are going to leverage our mad skills from 10th grade geometry class. Remember that? I know. I know. The last time you actually made use of your geometry skills was when helping your 10th grade son or daughter calculate the height of the school’s flagpole based on the length of the shadow it cast at 10:00 AM.
Little did you know at the time that it would help you be a better pickleball player.
Examples of Proper Court Positioning by Bisecting the Angle of all Possible Returns
Shown below are several examples of proper court positioning by bisecting the angle – positioning yourself in the middle of all possible angles your opponent can hit and, by doing so, forcing them to hit a more difficult and risky shot to the edges (sidelines).
The yellow arrows represent the two extreme angles (to the right and left) that your opponent can hit and still keep the ball in the court. The orange arrow represents the approximate bisection of the angle – or the place where the player at the non-volley line wants to position him/her self.
It’s important to note that when positioning yourself in the middle of all possible angles your opponent can hit, you (your hips and shoulders) should be square to the ball with your paddle up and in front of you – and, preferably, holding the paddle with the continental grip.
Opponent is Striking the ball from the Baseline Near their Own Sideline (Even Side)
In the example where your opponent is back at their baseline and is striking the ball near their own sideline (on the even side of the court), make sure to shade slightly towards that same sideline – bisecting the angle of all possible returns.
Opponent is Striking the ball from the Baseline Near their Own Sideline (Odd Side)
In the example where your opponent is back at their baseline and is striking the ball near their own sideline (on the odd side of the court), make sure to shade slightly towards that same sideline – bisecting the angle of all possible returns.
Opponent is Striking the ball from the Baseline in the Center of the Court
In the example where your opponent is back at their baseline and is striking the ball in the center of the court, position yourself also in the center of the court – bisecting the angle of all possible returns.
The concept of bisecting the angle is critically important to understand. It will take away your opponents’ easier shots and force them to hit more difficult shots to win the rally. Obviously, this doesn’t work 100% of the time. It will, however, be more effective and will win you more points than simply advancing to the center of the court every single time. And that’s a fact.
See you on the courts.