As someone who has been playing pickleball for a while, you’ve, no doubt, heard the expression – almost as if it’s common-law, “forehand takes the middle.” In fact, perhaps you’ve even heard it stated that the player hitting the forehand should venture a couple of feet beyond the center of the court to hit the ball that would otherwise be struck by his/her partner’s backhand.
Afterall, it is presumed that the forehand is the “better” option and gives the team striking the ball the best opportunity to win the rally.
On their YouTube Channel, our friends over at In2Pickle, poke a hole in the long-standing belief that forehand takes the middle by making the argument – and it’s a good one – that a pickleball doubles team should rather “Respect the X” when determining which of the two players should return a shot that is hit down the middle of the court.
What is the “X?”
The “X” is simply an imaginary, superimposed pair of lines (that form the letter “X”) in which each line of the “X” intersects and connects each of the cross-court (diagonal) players in a game of doubles – even-side to even-side and odd-side to odd-side.
An Example – Forehand Takes the Middle or “Respect the X?”
Explaining the pros and cons of each school of thought is probably best illustrated by providing an example. So without further ado, let’s first assume all four players on the court are right-handed. This would mean that – for both teams – the player on the left (odd) side of the court would have their forehand in the middle and, conversely, the player on the right (even) side of the court would have their backhand in the middle.
Now let’s assume the serve is struck immediately after a side-out from the right side (even-side) with the return-of-serve subsequently hit down the middle – smack dab in between the server and the server’s partner. Who should hit the third shot? The server? Or the server’s partner?
Forehand Takes the Middle
If you’re an advocate for “forehand takes the middle,” then you’re convinced that the server’s partner (who is positioned on the odd side of the court) should take the third shot because he/she has their forehand in the middle – and the server has their [presumably weaker] backhand in the middle.
There are two drawbacks associated with the forehand takes the middle strategy: (1) the player with the forehand will be reaching/lunging for the shot and (2) a gaping hole will be created behind the player who hit the shot with the forehand.
Reaching/Lunging with the Forehand
It’s important to note that, because the return-of-serve was hit from the even side to the middle of the court, the return of serve will be “sliding” or “moving away” from the player hitting the forehand – likely forcing him/her to “reach” or “lunge” for the third shot.
Depending upon the severity of the reach, this potential over-extension may very well result in an unforced error on the third shot. That third shot is a much tougher shot as the ball is traveling away from the person striking the ball.
An Gaping Hole is Created Behind the Player Who Hit the Shot with the Forehand
A second drawback of having the forehand take this middle shot is the open court that is created behind the player who hit the shot with the forehand. This makes for an easy opportunity for your opponents to hit into an open court. This open court is not there if the player on the “other side” of the X hits the shot.
Respect the X
As opposed to relegating the person whose forehand is in the middle to executing the third shot, the “Respect the X” advocates, on the other hand, would prefer that the player positioned cross-court from the return-of-serve (and along the same “axis” of the “X”) hit the ball – even if it means hitting it with the backhand.
There are two reasons why the X should be respected: (1) No reaching/overextending and (2) no gaping hole created after executing the third shot.
No Reaching. No Overextending.
Because the return-of-serve is hit “cross-court,” the ball will be coming into the body (and not away from the body as would happen if the forehand took the shot) as the player hits their third shot. That will make the execution of the shot much easier. No reaching. No overextending. A pretty simple backhand.
Reaching vs. Not Reaching – A Similar Concept in Baseball
Consider the sport of baseball. The reaching vs. not reaching concept applies here as well. If you’re a fan of watching major league baseball in-person or on TV, you will inevitably see a parade of pitchers enter and leave games during the late innings.
Match-ups are critical. Righty versus righty. Lefty versus lefty. So why do baseball managers rarely deviate from these match-ups when summoning a pitcher from the bullpen. It’s because when facing a same-handed pitcher, a batter has to lunge after an outside breaking pitch, and, consequently, has a much weaker swing. However, these same breaking pitches will curve in towards an opposite-handed batter, thus making the pitch much easier to hit.
Same concept in pickleball. A ball coming into the body is much easier to execute than a ball that is traveling away from the body. Respect the X.
No Open Court or Gaping Hole Created When Respecting the X
A second reason to respect the X is because no gaping hole or open court is created by having the person on the other end of the X execute the shot. You are, thus, in a much better position as a team to defend against the next shot.
Shown below is a video by In2Pickle that further outlines and defines the tenets of the “Respect the X” strategy. It’s definitely worth a watch.
See you on the courts.