Position yourself in the right place at the right time on the pickleball court. Proper player positioning is a skill honed primarily by experience. For some it comes naturally – particularly if you come from a tennis background. For others, not so much. Fortunately, proper court positioning and elevated court awareness are skills that can be learned.
Why is it Important to Squeeze (Pinch) the Middle?
Perhaps squeezing the middle is a newer concept for you. Maybe it’s not. Regardless, it’s important to understand the “why” of this player positioning strategy.
The middle of the court, generally speaking, is the area of the court that is the easiest (highest percentage) for one to execute their shots into for the following three reasons:
- The net is two inches shorter in the middle (34 inches) than it is at either sideline (36 inches). A shorter net in the middle simply means that it is much easier for your opponent to hit the ball over the middle of the net than it is over the net near either sideline.
- The length of the court from net to baseline is 22 feet. Therefore, a shot hit down-the-line (down the sideline) has a shorter distance to travel than one that is hit cross-court (diagonally) and through the middle of the court. In other words, the cross-court shot through the middle will be easier for your opponent to land in the court of play because the ball can travel further than the “straight-line” 22 feet. Thank you, Pythagorean Theorem.
- By hitting the ball down the middle, you don’t risk the ball going wide to either sideline. Even if you miss your shot, you likely won’t miss it by more than 10 feet in either direction. At least, let’s hope not!
For each of these three reasons, the easiest shot for your opponent to execute is one in which they hit the ball down the middle of the court. Incidentally, this is the reason why it may make sense to position firepower in the middle with a stacking or switching strategy.
Knowing that hitting to the middle is the easiest for our opponent to execute, we want to take away this easiest shot and, instead, force our opponent to hit a more difficult shot.
That more difficult shot will be one that (1) is hit over the highest part of the net, (2) has less “real estate” for them to land the ball in the court of play and (3) brings the sidelines into play.
How do you Pinch the Middle?
It’s one thing to know that you should pinch the middle. But how do you squeeze the middle? It depends. It depends on where the ball is on your opponent’s side of the net as it’s about to get struck.
When the Ball is Near the Middle of the Court
When the ball is near the middle of the court on your opponent’s side, both you and your partner should shade to the middle. By far, the highest percentage shot for your opponent in this example is a shot right back up the middle.
Cover that middle and force your opponent to hit the ball beyond your reach near the sideline. That shot beyond your reach that lands “in” is a very difficult shot to execute. Tip your cap if they make it.
When the Ball is Near your Partner’s Sideline and Directly In Front of Them
When the ball is near your partner’s sideline and directly in front of your partner you will want to cover the middle while your partner covers their line. As the person covering the middle, you should be virtually straddling the centerline. This, again, takes away the easiest shot for your opponent and leaves them with a lower percentage opportunity that brings the sidelines into play.
As a doubles pickleball team, it is very important to cover the middle. Will you get burned from time-to-time? Sure, you will. But that’s okay. For every time you get burned, however, my guess is you’ll be appropriately positioned to intercept multiple would-be winners. Over the long run, the math will work in your favor. You will also force your opponents into shot attempts that are much lower percentage – thus forcing them into unforced errors.
What say you? Are you a proponent of pinching and squeezing the middle? I would love to hear your thoughts.
See you on the courts.