We all love to win easy points. We don’t have to exert unnecessary effort. And the easiest point of all is the one in which we don’t have to even hit the ball because our opponent misses the shot – either into the net or out-of-bounds. Unfortunately, however, when it comes to letting “out” balls go – we simply don’t do it nearly as often as we should.
So how do we avoid hitting those balls that would have sailed well beyond the baseline without consulting the “Magic 8 Ball?” It certainly takes practice, a bit of trial-and-error, and an understanding of your opponent, physics, geometry, and more!
Top 8 Predictors that the Ball is Going Out
While the following are not hard-and-fast “rules,” they are intended to be good “rules-of-thumb” that the ball has a good chance of sailing well beyond the baseline for an easy rally-win opportunity. Be sure to stay alert and pay attention to each of the following:
1. Your Opponent’s Contact Point is Low
If your opponent contacts the ball low-to-the-court as they execute their shot, it goes to reason they will have to hit up on the ball to get it over the net. With such a short court (22′ from the net) in which to land the ball, it may be very difficult to get the ball to drop in that 22 feet of court space after hitting up on the ball – especially if they are hitting the ball hard. Be ready to let the ball go when your opponent is contacting the ball low to the court.
2. No Topspin was Imparted on the Ball by your Opponent
A player who doesn’t impart topspin on the ball may have a very difficult time getting the ball to land in bounds when hitting hard. Topspin (rolling the ball) is a spin that allows for the ball to clear the net with a margin and then dive down on your opponent’s side of the net.
3. Your Opponent is Making Contact with the Ball Shorter in the Court
If your opponent hits the ball hard from well inside the baseline, there’s a much greater chance the ball will go out – simply because they have less court to work with. Pay attention to where on the court your opponent is hitting and factor that into your mental calculations.
4. Your Opponent is Hitting Down-the-Line instead of Cross-Court
Think geometry on this one. If your opponent hits a shot directly straight down the line, they have exactly 22 feet of opponent court space to land the ball inside the baseline. However, if they hit that same ball cross-court (diagonally) they have more than 22 feet of opponent court.
5. Your Opponent’s Backswing is Big
If you see your opponent “wind up” and take a big backswing, there’s a much greater chance the ball is going out than if they take a more controlled, compact backswing. The big backswing is yet another “tell” that the ball may sail out.
6. Your Opponent has a “History” of Hitting Balls Out
Know your opponent. Are they known for swinging hard and hitting a lot of balls out? If so, that’s yet another predictor that their ball may sail a bit too far.
7. The Wind is at your Opponent’s Back
Before beginning a match, take stock of the wind conditions. Is it in your face? Is it at your back?
The wind may carry the ball an extra several feet – depending, of course, on how windy it is. Always be cognizant of wind conditions so that you can win easy points by letting hard-hit balls go.
8. “Chest High, Let it Fly”
Although it is one of the most well-known slogans, many still don’t adhere to this simple concept. Be prepared to let hard balls that come at you chest-high or higher go! You’ll be amazed at how many times these balls sail beyond the baseline.
Hopefully these 8 simple “rules-of-thumb” will help you in your quest to let out balls go. Just think if you were to improve on this one simple concept. My guess is, during the course of a game, you are hitting 5-6 balls that, had you let them go without hitting them, would have resulted in a rally-win for you or your team. You don’t have to consult a magic 8-ball. Just be a little more cognizant of the “tells.”
And practice. Get a drilling partner and let them hit you different kinds of balls while you are positioned at the non-volley line – different spins, speeds, and from different positions on the court. Let many go without hitting them and just observe where they land. You may be surprised.
See you on the courts!
Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.