Discover the Best Advanced Pickleball Paddles

Advancing from an intermediate level to an advanced level of play in pickleball requires a great deal of skill, knowledge, patience, and practice. In this article, we will explore various strategies and techniques that can help you improve your skill rating to a 5.0+ and make the transition from an intermediate player to an advanced pickleball player. This guide will provide you with valuable tips and insights to enhance your skills, improve your game, and increase your overall chances of success on the court. You’ll learn advanced serving techniques, how to lob & return lobs, how to slam & return slams, when to use spin, and how to win the dink battle! So let’s get started!


Advanced Serving Strategy

Advanced pickleball serving techniques

At this point, if you’re considered an Intermediate player or have read our Intermediate pickleball player page on our website, then you know, as an intermediate player, you have achieved a high level of consistency with your serves. You can effectively use your forehand or backhand during game play and your serves contain power, accuracy, and depth. 

To really be able to improve your game to an advanced level, the goal here is to remain consistent, but vary your serve. As an Intermediate player, you may already be varying your serve in terms of depth such as a long serve or short serve, but at the Advanced level, we’re going to take up a notch. 


Vary Your Speed

By now, you’ve already learned that by varying the depth of your serve, it can make your serve more unpredictable, making it more difficult for your opponent to be ready for your serve. Let’s add an element to that: varying the speed of your serve. Examples of this can include serving a ball with immense power, deep to your opponent’s backhand or serving the ball with less power just past the kitchen line. You can even change the speed of your serve by executing a lob serve which is a high-arcing serve that is intended to go high over the net, landing deep into your opponent’s court. I don’t recommend using a lob serve often, (especially if strong wind is involved), but it can act as a rhythm disruption since it’s an unexpected serve compared to your typical power serve. The lob serve creates a lot of time for your opponent to think about hitting the ball and where they want to hit it, sometimes setting them off balance. 


Vary Your Spin

Another way to improve your serve to an advanced level is to incorporate spin. At this point in your pickleball journey, you’ve chosen which serve you prefer, whether that is a volley serve or a drop serve. Remember, a volley serve means you are executing an underhand serve below your belly button. This means you are dropping the ball and hitting the ball out of the air. A drop serve means you are bouncing the ball on the ground first and it doesn’t have to be a complete underhand serve; However, you do need to make sure you are executing a low to high motion, making sure your paddle makes contact with the ball below your belly button. Also remember, with a drop serve, you must ‘drop’ the ball and then hit it. You cannot toss the ball or throw it in a downward motion and then hit the ball. 

Adding topspin, backspin, or even side spin can add a great deal of difficulty to your opponents returning your serve. It’s great to have 2-3 of these types of spin in your arsenal to vary your serves. Check out our Intermediate Pickleball Player Page for more info on how to incorporate spin into your serves. For example, my (Kim) underhand volley serve is low and hard and often incorporates topspin because of the way I allow the ball to roll off my paddle. A secret weapon I keep in my serve arsenal is a topspin/sidespin serve. This means, every once in a while, I’ll still serve underhand but I’ll add some side spin on my follow through and aim for the outside boundary line just past the kitchen. The result? The ball will land just past the kitchen line, bouncing low (because of the topspin), and just when my opponent thinks they’ve gotten there in time, it’ll bounce hard sideways and out of the court! This makes my serve harder to read and even harder to expect because I only use that serve every one in a while!


How To Lob & Defend The Lob

Another advanced strategy in pickleball is knowing when and how to execute a lob shot and how to defend against a lob shot. Let’s first talk about the purpose of a lob shot and when it makes sense to execute that type of shot. 

In pickleball, a lob shot is a high, arcing shot that sends the ball over the opponent’s head and deep into their court. The purpose of a lob shot is to force your opponent to move back off the kitchen line and play defensively, giving the player, (who hit the lob shot), time to reposition themselves on the court or to prepare for their next shot. 


When To Use A Lob Shot

There are a few situations where a lob shot can be very helpful to the player executing it. Keep in mind that a lob shot is not typically recommended in very windy situations because it gives you less control of keeping the ball in bounds. Below are some examples of when it can be helpful, offensively, to execute a lob shot. 

  1. If you find that your opponent is out of position or trying to recover from a hard hit from your team.
  2. To change the pace of the game. If your opponent is playing aggressively and pushing you back, a well-executed lob shot can slow down the game and give you a chance to regain control.
  3. To surprise your opponent. If you’ve had a fast-paced game and have been hitting hard shots at your opponent, you can catch your opponent off guard by tossing in a lob shot when they aren’t expecting it to give you an advantage. 

Another advantage of using a lob shot is to set yourself up for an overhead smash. Because a lob shot is aimed to be deep into your opponent’s court, they will have to run to get it, meaning they are not always in a great position to hit the ball back to you, causing the ball to go up into the air, creating an opportunity for you to slam the ball with directional intent at your opponents feet or while they’re in motion trying to get back to the kitchen line. 


How To Defend Against A Lob Shot

There are really two methods to returning a lob shot: using a drop shot or smashing the ball back to your opponent’s side of the court. Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll need to make sure to move quickly. As talked about on our Intermediate page on our website, as soon as you see the ball lobbed into the area, make sure to call the ball so your partner knows. 

Typically, if the ball is lobbed over your partner’s head, you should be the one calling the ball and getting it. You have a better view and angle of the ball’s trajectory from this position. Your partner should yell out SWITCH right away if they feel it makes sense for you to return the lob and then run up to the kitchen line in front of you instead of having to run diagonally to your original location. Remember, to side step and never run backwards as that opens up an opportunity for falls and injuries. 

By moving quickly and then being patient to see where the ball lands, then you can choose your method of returning the lob. The benefit of returning a lob as a drop shot gives you time to get back the kitchen line (NVZ). However, if you return the ball as a smash volley, this quickens the pace again and it may throw your opponent off-guard. Plus, your partner will be there to defend as you make your way back to the non-volley zone. 


Advanced Positioning

Advanced positioning for pickleball

One key thing that sets advanced players apart from beginner and intermediate pickleball players is recognizing when to advance to the kitchen line and when to stop to return the ball to your opponents. This makes a huge difference in your ability to return the ball effectively. 

Simply put, when you’re advancing to the kitchen line after returning a serve, remember that you don’t need to run full speed to the kitchen line. If you can, that’s great, but an advanced player would pay attention to their opponent and, if they are about to return the ball to your side, the player would stop moving and be prepared to return the ball. How this will look is that your opponent will serve, you will let the ball bounce, return the serve, then move halfway up the court, then return the ball that was hit to you, then you’ll move up to the NVZ, ready to defend. 

It’s good to recognize that if you’re in motion trying to get to the kitchen line, you’re usually a target because it’s more difficult to be in ‘ready position,’ ready to return a ball with directional intent, if you’re in motion. 

Another advantage to making a transition to the kitchen line is giving yourself more power if you’re the one returning the ball. If you’re halfway up the court on your way to the NVZ and a hard hit comes your way, when you stop halfway to the NVZ, you’re able to take a step forward and use your core and thighs to put power and accuracy into your return slam. If you’re at the kitchen line, you may be in a good position to defend, but if a hard hit comes to you, you will most likely be blocking a hard slam without a ton of directional intent or power. 


How To Return An Overhead Smash

As you already know, positioning is extremely important to a pickleball player of any skill level. With that being said, as an advanced pickleball player, you need to know how to be in position to return any type of ball hit to you, especially how to return an overhead smash. 

Firstly, if you or your partner just lobbed the ball by accident and your opponent is winding up for a smash, then move quickly and try to take 2-3 steps back using a split step. Remember to split step or side step and not to step backwards so you can avoid falling or tripping. Because of the fast nature of the game, you may only be able to take 1 to 2 steps back before the ball is hit to you. 

Most importantly, stop moving. Once you’ve taken a couple steps back, stop moving, and get into ‘ready position.’ Bend your knees, stay on the balls of your feet, (ready to move), feet shoulder width or a little further apart, aim your shoulders towards your opponent hitting the ball to you, and have your paddle low and in front of your body. Advanced players will typically aim to your feet so keeping your paddle low and ready to receive is key. 

As the ball comes to you, keep your eyes on the ball, and move your paddle from low to high. Your paddle face should be open and tilted upward because your goal is to get the ball back over the net. If the ball comes at your hip level, you’ll want the paddle tilted more vertically so it doesn’t go straight up into the air. 


How To Win The Dink Battle

How to win the dink battle in pickleball

Dinking is a large part of pickleball. It allows you to slow down the pace of the game or even help you get back into position by landing your ball in the kitchen. As an advanced player, you need to know how to win these dink battles, which balls are ‘attackable,’ when to dink to an opponent’s backhand and when to dink cross court. 


Where To Aim Your Dink

When determining where to aim your dink, there are a few factors to consider. The benefit of dinking cross-court, (diagonally from your position), is that there is lower margin for error in terms of height. If you’re dinking cross court, you have more length to work with versus dinking the ball directly in front of you to your opponent. You don’t want to risk getting the ball just high enough for you opponent to slam it at you. Another benefit of dinking cross-court is that you can force your opponent to go out of position. If you’ve watched any of the pros like Ben Johns or Anna Leigh Waters, you’ve seen them dink cross-court to the farthest edge of the boundary line, forcing their opponents to lean or even side step out of position, which creates a gap on the court and an opportunity for them to slam the ball. When you’re able to dink the ball effectively cross-court, it can sometimes force your opponent to pop up the ball just enough, giving you an opportunity to slam it as well. 

Another strategic area to place your dink is to your opponent’s backhand. More pickleball players a have a weaker backhand compared to their forehand. Just like any other aspect of the pickleball game, you want to remain unpredictable. This means varying your dink shots. 

If you’re really trying to up your game and get to an advanced level of playing, you may want to try executing an ‘Erne’ when the opportunity presents itself. The Erne shot in pickleball involves hitting the ball while either (1) jumping in the air around the Non-Volley Zone (also called the Kitchen) or (2) re-establishing your feet out of bounds just beside the Kitchen after running around or through it.

The goal with any dink battle is to create opportunities for you to attack the ball to earn points or get the ball back to your offense. Knowing when to attack the dink is one of the keys to winning. Take the ball out of the air when you can and aim it strategically. This can be down the outer boundary line shots or even down the center line after you’ve hit a dink cross court, putting your opponent out of position. 


Add Spin To Your Dink Game

Another great element to add pressure to your dink game is to incorporate spin. This allows you to have a more aggressive dink shot. By adding backspin to your dink, it will cause the ball to skid, stop, and bounce quite low. By adding topspin to your dink, it will cause the ball to have some forward momentum and bounce towards your opponent instead of straight up and down. Side spin can also be a great addition to your dink shot because the ball will bounce in unexpected directions depending on your direction of spin. Especially if you have an attackable dink with enough height, adding spin to your attack can make for a great, aggressive play in pickleball. 


Stacking In Pickleball

In doubles play, stacking in pickleball is a strategy where both players position themselves on the same side of the court before a serve or return. Once the ball is in play, each player moves to their preferred side. This formation enhances mobility and enables better control of court positioning.


Why Use Stacking?

Stacking essentially helps each player stay on a particular side of the court. This can be advantageous to doubles because it allows a team to amplify their strengths. With that being said, it can also help protect your team against weaknesses. For example, perhaps one of the two teammates has a weaker backhand. Therefore, you would position that player so the other player uses their backhand more frequently. 


How To Stack Offensively

When stacking offensively in pickleball, this means that both players will be standing on the same side of the court half the time. To paint this picture more effectively, let’s say Joe is Server 1 and Adam is Server 2. Because of this team’s stacking strategy and strengths, we want Joe to remain on the right side of the court. 

When Joe is Server 1, he begins by serving on the right side of the court. Because he’s already on the right side of the court, Adam remains on the left side of the court as he would normally. They gain a point WOOHOO! Now, Joe moves to the left of the court to serve. Instead of having Adam move to the right side of the court, (because we want Joe to stay on the right side of the court), Adam will simply stand off to the left of Joe serving or behind Joe. After Joe serves, Joe will move to the right side of the court, while Adam stays on the left side of the court. 

How to stack offensively in pickleball

The key to stacking is remembering where you should be on the court. Because you’re stacking, you always have your players staying on a particular side of the court, but you need to know when and where to serve and receive a serve. When serving, an easy way to remember this example is that when Joe’s score is odd (Server 1), they will be in traditional positioning. When Joe’s score is even, they will be stacking because we always want Joe to be on the right side of the court.  


How To Stack Defensively

Using the same example with Joe and Adam above, let’s talk about how they would stack defensively. If Joe is receiving the ball on the right side of the court, then Adam would be at the kitchen line on the left side of the court, which is traditional positioning. However, if Joe was receiving on the left side of the court, then Adam (the non-returning player) would need to stand outside the kitchen on the same side of the court where Joe is receiving the serve. 

Once the ball is served to Joe, he would then need to move to the right side of the court and get to the kitchen line, while Adam would simply move to the kitchen line on the left side of the court. 

How to stack defensively in pickleball

When stacking defensively, it can be more difficult to keep track of where you are supposed to be and who should be receiving the ball. It is your duty to remember this type of information and it’s important to know whether the score is odd or even.

If the score is even, the person on the team who started the game must return the serve from the right side of the court. If it is odd, the person on the team who started the game must return from the left side of the court.

Since stacking requires more running when returning versus serving, you may not always want to stack defensively. If you have a partner who is less agile, you may only want to stack half the time or only on offense. Stacking can be extremely advantageous to your pickleball strategy when used correctly, especially once you’ve learned each others’ strengths and how to maximize them! 

Now that you better understand advanced pickleball strategies like how to win the dink battles, incorporate more spin into your game, how to return slams and lobs, and how to use stacking to maximize the strengths on your team, you’ll be able to improve your game and overall pickleball skill rating! Remember to have fun out there and practice makes perfect! 

It’s Pickleball Time!