Pickleball Points: Adopt the third-shot drop

 If you want to compete among pickleballers from other communities, you need to learn and develop the third-shot drop strategy. Instructors generally show folks how to hit the third-shot drop, but perhaps students don’t understand how and why the shot is used. Let me put it in context.

In pickleball, the ball must land once on each side of the net, which takes away the serving team’s advantage. So, unlike tennis, it is the return-of-serve team that normally first takes net.

Imagine two tall, lanky players standing at the no-volley-zone (NVZ), just 7 feet on the other side of the net. They often remind me of twins of the cartoon character Sylvester waiting for Tweety Bird, except Tweety is a plastic pickleball. I am suggesting that you hit a soft ball that just clears the net by a few inches and lands in the NVZ at the feet of a 6-foot Sylvester, in order to take advantage of the other unique pickleball rule: “Stay out of the kitchen.”

It takes nerves of steel soaked in a strong brine, and we practice it for hours every week.

For clarification, the third-shot drop can be the fifth shot, or the seventh shot, but the pickleball community has chosen the term third-shot drop to describe the most effective shot in doubles when a team is trapped back on the baseline.

You need to hit it so it just clears the 34-inch net and lands at Sylvester’s feet. In tennis terms, it is similar to hitting a drop-shot from mid-court. Pickleball is played on a very small court; therefore it is a low percentage shot to lob, so the highest-percentage response is a ball hit softly into the NVZ.

The better players trapped back on the baseline by an incoming return-of-serve actually wait until the ball begins to drop to the ground, when all the energy is expended, and then they hit a very soft, controlled shot some 25 feet, just across the net, into the opponent’s no-volley-zone.

To catch the ball just after it begins to drop requires a tremendous amount of anticipation, concentration and good footwork.

After they hit that third-shot drop, the team begins to work their way to the net together. Once you and your partner have arrived at the line defining the NVZ, you need to be able to dink the ball until the cows come home and Sylvester finally loses patience and hits up to you or your partner.

Next week: The dink.


So you want to be in the sports business?


(This is a continuation of a series of real-life exploits from my career in the sports industry.)

When I finally arrived in Rome, I called to meet Massimo “Max” Righi, “the holy father” of the Italian spaghetti Westerns. Max had 32 movie credits — many of them as Max Dean, a character name used in multiple movies, because he then looked remarkably like actor James Dean.

More than Western movies and spaghetti, Max absolutely loved tennis, and anytime I was introducing a new model racket, I would try to give one to Max, who was a visible personality.

On another trip to Italy, the famous tennis player Sergio Tacchini — once national tennis champion of Italy and then fashion sports-clothing (tennis, ski, etc.) entrepreneur — asked me to fly to Milan and discuss some business plans.

After several connections in London and Belgium, I arrived late in the afternoon. Sergio met me at the airport and was proudly driving a new BMW sedan that he had just picked up from the dealer that very afternoon. Sergio was proud of it because it was large, comfortable and, of course, a fashionable slate-blue color.

Sergio could have played the movie role of a successful Italian businessman. He was a tall, handsome man who still played enough tennis to stay in good shape, and success had not gone to his head.

Sergio had those Roman features and clearly was the man in charge. It was almost as if he were on camera from the moment he stood and tossed a cape over his shoulder. If he was play-acting, then he did it from the first breakfast meeting throughout the day until nightcaps.

He was always gracious and spent a lot of time explaining to me the Roman way of negotiating, decision-making, living life, etc. We might sit down for a six-hour meeting and decide A, and then Sergio would laugh and call it a “Roman Decision” and tell everyone we would go with B.

We drove into Milan that afternoon and parked in front of his favorite restaurant. It was too early for dinner by Italian standards, so we had wine and spoke business for almost three hours. I noted no one was trying to give us the bum’s rush. Sergio explained that I had just flown in and would later have them prepare a spectacular meal.

Afterwards — more than five hours after arriving — we walked out to the street, and Sergio let out a string of Italian words that needed no translation. Sergio’s new fashionable BMW sedan was missing. It never even entered Sergio’s garage. Thieves had taken it — probably shipped it out of country on a container, and it was never found.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.

By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point