It has been long said that tennis is a game of inches. A smart tennis player would hit to the open court, and even on that much larger surface, a very fit player could chase down almost every shot except that one shot just inches from the line and out of reach.
It is a wonderful game of accuracy and power versus physical fitness. But inches convert to percentages, and each of those two competing players must be willing to accept some misses as they try to hit the ball inches from their opponents more than 50 percent of the time. A great match becomes a dogfight between the most accurate versus the fittest player.
Pickleball is also a game of percentages.
Maybe I should explain percentages. A young lady was recently being interviewed about a major issue, and when asked about percentages said that humans were 100 percent of the problem, and then went on to enumerate five other contributors. I always wondered about that New Math.
I am saying that if there are 50 countable points on serve played in a match, then those 50 represent 100 percent of the points, and you only need 26 of them to win, or more than 50 percent.
On the much smaller court, there are few opportunities to hit the ball out of reach of two players playing the game smartly. So it also becomes a game of cat-and-mouse, and each team attempts to set-up a point by patiently hitting a variety of shots to create an opening on the court. When the opportunity presents itself, one team or the other hits the killer shot to the opening.
Of course, I made it sound simpler than it is. There normally is some risk to those killer shots, and that is when pickleball becomes a percentage game. The winning team needs more than 50 percent of those killer shots.
One of the often-overlooked factors is that, in the heat of competition, chemicals overtake our brains, no doubt going back to when dinosaurs were chasing us for dinner. Everything you may have learned and practiced suddenly is forgotten. Those same chemicals can take us to the highest levels of performance, where we are on automatic pilot, and it is in this stage where our repetitive practice takes over, and when the percentages become really important.
Several of our top regional players called me several years ago from the nationals, where they had lost in the main draw and had dropped to the “Loser’s Draw.”
Wait a minute — I hate that word. If you are playing in the nationals of any sport, you certainly are not in the Loser’s Draw. Come on pickleball community — call it the Second-Chance Round, Post Warm-up Round, or Regrouping Round Draw. Anything but “loser!” There are no losers in pickleball.
Sorry, I made myself hot under the collar. Back to my story.
When my friends called, they told me they had just experienced powerful attacking shots in their first match — shots they had never seen before. The shots were primarily coming from a player who had played tennis at Wimbledon. I knew from tennis the player they referenced and immediately understood what he was doing to them.
It was in that conversation that I realized that my friends were trying to play defensively and never miss the ball. Down deep in their hearts, they thought to win they could never miss the ball. But the Wimbledon player was playing the percentages — he was willing to live with 40 percent errors to put his opponents on the defensive.
My suggestion was to take away those big shots that were hurting them and reduce his percentages. They started to hit balls deeper, back their opponents behind the base of the court, take away those killer shots and lower the opponent’s percentages. Once our players did that, they beat that team in the “Second Chance Round.”
I also told our players to not be so predictable, and to play more aggressively. They should accept 30 to 40 percent errors without feeling guilty, to put their opponents on the defensive. I am sure I will be writing about some exciting victories they bring back to Delaware from Albuquerque.
• Kim Allison sent me a note that the Ocean City draw is filling up nicely.
• Also, we now have a date for the special pickleball event, Cancer versus the Stents. Save the date: It will be held at Ocean City’s Northside Park on the morning of June 28.
• Finally, thank you. Used paddles for the Junior Clinic Week at Ocean City keep trickling in.
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