Some players tell me they feel they are caught in limbo, unable to advance that next step. I think we have failed you in teaching the third-shot drop. I written multiple articles on how to hit a third shot, but never why you hit it.
It is not an alternative way to play pickleball, but a situational response. Players will frequently tell me that the people who they play in pickleball don’t use the third-shot drop. My guess is that the players saying this are not hitting deeply enough for their opponents to even consider a third-shot drop.
In the simplest explanation, the third-shot drop is no more than a response to a well hit, very deep, probably return-of-serve, the second shot. (Thus the name third-shot drop.) If you try to respond to a deep shot with a powerful drive from your baseline, your probability of success is very low. But if you loft a softly-hit ball into the no-volley zone, your opponents have nowhere to bang the ball other than into the net or long.
Perhaps a better way of teaching the third-shot drop is not to initially teach it. Let players develop their own games, and then one day, in year two or three, they will come back and tell you that they were winning for the longest time, but then their tall and lanky opponents seemed to always win.
In fact, they will probably say that their opponents are forcing them deep into their own side of the court. Bob O’Malley, who hits the third shot so athletically smooth you might think you are at the opening scene of “La Scala,” agrees. One day they will realize better players are hitting down on their shots for winners, and then they will realize they need to force opponents to hit up.
Now they are ready to learn and, more importantly, to practice the third-shot drop. It is not a difficult shot to hit in practice, but to gain the confidence to hit it in a tournament with two advanced players lurking at net requires a great deal of composure under fire, which one only can get from repetitive practice.
For tennis players from the days of wooden rackets playing tennis doubles, the third-shot drop is no more than hitting to the feet of your opponents to force them to hit up as your team takes the net.
The brilliance in pickleball (as opposed to tennis) of the “kitchen” on the court is to purposefully keep opponents from dominating the net. Hit the ball slowly with loft to give your team time to get to, or reclaim, the net because your opponents must wait for the ball to hit in their kitchen. You need to hit it so it just clears the net and falls into the “kitchen,” where your opponents cannot trespass.
If you hit it too short into the net, then the point is over, so it is better to err by hitting to your opponent rather than the net. But if you hit it too high, one of those players is going to volley it away. Thus there is the need to practice this very exacting shot.
Over the net into the NZV,
Is really the only way, you see,
A lob or drive is a percentage low,
So third-shot drop is the way to go!
Funny war story: Readers keep asking me to incorporate stories about my career in tennis. I was involved in introducing several new concepts in tennis rackets, and as an example I introduced the Wimbledon tennis racket around the world. The Wimbledon racket had been introduced six months earlier in California, but sales were sputtering.
As background, the Wimbledon rackets were intentionally very light, to avoid the weight parameters defined in the Prince tennis racket patent. However, light rackets are terrible unless more of the weight is transferred to the head to improve the swing weight — a concept golfers know well.
I agreed to help Wimbledon and jumped on a plane to Taiwan, where I met with several engineers. I handed them a formula, and asked them to redesign and put more weight in the head to dynamically weight the rackets. I fixed their first problem, but the second one still loomed large.
The press and all their “experts” were attacking Wimbledon. Jimmy Connors was the guest of the largest sporting goods show in the world and had been quoted as making fun of the light Wimbledon rackets.
I knew Connors well enough to approach him just before a major press conference when he was surrounded with reporters, and I asked what he thought of the Wimbledon racket. He said what I anticipated, and then I asked him to turn over the product and read the specifications out loud. It was a trick racket I had developed, and to a tennis player it felt very light, exactly as he described. However, it was 40 percent heavier — but because I had put all the weight in the handle, it felt lighter.
I said with a big smile in front of the press, “So, Jimmy, you are currently No. 1 in the world and you are 40 percent wrong on your evaluation. What happens when you increase your errors by 40 percent at Wimbledon? You lose. And that is why I developed this racket, so my consumers would not lose!”
The press never uttered another word about this new tennis racket concept, which still is the grandfather of so many modern tennis rackets. This is the same concept I have been using on pickleball paddles for some of the better players.
So maybe you need a dynamically weighted swat, to the kitchen spot, if you are going to improve your third shot. Got it, hotshot?
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. He also knows more about global shipping than we ever realized. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.
By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point