Defending Against Slammers, Bangers and Other Power Picklers

Advanced pickleball players say that “slammers,” or those who always return the ball hard and fast, are demonstrating poor technique, lose steam quickly and reduce their precision. “Just learn to defend and force them to dink,” they might suggest.

This is solid advice, but hearing it summarized in a sentence or two doesn’t really illuminate all the skills needed to achieve this. Slammers are a real threat to many picklers who are still working on their own positioning and placement, and having to deal with supersonic speeds on top of everything else makes it harder to keep these things in mind.

Here are a few methods for dealing with bangers that go into more depth so your defensive abilities will be a sight to behold:

Soft Grip

It’s only natural to feel flustered when you see a slam heading your way, so players have a tendency to seize up and squeeze their paddle in anticipation of impact. However, this is the exact opposite of what you want to do! By tightening your grip you’re creating a stronger connection between your paddle and your arm.

This not only causes the vibration from impact to uncomfortably travel up your arm, but it redirects the power in the shot back toward your opponent, causing the ball to pop up so they can return yet another slam.

If you instead loosen your grip while holding the paddle steady, the power from the slam will be diffused exactly where you want it—through your paddle—before returning to the other side of the court with much less steam. This prevents your opponent from attacking again, changing the game into a more finesse-based affair.

(Credit: Darryl Kenyon)

Lob It

If you really want to annoy a dedicated banger, return their shot with a leisurely lob that travels all the way to the base line. “But this will make it easy for them to slam again!” This is true, but craning your neck upwards and banging over and over is tiring work and will cause your opponent to become drained faster.

Not only that, but being stuck at the base line is such a huge disadvantage that you may find one of their slams comes in at a less severe angle as they tire. At that point you can direct it right behind the kitchen line so they either desperately fling themselves upcourt to try and make the return or lose the point altogether.

Note that this strategy can be frustrating for those on the receiving end… but if someone is incessantly banging, then sometimes turnabout is fair play!

Keep It in the Kitchen

The most obvious advice is to keep the ball in the kitchen because players aren’t allowed to volley in this area, but how do you achieve this when a slam is coming directly toward you? While using the “soft grip” technique described above, try placing your paddle close to your chest and using your backhand to return the shot, with your paddle facing slightly upwards. No need to swing as you do this; simply hold your paddle in place.

The purpose of keeping the paddle close to your chest is because slams often come directly toward your body. Using your backhand is less awkward than trying to strain your wrist to reach the same position with a forehand. And the angle gives the ball a bit more time to lose momentum before dropping into the kitchen.

It takes some time to work against the instinct of tightening up during the approach of a slam, but keep practicing these techniques and you can be sure that bangers will be surprised as the wind is taken from their sails!

What Paddles Did the Pros Use at the 2019 US Open?

The paddle may not make player, and changing your gear won’t turn into a pro overnight… but using high quality equipment can improve your game in short order.

If you’re curious what the top athletes at this year’s US Open used to win their medals, read on! Click the paddle names to read more about them and see their technical specs on PickleballCentral.com.

The prices listed are the standard retail prices as of publishing and may be different in our store.

Yates Tereschenko Bantam EX-L

Paddletek Bantam EX-L – $97.99

Pros:
Kyle Yates – Mixed & Men’s Doubles
Irina Tereschenko – Women’s Doubles
Description: 
A long-time favorite among polymer core paddles, the Bantam EX-L has a high amount of power that’s balanced by its ability to accurately place shots.

 

Dawson Ovation

ProKennex Ovation – $159.99

Pro:
Jennifer Dawson – Women’s Sr. Singles
Description:
The unique oval shape and edge-less design widens the sweet spot while Kinetic Energy core technology reduces vibration.

Jardim Reponse Pro

Prince Response Pro – $127.99

Pro:
Simone Jardim – Women’s Singles & Mixed Doubles
Description: 
A circular shape allows for great touch regardless of where pickleballs hit this paddle. The longer handle is suitable for 2-handed backhands

Weinbach Waddell Tempest Wave

Paddletek Tempest Wave – $127.99

Pros:
Dave Weinbach & Barry Waddell – Men’s Doubles
Description: 
This premier Paddletek paddle has a quick-acting graphite face which contributes to maximum touch and response.

Moore Sabre Pro

Paddletek Sabre Pro – $137.99

Pro:
Scott Moore – Men’s Sr. Singles
Description:
Designed in conjunction with Scott, this paddle has the longest handle on the market (6-1/4″) for supreme reach and backhands.

Moore Tempest Pro US OPEN

Paddletek Tempest Pro US OPEN – $167.99

Pro:
Scott Moore – Mixed Sr. Doubles
Description:
Paddletek’s popular Tempest but with a thicker core. This one comes with a beautiful, limited edition design made specifically for the 2019 US OPEN.

Kovalova Premier

Onix Evoke Premier

Pro:
Lucy Kovalova – Women’s Doubles
Description: 
Not yet available. Onix’s new signature paddle was designed for pros Lucy Kovalova and Matt Wright. Coming this summer.

Anderson Summit

Onix Summit C1 – $89.99

Pro:
Kris Anderson – Mixed Sr. Doubles
Description:
An elongated shape offers great reach and control. The composite surface adds exceptional spin to place your shots.

McGuffin Invikta

Selkirk AMPED Invikta – $149.99

Pro:
Tyson McGuffin – Men’s Singles
Description:
Designed with Tyson to allow impressive for reach and leverage thanks to both the handle and face. A great choice for high power play.

MacGregor S2

Selkirk AMPED S2 – $149.99

Pro:
Cammy MacGregor – Women’s Sr. Doubles
Description:
Broad face provides a large sweet spot and blocking power. Multiple grip and weight options allow players to choose the best option for their needs.

Johns Franklin

Franklin Signature Paddle

Pro:
Ben Johns – Men’s Pro Doubles
Description:
Designed with Ben, Franklin’s new pro signature model paddle will be available soon!

A How-To Guide on Predicting Pickleball Spin

One of the most difficult aspects of pickleball for beginners and even intermediate players is learning how to handle spin. At higher levels players are usually familiar with different strokes and can easily predict where the ball is going to move if they’re unable to catch it in the air. However, when you’re still learning how to place your own shots, much less keep an eye on your opponent’s, this can be a tricky skill to master.

This helpful table from Pickleball Ontario provides a reference on the different types of spin and what reactions they cause against a paddle or the court. You’ll also see how to best respond to each type of spin.

Types of Spin

Spin is not as prominent in pickleball as other racquet sports, but it’s important to note that it will change the arc of pickleballs in the air in addition to their trajectory after hitting the ground. As shown in the table, topspin and sidespin will eventually drop downward which means they tend to be more difficult to return. Harder shots fall more quickly and necessitate a faster reaction. With extremely precise placement, topspin can even allow a pickleball to jump over the top of a net cord and drop mere inches into the kitchen.

Backspin might seem less advantageous since it rises in motion and then bounces high, but another factor to note is that its forward motion is less intense. If the opposing player is waiting for the ball to “spin out” and fly towards the baseline like a more powerful hit, then they may need to rush and fix their miscalculation, returning an unbalanced shot.

Here’s a great video of Sarah Ansboury demonstrating the “slice” which adds backspin to a ball:

Note her positioning and the high to low stroke which create this motion. When you first try adding spin to your shots you may be less precise since you’re not only attempting to hit in the sweet spot of your paddle, but changing the path of your swing as well.

An example of topspin can be found in this video from Third Shot Sports, showing how to use topspin during a serve:

When practicing spin, don’t overthink it too much! Like any other skill it takes practices to learn, but once it feels natural you’ll be able to keep your opponents guessing. Not only that, but it will help you in understanding the types of spin headed toward your side of the court so you can properly counter them.

Do you have a good idea of how to use and handle spin? What techniques have improved your game the most?

Has Pickleball Gone Mainstream Yet?

It seems every day we see more news articles announcing, “Unknown sport experiences astonishing growth!” or, “Game nobody’s heard of makes headlines!” These pieces are referring to pickleball, but with the proliferation of such titles, is it really fair to continue treating the game like it’s so little-known?

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., a fact which was announced back in 2015. Perhaps it’s time people should stop being so shocked by pickleball’s existence, and instead players should be surprised when someone doesn’t recognize the sport.

Jillian Michaels playing pickleball

Jillian Michaels playing pickleball

Aside from the millions of players located in the U.S. alone, the game is becoming more commonly taught in schools, rec centers and even prisons. Celebrities such as Jillian Michaels, Kid Rock, the Kardashians and Tobey Macguire all enjoy playing. Even former tennis pros Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick have given pickleball a swing.

Gear can be found in several big-box stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart. CBS is broadcasting the US Open on TV. Many communities are (successfully) rallying for their local governments to create courts from scratch or turn unused tennis courts into pickleball parks.

With USAPA ambassadors and even casual players continuing to spread the word and bring the game to locations far and wide, maybe we’re getting closer to the day when people can say they play pickleball and the general population won’t have to wonder if they’re talking about a sport or a strange food.

Kid Rock with pickleball paddle

Kid Rock with custom pickleball paddle on a Norwegian Cruise

After all, people recognize sports like archery, hockey, rugby, polo and billiards, but largely due to their storied histories rather than a proliferation of play. Many of those listed aren’t usually found in communities due to expensive equipment, large space requirements and high physical demands. Surely pickleball, with its approachable play and affordable gear, will only continue to rise in visibility.

Have you found that many people know about pickleball in your city? Do you feel like you get fewer confused responses these days when mentioning the sport? Let us know about your experiences, whether strangers were affirming or bewildered!

Where to View Games from the 2019 US Open Pickleball Championships

The US Open has been in full swing since the beginning of this week in Naples, FL, full of outstanding pickleball talent and intense competition. Our PickleballCentral staff has been working hard to help players enter giveaways, demo paddles and test ball machines. It’s been busy as usual, but we love seeing everyone’s passion!

Check out a few photos from our booth:

If you haven’t been able to involve yourself in the action personally, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Thanks to the efforts of several groups and players, you can watch some of the most exciting games wherever you may be.

It may mean foregoing the lovely Florida sunshine, but at least you’ll get to check out some high-level techniques!

One of the best places to stay up-to-date is Pickleball Channel’s Facebook page. They’ve captured many great matches and will be continuing to live stream today if you want to catch pickleball history being made in the moment.

To get you started, here’s their capture of the gold medal mixed doubles 25+ match, showing Parenteau-Farias vs. McGrath-Evans:

 

If you don’t currently have the time to watch full matches, stay tuned to review the 2019 results on the US Open’s official site.

Are you currently at the US Open yourself, or is it still a dream to play there someday? We hope everyone has been enjoying this incredible event regardless of whether they’re present in person or not!

Easy and Effective Pickleball Hand-Eye Coordination Drills

A wide variety of techniques go into pickleball skill development, but as much as areas like footwork and ball placement matter, at its core pickleball is still a sport centered around hand-eye coordination. No matter how ingenious a play is in your mind, if you can’t get your paddle to connect then you’re out of luck!

On the Edge

To develop your coordination there’s a simple technique you can use that you may have already done unconsciously while waiting to play a game. Here Coach Claudia Fontana introduces the drill as “On the Edge.” The goal is to practice bouncing a pickleball up and down on your paddle. You want your wrist to remain firm while controlling where the ball makes contact.

 

 

Once this feels comfortable, you can turn your paddle so that the ball is bouncing on the side/edge guard. This obviously narrows your target area and makes the movement a bit trickier to position. If that gets easy too, you can switch between the front, side and back of the paddle while moving to see how well you can keep the ball in motion.

If it helps you to get a clearer image of the action, here is another video of Coach Lavery performing the drill in real time. He makes it look simple!

 

 

Wall and Ball

You can also do a series of exercises simply using a pickleball and a wall. It’s an ideal exercise when you don’t have a lot of time or space to practice but want to get in some training.

Here Jack Cascio is using a tennis ball, but you can do the same with a pickleball. Simply by changing the position of your hand, type of throw and amount of vision available, you can train yourself to more quickly respond to incoming shots.

 

 

Pickleball “Juggling”

Lastly, to test your current hand-eye coordination and give yourself a challenge, try this array of exercises from Third Shot Sports. You’ll be using a wall again, but this time more than one pickleball will be involved in the rotation. It’s a bit like juggling, but using a paddle instead of your hands!

How controlled can you keep the speed and direction of your hits?

 

 

Playing actual games is, of course, a great way to improve your abilities too. But by honing in on more precise exercises like this, you’ll often find that your movements gain more precision, more quickly.

If you have any favorite drills or exercises for developing hand-eye coordination, let us know in the comments.

3rd Bainbridge Cup Arriving in Germany – Are You Team North America or Europe?

This summer an exciting showdown will happen between two powerhouse pickleball teams representing North America and Europe at the 2019 Bainbridge Cup in Essen, Germany. Will you be part of the action?

Closely following this competition is another great international opportunity in the form of the first German Open. It’s time to mark your calendars for July 12 – 14th if you want exposure to some of the world’s top pickleball talent.

Bainbridge Cup 2019

All players who register for the Open are placed in their respective teams based on country of origin. Last year Team North America won the title in with pro Daniel Moore at its helm, and Europe, with the guidance of Oliver Strecker, is eagerly looking to settle the score.

The German Pickleball Association is hosting the event at the TVN Tennis Centre. As one of the largest indoor tennis halls in Europe, its 14 tennis courts will be converted to an impressive 28 pickleball courts! It offers generous training rooms, showers, match seating, parking and new LED lighting along the courts.

TVN Tennis Centre

The Bainbridge Cup itself will take place Friday, July 12 and is an age/skill-based competition with men’s, women’s and mixed doubles. The same categories will apply at the following German Open on July 13 – 14th. The registration fee is $63 while the event fee for the Bainbridge Cup is $17 for all events and $17 per event for the German Open.

Essen is known for its important role in German industry due to its history in coal mining and steel production. It has a number of unique museums dedicated to this subject and others such as design and art. It’s also home to a series of beautiful botanical gardens collectively known as Grugapark that not only includes a wide array of plants, but aviaries with enclosures for herons, flamingos and owls.

With theatres, elegant churches and even a Baroque Castle (Schloss Borbeck), there’s much to enjoy.

Grugapark in Essen (Credit: Grugapark.de)

Popular nearby cities (within an hour’s travel time) include Dusseldorf, Cologne and Dortmund. A number of local hotels in Essen can be found on the German Pickleball Association’s website.

The Bainbridge Cup is sure to be full of incredible talent from around the world just as it was in Italy last year. Sign up now to secure your position and represent your team!