Pickleball is a fast-growing racquet sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. One of the key strategies for winning points and games in pickleball is the “put away” shot. A put away shot is a shot that decisively ends a rally and wins the point for the player or team who hits it. But what exactly constitutes a put away shot in pickleball? How and when should players execute these winning shots? This comprehensive guide will provide all the details on put away shots in pickleball.
The Definition of a Put Away Shot
A put away shot in pickleball is a shot that the opposing player or team has little to no chance of returning effectively. It is a decisively winning shot that capitalizes on an offensive opportunity to end the rally then and there. The hallmarks of a put away shot are power, precision, and placement – hitting the ball forcefully into an area of the court that the opponent cannot reach or return well. The objective is to decisively win the point rather than keep the rally going.
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Types of Put Away Shots
There are several go-to shots in pickleball that players use to put games away. The most common and effective put away shots involve hitting the ball where the opponent simply cannot reach it in time.
One of the most frequently used put away shots is the volley. A volley is a shot hit out of the air before the ball bounces. Volleys are common put away shots because they can be precisely directed and allow less reaction time.
The Volley Punch
A volley punch is a firm volley stroke with a short backswing and follow-through. This quick, compact stroke gives opponents less time to react. Aim volley punches into the deep court or sideline to win the point.
The Swinging Volley
The swinging volley incorporates more of a full swing to generate power. Swinging volleys aimed at sharp downward angles can be effective put away shots. The extra power on swinging volleys require opponents to return defensively.
Putting away shots from groundstrokes after the ball bounces is also common.
The Crosscourt Groundstroke
Hitting crosscourt groundstrokes – diagonally into the opponent’s court – can move opponents out of position to create openings for put aways.
Down-the-line groundstrokes hit straight down the sideline can also catch opponents off guard and win points immediately if hit precisely.
The overhead slam – also called a smash – is a very aggressive put away shot. It involves hitting a high ball forcefully over opponents’ heads, aimed downward into the court. The speed and angle make overhead slams difficult to return.
The lob can be an indirect yet very effective put away technique. Hitting the ball high over opponents’ heads with topspin forces them to retreat. This can draw them out of position so the next shot can win the point.
The Drop Shot
The drop shot involves delicately placing the ball just over the net to trick opponents into the backcourt. Though not hit forcefully, precise drop shots can leave opponents stranded up front unable to run back fast enough.
How to Hit Put Away Shots
Being able to identify and capitalize on opportunities is crucial to executing put aways. Here are some key tactics for hitting effective put away shots.
Recognize the Opportunity
The first step is reading the court and recognizing when an opponent is out of position or off-balance. Often, put away chances come after you’ve moved an opponent side to side. Anytime there’s significant open space to hit into, start planning the put away.
Move Quickly into Position
Footwork and movement are critical for getting in position to hit authoritative put away shots. As soon as you identify the opportunity, move forward decisively to attack the ball. Being ready near the non-volley zone gives you better angles.
Know Your Shot Selection
Determine which put away shot suits the situation – volley, groundstroke, lob, etc. Make quick tactical decisions based on factors like the opponent’s positioning, the ball trajectory, and percentage play.
Aim put away shots diagonally downward into the court. The combination of speed and downward angle makes the balls very difficult to retrieve.
Disguise Your Shot
Use your body positioning and racquet movement to disguise where you intend to place the put away. Don’t telegraph your put away shot early.
Follow through fully on put away shots. This ensures you impart maximum power and accuracy into the shot. Follow through toward your target.
Be Ready to Follow Up
Even after well-executed put away shots, stay mentally and physically ready to follow up if needed. If an opponent manages to return a put away shot, reset quickly to finish the point.
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Where to Aim Put Away Shots
Precision shot placement is vital for effective put aways in pickleball. Aim for locations that make it physically impossible for opponents to retrieve the ball.
Behind the Non-Volley Zone
Hitting behind opponents standing near the kitchen line takes away their ability to return the ball without violating the non-volley zone rules. This can lead to easy put away shots.
Aim diagonally crosscourt to pull opponents far out of position laterally. Stretching opponents side to side opens up wider crosscourt angles for put aways.
Hitting down the line behind opponents as they move toward the net limits their ability to change direction and track down the shot.
Just Over the Net
Dropping put away shots just over the net minimizes opponents’ reaction time due to the close proximity. They have to move quickly forward for the ball.
Into the Body
Hitting put aways directly at opponents can jam their mobility and reflexes to make clean contact very difficult.
Put Away Tactics and Strategies
Success putting shots away involves more than just pure ball-striking ability. Players can employ various tactics and strategies to create and maximize opportunities.
Move Opponents Out of Position
Use sharp crosscourt angles, lobs, and drop shots to displace opponents and pull them out of position, then capitalize with a put away into the open space.
Target the Weaker Opponent
In doubles, identify and attack the weaker opponent’s position by hitting put aways to their side of court when possible.
Fake the Opponent Out
Use shot fakes, hesitations, misdirections, and disguises to deceive opponents and move them in the wrong direction to open up space for the put away.
Hit Behind Quick Poachers
When opponents poach and crowd the net, hit put aways into the vacated backcourt before they can recover back.
Hit Inside-Out Shots
Inside-out shots – forehands hit crosscourt into the ad court and backhands hit crosscourt into the deuce court – move opponents laterally and open angles.
Up the Middle
Hitting aggressive put aways right up the middle between opponents in doubles can split them and limit options to return the shot.
Attack Weaker Shots
Punish opponents by aggressively putting away weaker shots like short balls, floaters, and mishits before they recover control of the point.
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In summary, executing “put away” shots is an invaluable skill in pickleball for decisively winning points and applying pressure. By mastering techniques like the volley punch, crosscourt groundstroke, and overhead slam, players can capitalize on opportunities to hit winning shots opponents cannot retrieve. Complementing mechanical skills with smart shot placement, tactics, footwork, disguise, and court position gives players an edge to finish points emphatically. Anticipating chances to put away shots and quickly taking advantage is a hallmark of elite pickleball players. With practice and match experience, pickleball players can significantly sharpen their abilities to recognize and convert on opportunities for clean put away winners.