Pickleball Points: Anticipation and the Mona Lisa of pickleball

Have you ever been to the Louvre in Paris to see Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa? People will stand and view it in admiration for long periods of time. She simply captivates you. It is as if she is saying “Life shouldn’t be all pickleball.” She might add, “You need to visit museums and round yourself.”

If she said that to me, I would quickly tell her that I’m quite the cultured art admirer, and then add that I got a real good price at an antique auction on an original DaVinci’s “Sixteenth Chapel.”

But admiring paintings is something you should do at the Louvre, not on the pickleball court.

How often have you found yourself standing on the baseline admiring a well-hit shot in pickleball, only to find it coming back as a drop-shot winner? If you hit several of those in your first game in your first tournament, you might decide to take up portrait painting.

Here is the problem: On a hard-hit return of serve, it takes the ball maybe a second to reach your opponent, and in the best possible situation, it might take you two seconds to get into position to intercept their response to your shot. A slower return of serve might have allowed you more time to get into the net and better prepared for their shot. If you are still standing at the baseline admiring your Mona Lisa, and have not even started toward the ball, you might as well check if they are exhibiting any Armageddon paintings.

As soon as you strike the ball, you need to assume it is going to be good, and you need to begin moving to get into position to where you think you will need to defend against their most likely return. Of the four people on the court, as the striker, you will be fractionally the first one to know where you are going to hit it, so you have a slight response advantage over your opponents.

Watching local players this past week, I noted almost every one hit the ball off-balance. You need to anticipate where they are most likely to hit the ball. From any spot on the court, there are a limited number of possibilities as to where your opponents can hit the ball away from you or your partner, and you need to calculate them in a fraction of a second.

With all the years I have played racket sports, I never stop being amazed at how our brains adapt and analyze as we play. Some people have “court sense,” which is seeming to always know where to be, but they really are simply very focused and calculating on the shot possibilities as the game is being played.

Now, although you might not get in perfect position, you can be near enough to make a play on the ball and greatly improve your chances as to hitting the ball on balance.

Here is another tip: Someone asked if you should slam back every return of serve. Hold in mind that it will most likely come back sooner — sooner than your old legs might let you get in position to cover the returning ball. I suggest varying the speed and placement of the returns so your opponents do not get comfortable. They will be less likely to get into the groove.

Remember — if properly played, the advantage will normally go to the team returning deeply to their opponents and then controlling the net.

My next article might be “Pickles & the Leaning Tower of Pizza.”

While I have your attention, is anyone interested in buying my original “Sixteenth Chapel” by DaVinci? Did I hear Sistine francs?

Special note: Congratulations to all the local players who did so well in the Delaware Senior Olympics in both singles and doubles. There was a time in the recent past when I could isolate on an individual who had done especially well, but that is no longer the case. Listing local winners would look like a page from the phonebook.

It is a testament to our drilling mentality and all of those who have committed to training over play, and I will figure out a way to honor all of you before the year has ended.

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