Pickleball Strategy – Wind
Wind can be quite an issue with our light little ball full of holes, yet oddly we manage to have fun with it even in such windy conditions that players of other sports have to give up and go home.
Wind problems can be divided into four categories:
Wind To Your Back
When the wind is to your back, the first thing you’ll notice is that many of your passing shots and your serves will be too long. The other problem is that balls coming toward you stop shorter than expected.
When you are serving with the wind behind you, keep your serves low, so the wind will affect them less. A high serve is much more likely to travel farther than expected. An exception that you can play with is a very high serve to beginning and intermediate opponents. They will probably underestimate how much the wind affects the ball, and have trouble returning it well.
Like serves, passing shots will often pass the baseline. Again, keeping your shots as low as possible will reduce how much the wind carries them forward.
Be ready for incoming balls to fall short, especially after they bounce. Your opponents may attempt to make matters even worse by slicing (applying backspin) to their balls, so they stop even shorter. In order to be ready, you might step further forward than you normally would when in the backcourt. Expect to need to run forward. When a ball falls short, your best response is to dink it back.
Dinks are the least affected by the wind, so if you want to play quality pickleball on a windy day, try to get into dink rallies, and force your opponents into dinking as soon as possible.
Facing Into The Wind
Facing into the wind presents two problems. Balls you hit to your opponents will fall short, and balls returned will be fast and drive you to the back of the court.
Stand around three feet (one meter) farther back than you normally would when receiving serves.
Topspin is very helpful when blasting passing shots into the wind. Topspin, accomplished by rubbing the paddle up and over the ball, with the paddle tilted forward, will cause the ball to drop sooner than it otherwise would. Topspins tend to be low and fast shots, ideal for a windy day.
As when the wind is behind you, passing shots will work better with topspin. That is, unless you want to apply backspin. Since the balls will tend to fall short on your opponents, you can exaggerate the effect with backspin. To execute a backspin, slide your paddle down and under the ball, while the face of the paddle is tipped at an open angle. At first, it may tend to make the ball go high, but that is not necessarily a problem in the wind.
When facing the wind, it is important to keep your serves long. If they are too close to the kitchen, the opposition has a big advantage. One of the best ways to keep the serves long is to avoid high serves, instead focusing on fast, low serves. A bit of slice in the serve helps.
Also like you might do when the wind is behind you, you can serve high to beginners and intermediate players. Assuming you can get the ball in their court, they may have trouble returning it.
And finally, your opponents, especially if they are expert players, will try to bring you to the kitchen. But with the wind facing you, you can keep driving passing shots at them, to keep them back toward their baseline. They, in turn, will have trouble dropping shots into your kitchen in windy conditions.
Sideways wind is easy. All you have to do is avoid making shots that are close to the leeward sideline. If the wind is coming from your left, plan all your shots to go to several feet to the left of where you might normally put them, and vice versa. Again, trying to force a dink rally is best, if you want to play quality pickleball in a side wind. With a side wind, take your time in all your responses. You always have a split-second to analyze what you want to do next, and that’s a good time to factor in the wind.
Side winds can be lots of fun when playing with beginners. For them, place some shots quite high, and watch them consistently swing and miss returns. If you try for the same kind of high shot with advanced players, they’ll just smash it back.
For variable winds, you must have a basic understanding of what to do in all wind conditions, and remain aware of the current wind. Now, there’s nothing much you can do if you planned a certain shot and the wind shifts immediately after you hit the ball. However, you can account for that, and keep all your shots conservative. In other words, don’t try to put the thing close to the lines. Aim all your shots more or less for the middle. Chances are, your opponents will not be as careful in shifting winds as you, and will have numerous faults. All you have to do is toy with them until they make mistakes.