The serve is one of the most important shots of the game. This is the only time you will have full control of your shot. In order to be effective, the serve needs to produce an advantage for your team. As you get two serves and the second serve is relatively safe, it’s a good option to be very aggressive on the first serve.
Only about three or four steps will get you there. Don’t just blindly run up to the net hoping to find the ball on your way. As you approach the net you must watch the returner. As soon as he makes contact with the ball, slow down your progress and and get set for the volley using the split-step. This procedure makes it easier to change direction, especially if the returner hits a lob instead.
Hit the volley low, deep near the service line and down the middle. You could also try to handcuff the returner by volleying deep straight at his feet. Volleying wide is sometimes risky as you can hit the side mesh, and if you make the shot you may open up the angles for your opponents to pounce on you. It’s important not to try to win the point on your first volley, just try to maintain the pressure. Concentrate on depth and the bounce after the volley. The most important bounce is the second bounce. Observe the second bounce of your volley, make sure it’s low.
If you don’t go up to the net when you serve, then your opponents will, and will have the advantage in the point. They will be able to volley in the space between you and your partner.
Direction of the Serve
Try changing the direction and speed of your serve in order to always keep your opponent guessing.
- Serve to the backhand side
- Serve to the forehand side
- Serve to the middle
- Try a high looping serve
- Try a backhand serve (especially effective to the add court)
In each case, note which serve is giving you better results against each opponent, so you can use it when you need the point. Remember that while serving into the side wall can be effective, serving down the middle cuts down the angle of the return.
You are looking for a return that is simpler to volley.
Return of Serve
Hit the return low. More than anything make sure you GET-IT-IN. Return to the server, as he is usually further away from the net as he is moving forward. Try to make him volley up lower than the net.
Another option is to lob, which is usually very effective.
Position on the Court
Your position on the court should be behind the service line, about a meter from the line. Many players play too close to the service line, too close to where the ball usually bounces. Also too far from the back wall. The back wall is “your friend” as long as you are about an extended arm and racket length from it. It’s important to flex your legs, get down, bring the padel back early. Spreading the legs allows to get down easier. Use small steps to adjust your position.
Consider a shot down the middle (or a serve down the middle) that takes the opponent away from his natural position near the corner. As he moves to the middle, now he is out of position, be prepared to hit back into his corner. He will have difficulty with this, and will most likely not be able to hit a lob. This is a good time to close in at the net. Hopefully you can put away your next shot. You can win lots of points with this tactic. Try it during your serve, and also during a point. Rush the net after you hit down the middle, and volley into his corner.
Charge the Net
Move up to the net when your opponent gives you a short ball. For example: when returning a short serve, move up to the ball, hit it on the rise, and continue up to the net. Your partner should follow you up as well.
A short ball is a ball that lands close to the middle of the serving box.
Volley from the Back
Sometimes you can try to volley from the service line instead of allowing the ball to bounce on the back wall. This will demand a faster reaction from your opponent at the net.
Lob from Volley
When you are approaching the net and your opponent volleys the ball towards you, hit a lob over his head instead of a volley. Your opponent won’t have enough time to setup for the smash.
The Drop Shot
Don’t try the drop shot on a ball that carries under-spin. It will tend to die on your padel. The drop shot is most effective against top-spin shots. This type of spin aids in the execution of your drop shot. Contact the ball with a chopping action, as if you were cutting a log.
The Simple Defense (KISS tactic)
If you are defending, obviously your opponents are at the net. YOUR GOAL here is to stay in the point hoping for a high bouncing ball that allows you to send a good deep lob. Hopefully you can gain the net.
Your goal is to take the net. As simple as this is, in practice when we get the high bouncing ball we want to drill it a the net player or try to pass them. However, playing the simple game produces less errors and at the net is where you get the points.
One of the safest and most effective shot is low and down the middle. It’s difficult to volley and also may create confusion as to which of the players will hit the volley. On a low shot opponents will have to volley up over the net, which will give you a good chance at another good shot, or to simply lob them and take the net.
Playing the ball along the sides is risky and, unless you are a very advanced player, chances are your shot will end up in the side mesh.
When you are defending from the back, and your opponent’s are at the net, try to play to your opponent’s backhand. The backhand volley is more difficult to put away. Try to get the player at the net to volley alternate sides. If you hit all your shots to his forehand, he will perfect this shot each time until he wins the point.
Try a lob followed by a low shot to the feet and so on until you can get the ball over his reach, which may allow your team to transition between defense to offense.
The Little Shot (la Chiquita)
This is a defensive shot from behind the service line that serves to release the pressure and allows you to transition to a surprise attack. This is a slow, short shot just over the net with the intention to make the volley-er hit the ball from below the top of the net. As you hit the shot, you begin to move forward and as he volleys up you’ll be in position to hit a point blank volley. Your opponent was looking down to hit the low volley, and when he looks up, bang!
The Little Shot is usually directed at the feet or a wide shot, with slower pace to avoid hitting the side metallic fence. You can use a top spin, a flat shot, or under-spin. If you use top-spin, remember to watch for the possibility of a drop shot. Top spin makes it easier to hit a drop shot. Make sure you stay low to ensure that the ball stays low as well. If you push up with your legs you may lift the ball too high, and your opponent will have an easier volley.
The Half-Volley (known as Botepronto)
Is the nature of the game that many times when defending the ball will be at your feet. In tennis, players stand behind the baseline, so more often than not, the ball will bounce in front of them. However in padel, the player is inside the court and a lot of the shots will have to be half-volleys. It’s important to bend your knees while quickly bringing your padel straight down, without a back swing. Hit the ball off the bounce in front, pushing forward with your body. The idea is to make the ball loop over the net and come down. If your contact point is slightly behind you, or if the head of your padel is angled up, the ball will tend to sail up and your opponents will have an easier volley.
Defend Behind the Service Line
When defending, it’s important to try to stay behind the service line and not to try to move forward or you’ll get caught in “no man’s land”. Stay near the back wall, your friend. Have patience, but don’t keep hitting from the back, or you’ll do a lot more running than the person at the net. Remember the KISS tactic. You are hoping for a short ball or a ball that you can lob. Hit the lob and transition to attack by taking the net.
One of the most underrated shots is the high lob. High and deep lobs force your opponents to move back, allowing your team to take the net.
Use the Lob
The lob is not only a defensive shot. If you can hit a good lob that goes over your opponents reach, then charge and take the net. The other team will be forced to defend, and perhaps will try to lob you in an attempt to take over the net themselves. There are three possibilities here:
- If their lob is short, let’s say within 6 feet from the net, then you could use the full power smash to win the point.
- If their lob is deep enough but not over your reach, you can use the tray-smash to keep the pressure at the net (see below: “the Tray-Smash”).
- If the ball is beyond your reach, then as you run back to get it, listen to your partners instructions as to what your opponents are doing. Chances are that the opponents have taken over the net. In this case the most reasonable shot is to lob them (refer to “Forehand Off The Wall”).
Lobbing over your opponent’s left side is most effective, as he will need to run around his left side, which may cause him to misjudge his overhead. In addition, if he has no time to hit the overhead, he may be forced to use a backhand smash, which is usually less effective.
If you’ve hit a high lob, and your opponent is reaching up to smash the ball with full power, you should cautiously but quickly move to the net allowing space in the center of the court for the smash to go through. After a long, high bounce off the back wall, you may have an easy put away at the net (see below: “Moving up on a Hard Smash”).
Follow your lob up the net!
If you can hit good volleys, look for the opportunity to follow your deep lob and come to the net. The intention here is to volley a tray-smash directed at you.
Statistically, the team that takes the net wins a higher percentage of the points.
The Lob Over Your Partner
When your opponent’s lob goes over your partner’s reach, as he runs back to retrieve it he is facing in the direction of the back wall. For this reason, at this time he is not aware of what the other team is doing. This is when you need to let your partner know:
- If they are both coming to the net: Say “both up”
- Is only his guy coming to the net? Say “yours up”
- Is only your guy coming to the net? Say “mine up”
Never look back at your partner hitting the lob. Keep looking forward, noticing what your opponents are doing and notifying your partner.
A safety tip, always move with your partner. If he goes back to retrieve a lob don’t stay at the net or you might be a sitting duck for a smash. You will notice that the pros don’t usually come back with their partner. They stay up because the know for sure that their partner will hit a really good shot from the back.
The Full Power Smash
A few considerations must take place before you hit the full power smash. If you are close to the net when you hit it, use full power, try to get the ball to bounce high off the back wall and back into your side of the court. If you don’t think you can bring the ball back, or out of the park, then maybe a smash is the wrong play.
If you are closer to the service line when hitting the smash, it’s more effective to hit a slower under-spin shot called “tray-smash” (also known as “bandeja”). Its purpose is to keep the pressure on your opponents and maintain your position at the net. This type of smash keeps the ball low after it bounces off the back wall. If instead you go for power, the ball may come back high off the back wall to the area of the net and could be an easy put away for your opponents.
If you see your opponent winding up for a smash, you should start moving up to the net anticipating a high bounce from the back wall (see below).
Moving up against a Full Power Smash
A smash will most likely bounce very high from the back wall into the area of the net.
If you’ve just hit a lob and you see that your opponent is loading up for a full power smash, one of the players on your team should quickly start moving up towards the net in an attempt to contact the ball high as it comes back from your back wall. The other player should stay back moving towards the center to cover the back of the court, in case the smash in only a fake, and the ball is hit softly.
The tray-smash is a common variation of the smash where the contact point with the ball is a little lower (about head height), slightly in front of you. Apply under-spin that will keep the ball low after it bounces. The finish is high, over your shoulder. If your finish is low, you’ll have a higher chance to hit the ball into the net. It should feel like when you throw a ball far away.
The idea here is not to win the point outright, but to maintain the pressure and regain your position at the net. As you hit the tray smash you should be preparing to move up to the net.
If you see your opponent preparing to hit a tray-smash stay low behind the service line, knees well bent, and get ready to get down low to hit a ball off your shoe laces…
Your goal is not to try to end the point, but to keep the pressure on your opponents and your team’s position at the net. The safest tray-smash is directed diagonally into the opposite corner as it’s the longer shot. In addition, as the ball goes to the corner, there is a good chance that it will bounce off two walls, increasing the difficulty for the returner. Your preference should be to aim for the side wall which makes for a more complex bounce to return.
Notice the height of the bounce, it will tell you how effective your tray-smash is. If the bounce is high, your contact point may be too high, or you may need to apply more under-spin to get the ball to bounce lower.
Another variation of the smash is the Snake, where the ball is hit with side-spin instead.
How to Move Back to hit the tray-smash
The first thing to do when you see a lob coming is to turn sideways. Best way you can ensure that you make a complete sideways turn is to point in the direction of the lights with your left hand. Pointing at the ball will not ensure you are completely turned. If you are not completely turned sideways you won’t be able to move back fast enough. You’ll see a lot of beginner players trying to just step back while still facing the opponents. Inevitably the ball goes over their head and they can never get back far enough to retrieve the ball. In addition, if they are able to hit the smash, there is a high chance it will go into the wall. Hitting the ball without turning your body sideways could cause injury to your shoulder.
After you turn sideways, sidestepping back will work for short lobs, but it is not the most effective way to get to the ball when the lob is deep, around the area of the service line. Using the crossover step will get you there much faster.
Move back almost facing the back wall, like running back while still keeping your eye on the ball, your padel up and your left arm up. Next set your right foot, hit your tray-smash and try to regain your position at the net. As you land from the smash, you should already be moving forward. Don’t waste time, use the correct footwork to move quickly forward.
Tray-Smash with Jump
You can practice the jump as you hit the tray-smash. This procedure is commonly used on a deep lob.