Brazil native and Naples, Florida, resident Simone Jardim has won more Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) titles than any other female player in the sport. Currently, she ranks No. 7 in the World Pickleball Rankings for pro women’s singles and No. 1 for pro women’s mixed doubles. But she also is a dedicated instructor who teaches both in person at the Peak Performance Pickleball Academy and online via her series of popular video clips.
For this column, sharing tips and techniques for improving your game, we asked this top pro to direct us to a drill that will improve your chances of returning a lob shot, which, when well executed, Jardim says, is a “very effective shot that creates lots of opportunities.”
When it comes to a shot like a lob, says Jardim, people with mobility issues tell her, “‘I’m not as agile as you are.’ A lot of players are older, and our top priority is safety. We want to make sure that people aren’t running backward and falling on the courts. And then, of course, we want them to be successful and hit a decent shot. So the first thing we teach is the importance of not running backward. One of the best ways to return a lob shot is to do this drill, which teaches you to allow time, space, and separation between you and the ball.”
A well-placed or even accidental lob by your opponent can be daunting. But with this technique, you won’t simply chase the ball down, but regain control and hopefully hit a winning return.
SIMONE JARDIM is the cofounder and codirector of Peak Performance Pickleball Academy in Bonita Springs, Florida. She has won the US Open women’s pro singles four consecutive times.
Paddleless, pivot and move toward the ball
Start by leaving your paddle off court. Instead, you are going to try to catch the lobbed ball with your paddle hand. Once the lob is hit to you, says Jardim, turn around by pivoting and then run forward toward the ball. Be sure to turn your body before you run, but also keep your eye on the ball.
Run in the shape of a question mark around the ball
Rather than run directly to the ball, says Jardim, go around the ball. Think of the shape of a question mark. You want to run around the ball and create space between yourself and the ball. Don’t waste time with stutter steps (low- to-the-ground small steps). Just run past the ball.
Catch it with your paddle hand after it bounces
Now pivot again, Jardim says, but this time back toward the net. Keep tracking the ball and catch it after it bounces. You should not have had to run farther to reach the ball if you pivoted correctly. This is a good way to learn new footwork, particularly if you feel hesitant. It will help you get used to turning your hips to retrieve the ball.
Repeat with paddle hitting ball on descent
Now do the same drill, but this time with your paddle, Jardim says. One thing she often sees is players trying to return the ball by hitting it when it is still relatively high. By letting the ball descend a bit after it bounces, she says, you gain more time to get past the ball. You are then better able to control the return shot.
Practice your return options
You can choose to drive it, lob it back, or do a drop shot. But Jardim’s order of preference would ideally be a drop shot, then a lob, then a drive. The drop shot is best, she says, but the most important thing is to get the ball back in play. She recommends that when playing with a partner you do not try to retrieve a lob shot on your partner’s side. Let your partner take it to prevent chaos on the court.