Padel serve: Traditional or Australian?
Ever wondered why some players swap sides during a service game and others stay put on their side of the court? You’re not alone! It can be one of the more baffling aspects of padel to players new to the game, especially if they’ve come from tennis. In this feature, provided by Game4padel in partnership with PadelMBA, we aim to explain court positioning for the service pair and shine a light on service stats and strategies.
A good padel serve allows the server to reach the offensive position at the net before their opponents, starting the point in a powerful and dominant situation. This is especially important given that research has shown that points scored at the net account for about 80% of the total, and winners get 34% more points than losers in this offensive zone.*
Serves account for about 10% of all strokes in a match and, bearing in mind the short duration of some points (10-15 seconds) and the number of hits per point (between 8-10), this first shot can be really decisive in setting up the point.
But players have to be quick to capitalise on the advantage gained from serving. A study found that with each hit the advantage lessens. For men this is after 12 hits, for women after seven. Men also earn more points in a service situation than women.**
The percentage of points won by the server also decreases as the match progresses, being significantly lower in the third set, probably due to the server tiring because they are the player who travels the most distance per point (in professional padel at least).
There are two types of tactical positions for serving – traditional and Australian.
Traditional: the server’s partner is on the opposite side of the court, at the net. For tennis players this natural positioning, changing sides with each point.
Australian: the server’s partner remains on the same side of the court throughout the point. So if you play right-handed you remain on the right side. Play left, stay left. It does mean that every other point both players are on the same side of the court and the server normally moves quickly to fill the open court once they have delivered the ball. (Figure 1).
Both positions have tactical implications, with their main objective being to occupy and maintain the side on which each player is a specialist.
Unsure of which tactic to deploy? A study concluded that players win a higher percentage of service points when they use the traditional rather than the Australian position, especially in the third set.***
The study also showed that the Australian strategy forces the server to travel further and at a higher speed towards the net and that, at the moment of return, the player is further from the net than if using the traditional tactic. So not only is there the chance that the server in this situation will tire more quickly, they may also not be in the best position when intercepting the return of serve.
So traditional is better? Not necessarily. Playing ‘Australian’ allows each player to stick to the side they play best on, with obvious advantages. It is therefore necessary that, at a tactical level, players consider the variables in order to serve with better guarantees and maintain initiative in the game.
🔊 Below: a short demonstration of pros (GB’s Christian Medina Murphy and Sam Jones in white) serving Australian style. The match is the final of the European qualifiers for the World Padel Championships at We Are Padel, Derby, last October. It’s a great watch – not least because Christian and Sam won (keep watching for the celebrations!).
Direction, speed & depth
More than 60% of serves are directed towards the glass, forcing more errors from receivers due to the ball rebounding off the side wall and the very presence of the wall. Serving to the glass also gives the server more time to reach the net than if the service is made to the center of the court, for example. Serving to the centre is more likely to move an opponent out of position, creating open space between them and the wall, which the serving couple can take advantage of.
A body serve can make a returner uncertain about the type of shot to make because of the need to move their body away from the ball before hitting it.
Deep serves (near the bottom line), especially in the area of the glass, make it more difficult because of the presence of the walls and uncertainty about the bounce.
Varying the speed of serves challenges opponents to adapt to the situation. However, players should take into account the distance to be travelled and their fitness levels because the faster the serve the greater the speed of movement required to achieve a good net position.
The side of the court from which the serve is made influences its direction. From the right side, serves tend to be more spread out, while on the left side 70% are directed towards the glass. The left side is where most games are usually defined, a fact that may change due to the inclusion in 2020 of the ‘golden point’ rule in the professional circuit. It also goes without saying that this data will be influenced by players being right or left-handed.
Service training exercises
Using this information, exercises that can be worked into coaching sessions include:
– Limit the number of hits: an extra point is awarded to the serving pair if they win the point before the nth stroke.
– Maintain position: if the serving pair keeps the net and wins the point they receive an extra point.
– Tactical formation (traditional or Australian): The serving players start the point with one or another tactical formation.
– Side glass: the serving partner gets a point if the ball, after a correct serve, touches the side wall, regardless of whether he subsequently wins or loses the point.
– Take out from different places. The serving partner varies serve position, ie closer to the side wall, closer to the central service line etc.
– Serve with different trajectory parameters. The server chooses a different direction each time. The same could be done with the rest of the trajectory parameters. 🎾
*Courel-Ibáñez et al 2015; **Sánchez-Alcaraz et al 2020; ***Ramón-Llín, Guzmán, et al 2021