Respect the “X”

Respect the “X” is a strategy that I first learned by watching Tony Roig’s In2Pickle videos on YouTube. The premise of this strategy is that the forehand does not always take the middle. The direction that the ball is traveling determines who should take that shot. For instance, the player that is covering the right side of the court should handle a ball that is traveling diagonally from the left side of the court to the them. If the ball is traveling diagonally from the right side of the court towards the player covering the left side, then the partner covering the left side should take that shot.

Tony release a video in 2018 that visually explains this strategy. Watch the video below.

There are three main reasons that this strategy makes sense.

  • It is more difficult to hit a good third shot when you are reaching for a ball that is traveling away from you. As shot that you hit while reaching and off balance will never be as strong as when you hit a shot when you are comfortable and balance.
  • When you break the “X” and reach over to your partner’s side of the court to take a shot, you are leaving your side of the court open and vulnerable to attack. With the shot being more difficult since you’re reaching away from you, there is a chance that your shot will be high enough for the other team to attack, and they could easily put this ball away on the open part of the court.
  • When you reach in front of your teammate to take a ball that is heading towards them, you are pinning your teammate behind you. In effect you are creating a traffic jam. Your teammate cannot move forward until after you’ve hit the ball and started moving forward and this could cause your team to miss an opportunity to attack if your shot is good enough to create a pop-up.

While this solid strategy makes perfect sense and I try to adhere to it most of the time, there are exceptions to every rule. In this next video release in January of 2022, Tony covers scenarios that could warrant deviating from the Respect the “X” strategy.

When does it make sense to break the “X”? Here are some examples of scenarios that warrant deviating from this strategy.

  • If both partners are evenly at the non-volley zone, and you receive a high ball, then it makes sense for the forehand to take that smash because it will be much more effective than a backhand overhead shot, regardless of the direction the ball is traveling. In the case of a high ball, it makes more sense for the forehand to take the middle in most cases.
  • If you receive a high ball and one partner is still making their way to the non-volley zone, then it makes more sense for the player in front who is already set up at the line, to take the shot even if it means deviating from Respect the “X” strategy. The player in front should take advantage of the opportunity to put the ball away because if they leave it up to the partner who is still approaching the line then it will not be a put-away shot.
  • If you receive a short return of serve that bounces high, this is another attack opportunity. The partner with a good forehand can take advantage of this short return of serve to attack and put pressure on your opponents.

There may be other scenarios that call for breaking the “X” — such as if one partner is significantly more skilled than the other partner and other reasons — but these are the three common reasons to deviate from the strategy. Otherwise, we should always try to respect the “X” when playing doubles.

Follow We Are Pickleball and In2Pickle for more helpful pickleball strategy and advice. See you at the pickleball courts!

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