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If you’re a new pickler, you might find the pickleball serve rules to be a little daunting. And with the fairly recent acceptance of the drop serve (more on that later), there are now even more rules.
But don’t worry: knowing all the rules, what not to do, and some legal pickleball serve ideas can make a major difference in your play!
The Two Types of Serves
Before we get into different legal pickleball serve strategies, it’s important to make sure you have an understanding of the basic pickleball serving rules. After all, these are the bare minimum rules you need to follow to deliver a legal serve in pickleball.
The Rules of Standard Serving
If you’ve been playing pickleball for any length of time, you probably are already familiar with this one: your basic serve. Here are the main three criteria you need to follow to ensure the serve is legal:
- The paddle must hit the ball when it is below your waist.
- At the time the paddle contacts the ball, your arm must be moving in an upward arc. You can use forehand or backhand, but you may not hit the ball sideways.
- At the point you hit the ball, the head of your paddle cannot be above your wrist.
- You must make sure you hit the ball into the correct service court (the one diagonally across from you on the pickleball court).
Once you practice them a bit, the pickleball serving rules above can become second nature. Just make sure you’re comfortable with the basic serve rules before you start adding new serve strategies out on the pickleball court!
The Rules of Drop Serving
Drop serving used to be illegal by USA Pickleball rules. However, the drop serve was allowed on a provisional basis in 2021. Now, in 2022, it is perfectly legal to use a drop serve, provided you follow these rules:
- Only dropping the pickleball is allowed. You may not throw it downwards or spin it in any way.
- You may allow the ball to bounce an unlimited number of times before serving.
- You may drop the ball from any height you are able to naturally reach (so you can’t stand on a stool, etc. and then drop it!).
- As long as your feet are outside the baseline boundary, you may drop the ball within the baseline boundary line.
- You must hit the ball into the service court diagonal to you.
This newly-added serve is a great way to mix up your game and keep your opponents on their toes. That being said, it’s a good idea to master the standard serve before learning this one.
As a side note, many players new to the sport have some trouble memorizing all the rules. However, the more time you spend on pickleball courts, the easier it will be to internalize them.
What NOT to Do: Illegal Pickleball Serves
If you want to avoid accidentally making illegal pickleball serves, here are some common illegal serves:
- Serving above your waist
- Hitting overhand
- Landing in the kitchen
- Serving sideways
- Taking too long
- Standing in front of the baseline
- Using the “chainsaw serve.”
Serving Above Your Waist
This is a common error. You may need to work on timing if the paddle makes contact with the ball above your waist. If the ball hits the paddle above your waist, you’ll get a fault for an illegal serve.
A pickleball serve must be an underhand serve, so an overhand serve is illegal.
Landing in the Kitchen
If you hit the ball into the kitchen (non-volley zone), you automatically receive a serving fault! Remember that the ball must clear the net AND the kitchen line before reaching your opponent’s service court.
This illegal serve may be tempting to use, as it sometimes is an easier way to add spin to the ball. However, pickleball serving rules require that the server’s arm have an upward motion.
Taking Too Long
Unlike a tennis serve, for a pickleball serve, you only have 10 seconds before the serve is declared an illegal serve! However, the 10 seconds the serving team gets to serve starts after the score is recounted.
Standing In Front of the Baseline
This one is an easy way to get a fault; the server’s feet must be on the playing surface behind the baseline.
Using the “Chainsaw Serve”
If you’re new to the pickleball game, you may not have heard of this illegal serve. In it, the player rolls the served ball against the paddle while throwing it in the air. Though a lot of picklers had fun with this serve, the rules committee banned it in 2022.
Legal Serves: Tactics to Help You Improve Your Serve
Now that you’re familiar with basic service rules and know what some illegal pickleball serves look like, we’ll take a look at some legal serves:
- Throw the ball in the air
- Use a spin serve (or slice serve)
- Try a backhand serve
- Try a drop serve
Throw the Ball in the Air
This one only applies to a standard serve, as a drop serve only allows you to drop the ball. Some players find that this service motion gives them more time to prepare for the hit.
Use a Spin Serve (or Slice Serve)
As you may already know, spin serves make the ball’s trajectory less predictable and can keep your opponent guessing. There are three different spin serves you can use: a spin serve with topspin, backspin, or sidespin.
Of course, if you’ve just begun to play pickleball, don’t rush into these! Make sure you have a good serve without spin before you start adding a one-handed spin or perfecting each type of spin serve.
Once you’re ready to start hitting with spin, you might be interested in finding a paddle head designed specifically for putting spin on the ball.
Try a Backhand Serve
Pickleball rules specify that the server’s arm must move in an upward motion. They state that this motion may be done as a forehand or backhand motion. However, hitting a backhand serve tends to be harder than a forehand serve, so not a lot of players do it. And because hitting backhand is more challenging, it’s also easier to hit an illegal pickleball serve by mistake.
Try a Drop Serve
Earlier, we mentioned the newly-legal drop serve and listed some of the basic rules for doing it. Since it hasn’t been a legal serve for too long, not all players will be familiar with it. A surprise drop pickleball serve might just add to a serving team’s points.
This video offers some great guidance to improve your serve hits, too!
Take the Time to Improve Your Game
A lot of pickleball drills focus on helping you master basic ball hits, groundstrokes, and more. But the serve in pickleball is something you should also practice repeatedly.
If you choose a new serve strategy you want to master, practice serving that way over and over again. And don’t feel badly if you get an illegal serve or two as you learn. With time and patience, you’ll see your pickleball serve skills start to really take off!
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
No. Pickleball serve rules state that when your paddle makes contact with the ball, your paddle arm must be moving in an upward arc. If you hit the ball sideways while serving, that is an illegal pickleball serve! However, you may add spin to the ball while delivering an underhand stroke.
That depends on who you ask, but here are 5 important pickleball serving rules from the USA Pickleball rule book. Note that most of these apply to the standard serve and not drop serve:
1. When the ball is hit during the serving motion, the player’s arm must be moving in an upward arc.
2. The paddle must hit the ball below the player’s waist level.
3. When the ball is hit, the head of the player’s paddle must not be above the wrist.
4. When the ball is hit, the serving player’s feet may not touch the court or go outside the imaginary extension of the sidelines and centerline. At least one foot must be behind the baseline.
5. The serve must be made diagonally across the court and land in the other player’s service court.
Yes, it is. However, some players have noted that it’s easy to accidentally perform a slice (also called a spin serve) illegally. So if you aren’t very confident in your ability to slice serve, trying to do so may result in a few illegal pickleball serves.
Yes, it is. In fact, more and more top players are beginning to use it! It’s a good way to keep the opposing team guessing.