Pickleball is a fun and social sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It has exploded in popularity in recent years as an activity for all ages. However, if you’re new to pickleball, the serving rules can seem a bit complex at first.
The main rules for serving in pickleball focus on using an underhand stroke, avoiding any tossing or throwing of the ball, placing the serve diagonally to the opponent’s service court, and employing strategy for ideal placement and scoring.
By learning the essential dos and don’ts for serving, you’ll be able to start games off right and avoid mistakes that cost you points. Read on for an in-depth look at the key rules for serving in pickleball.
- 1. Use an Underhand Stroke
- 2. No Tossing or Throwing the Ball
- 3. Serve Diagonally to the Opposite Court
- 4. Aim Deep and Central
- 5. You Only Get One Serve Attempt
- 6. Follow Proper Serving Order in Doubles
- Serving Position and Form
- Serving Strategies and Tips
- Common Pickleball Serving Faults to Avoid
1. Use an Underhand Stroke
The most basic rule for serving in pickleball is that you must use an underhand stroke. This means the paddle needs to make contact with the ball below your waist.
You cannot strike the ball in an overhand throwing motion like you would for a tennis serve. The underhand stroke keeps serves slower and more manageable for recreational pickleball.
Make sure not to start the serve too low and brush up against your legs or feet. Hold the paddle high enough to make clean contact with the ball using a smooth, flat surface.
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2. No Tossing or Throwing the Ball
Another fundamental pickleball serve rule is that you cannot toss or throw the ball in the air.
Unlike tennis, there is no ball toss allowed. You must hit the ball from your hand or off the paddle face without releasing it into the air first.
This rule prevents players from using the momentum of a toss or throw to power up their serves. It promotes gentler, less forceful serves that are consistent with the casual nature of pickleball.
Make sure to avoid any overhead throwing motion or releasing the ball before making contact with the paddle. Keep control of the ball in your hand until striking it.
3. Serve Diagonally to the Opposite Court
For your serve to be legal in pickleball, you must hit it diagonally into the service court opposite yours.
Imagine an extension of the center line splitting your service court from your opponent’s. You must serve to the diagonally opposite service court across the extended center line.
This service rule is the same as in tennis but different from volleyball’s right-side-only serving. Be conscious of the invisible extended center line so you don’t accidentally serve to the wrong court.
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4. Aim Deep and Central
While you can legally serve to any spot in the diagonal opposite service court, it is strategically ideal to aim your serves deep and central.
Serving deep into the back corner forces your opponent farther back and makes it harder for them to attack the ball. Striking the center aims away from their angled reach along the sidelines.
Corner-to-corner cross-court serves are also effective for catching opponents off guard on their backhand or forehand side.
5. You Only Get One Serve Attempt
In contrast to sports like volleyball, you only get one attempt to make a legal serve in pickleball.
If you miss the ball completely, it lands out of bounds, or you violate another serving rule, it is a fault and you lose the point.
The exception is if the served ball clips the net and still lands legally in the service court. This is called a let serve and is allowed to be replayed without penalty.
6. Follow Proper Serving Order in Doubles
For doubles pickleball, there is a specific serving sequence that alternates service courts.
At the start of each new game, the serving team has first choice of which player will serve. After that, service alternates between teams after each score.
On the serving team’s even-numbered scores (0, 2, 4, etc.), the serve begins in the right-side service court. On odd-numbered scores (1, 3, 5, etc.), it starts in the left-side court.
Partners take turns serving from their designated service court before switching sides when their team’s score is even once again.
This sequence allows both partners to serve from each side and prevents any one player from having an advantage.
Serving Position and Form
Now that you know the rules, let’s go over proper positioning and form for serving in pickleball.
Stand behind the baseline and center yourself in the serving area. Your feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent.
Grip the paddle in your dominant hand’s shakehand grip and hold the ball in your non-dominant hand.
Focus on a smooth pendulum motion for your underhand stroke. Bring the paddle head back behind you, drop the ball straight down below your waist, then swing forward for contact.
Transfer your weight from your back foot to front foot to drive momentum into the serve. Follow through fully toward your target.
Maintain balance and control. Don’t overswing or put your whole body into it – use a gentle stroke powered mainly by your arm and wrist.
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Serving Strategies and Tips
Beyond the basics, there are some smart strategies and tips to elevate your pickleball serves:
- Vary placement – mix up wide, deep, and angled serves instead of being predictable.
- Use spin – topspin or backspin serves can throw off returns.
- Serve to a player’s weakness – aim away from a dominate forehand or backhand.
- Change pace – alternate soft and hard serves.
- Move opponent back – deep serves push them behind the non-volley zone line.
- Go for aces down the center.
- Use wind to your advantage if outdoors.
- Develop a reliable, repeatable service motion.
- Practice precision and aim for consistent target locations.
Mastering these pickleball service strategies will help you win more points on your serves.
Common Pickleball Serving Faults to Avoid
Finally, be aware of some common serving faults that will cost you points:
- Foot fault – stepping on or over the baseline before contact.
- Serving to the wrong court – not hitting diagonally.
- Violating the underhand stroke rule – overhand throwing motion or contact above waist.
- Tossing the ball – releasing the ball before hitting it.
- Hitting the net – missing high or wide and catching the net.
- Missing the service court – sending the ball out of bounds.
- Double-bounce – allowing the ball to bounce twice before contact.
Stay mindful not to commit these faults so you can maximize your serves.
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Serving is a vital skill in pickleball that takes practice to master. Following the proper underhand form, placement rules, and sequence allow you to win points and gain an advantage. Strategic serving gives you control over rallies. By avoiding common faults and penalties, you’ll be able to consistently contribute off your serve.
With the right techniques and strategies, your serves will have your opponents scrambling right from the start of games. Just remember the keys like serving diagonally, aiming for depth and precision, and avoiding any throwing or tossing motion. Master these service essentials and you’ll be a formidable force from the baseline.