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Pickleball Serve Rules (Illegal & Legal Serves Guide)

Pickleball, the fastest-growing sport across America in both young and older circles, begins with the ‘simple’ swing of the paddle.

The serve might not be considered an offensive weapon by USA Pickleball, however, every game and point begins with a serve.

For those who are only waking up to the phenomenon of the pickleball game, teams of doubles or single pickleball players only score when serving and winning the rally.

The serve is crucial to dictating the flow of the game and puts you and your team in the driving seat to take home the victory against the opposing team.

Learning what pickleball’s serving rules entail, how servers can lose a serve, as well as the difference between a legal and illegal serve is crucial to earning points.

This guide will be the competitive edge in any pickleball match you’ve been searching for!

What is a Legal Serve in Pickleball?

pickleball serve

A legal pickleball serve will simply get the ball into play – when playing pickleball, your serve shouldn’t act as a weapon!

The ball must be hit underhand below the waist (more on that later) with the arm swinging upwards.

Legal serves must be taken with at least one foot behind the baseline and must land diagonally opposite, and not in the kitchen.

There are a lot of rules to keep in mind, but don’t worry, we’ll take you through everything in detail so you’ll be performing the perfect serve in pickleball in no time.

What are the Pickleball Serving Rules?

  • Get into position: Before you start playing, the server must be behind the baseline in pickleball courts, as well as between the center line and the sideline.
  • Get ready: Raise the paddle above your head, your hand above your head, or turn your back to the net if you are not ready. After the score is called out, the game won’t be stopped.
  • Call the score: The server normally calls out the entire score, starting with the serving team’s score. This has to happen after the receiver and server are in their position and ready to play.
  • The 10-second rule: After the server calls out the score, there are exactly 10 seconds to serve the ball. Serves that exceed the 10-second rule will be declared a fault.
  • Serve diagonally: The serve must be directed to the diagonally opposite court area and clear the non volley zone line (also known as the kitchen line) and the non volley zone.

How Can you Lose a Serve?

Remember, only servers can earn a point after winning a rally; this list of server faults will result in you losing a serve and therefore points!

Pay careful attention to the following and ensure there are no faults in your serve to become victorious in one of the most exhilarating sports. 

Losing a serve can come from:

  • The ball being served from the wrong position.
  • The served ball touching any permanent object before it hits the ground. This includes the server, the server’s partner, or any object associated with the serving team.
  • A serve landing in the kitchen, touching the non volley line, or landing outside the service court.
  • The server using an illegal serve – don’t worry, this will be explained in the next section!
  • The server hitting the ball while the score is being called out.
  • The server or their partner calling a time-out after the ball has been served.

Legal vs Illegal Pickleball Serves

Now that we know all the basic rules according to the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook, it’s time to understand how to perform the perfect legal serve.

The popular sport might have multiple similarities to tennis, table tennis, and badminton, yet a pickleball serve differs significantly from a tennis serve. 

These are all the rules in a pickleball serve and breaking at least one of them is considered illegal.

  1. A legal serve must be made with an underhand stroke of the arm by the pickleball players.Move your pickleball paddle in an upward direction; this is the serving motion.However, striking the ball using a sideways or downward motion will be considered an illegal pickleball serve.
  2. Where the ball makes contact is incredibly important. Legal pickleball serves must be made below the waist.But wait, where is the waist? The waist is considered to be navel level, so therefore the ball must not make contact with your paddle above your navel but below it. It will be deemed an illegal serve if the server’s paddle makes contact with the ball above the navel.
  3. The server’s paddle head must be lower than the wrist joint for it to be deemed legal. It might sound complicated, but try to visualise it.When you serve with an upward motion and make contact with the ball below your waist, if your paddle head is above your wrist it will be an illegal serve.

Types of Pickleball Serves and Their Legality

The differences between legal and illegal serves allow very little wiggle room to how you may execute your serve.

The official pickleball rules only specifically mention two types of serve: the drop serve and the volley serve.

Drop serve

This serve starts by the server releasing the ball either from the paddle head or their hand at any height as long as it is not aided by any object.

If you want, let the ball bounce multiple times until you feel ready to strike the ball while ensuring the legal serve guidelines are met. 

Servers need to allow the receiver or match official to witness the ball being released from their hand.

Furthermore, servers cannot thrust the ball down or hit it upward before serving.

Volley serve

The volley serve is considered to be a traditional serve since the ball is not allowed to bounce on the court before serving.

Servers can use one hand to release the ball and immediately perform a legal serve before the ball hits the ground.

The same rules apply to a drop serve where the receiver or match official must be able to witness the ball being dropped from the server’s hand.

During a volley serve, servers are allowed to spin the ball according to the official rules.

However, servers cannot have anything on their hand to aid the spinning of the ball.


What are the new serving rules in pickleball?

As of 2022, the drop style of serving has permanently become a legal option.

The rules change every year, so if you’re playing competitively, be sure to keep up with the latest edition of the rule book!

The 2022 rules also state that the ball can bounce several times before the serve is made.

Is a backhand serve legal in pickleball?

A backhand serve is technically legal according to the latest rules from the International Pickleball Federation, but it’s not quite black and white.

If you serve backhanded, you might find you hit the ball above your waist or with your wrist bent so the paddle is above your wrist, both of which make a service illegal (as discussed above).

So, while they are legal, they are difficult to perform legally.

Is the chainsaw serve legal in pickleball?

According to the 2022 USA Pickleball Rulebook, the ‘chainsaw’ serve is an illegal move.

It might have become popular thanks to Zane Navratil, but it’s not allowed anymore.

This move involves rolling the ball against the paddle to build up a lot of spin on the ball, causing its movement to become unpredictable.

What makes a serve illegal in pickleball?

There are a few things that can make your serve illegal in pickleball, like serving overhead or sideways, if your serve lands in the kitchen, and much more, covered in greater detail above.

Wrapping Up

Whether you use a forehand or backhand serve, remember to always strike the ball using an upward motion, ensure you make contact below the waist, and keep your paddle head below your wrist.

Pickleball is all about community, fun, competition, and powerful serve hits!

For those pickleball fanatics that want to take their game to the next level: practice, practice, and practice some more before hitting the pickleball court for your next match.

Soon enough you’ll be playing at the USA Pickleball National Championships in front of thousands of spectators and take home the silverware like 15-year-old Anna Leigh Waters who took home the gold in three events.

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