What is a Legal Pickleball Serve? A Look at Pickleball Serve Rule Changes in 2023

Perfecting your serves is an integral part of enjoying (and winning) pickleball matches. Technique and practice are absolutely essential. But all the skill in the world won’t help you if you don’t stay on the right side of the rules. 

Giving the opposition an advantage by making an illegal serve is frustrating and wholly avoidable.

The biggest change this year in case you missed it...is that the Spin Serve is now illegal. And Morgan Evans is not really taking it well:

A legal serve in pickleball is one that follows all the rules in the USA Pickleball Association rulebook. In this article, we’ll go over the six main rules that you need to know, and take a look at some updates to the official rulebook that are on their way in 2023. 

Types of Legal Pickleball Serves 

There are two distinct ways to serve in pickleball— the volley serve and drop serve. Let’s look at the technique and advantages of each.  

  • Pickleball Volley Serve

A volley serve is where you toss or drop the ball and hit it before it bounces. The ball  needs to be hit below your waist height, and in an upwards arc (see serving rules below). This type of serve used to be the only serve allowable. It’s the best way to get power on your serve, and to hit your serve from the highest possible point, thus giving you the best angle.  

  • Pickleball Drop Serve

The pickleball drop serve was originally implemented for players with disabilities that struggled to perform a volley serve. 

The drop serve is when a player drops the ball from any height (no jumping or throwing of the ball allowed). This allows the ball to bounce before the serve is taken. The ball can bounce more than once, and the player can hit the ball in any way they like, disregarding rules 1, 2, and 3 below. 

Drop serves are more suited to beginner and intermediate players who want to make sure their serves are legal and successful. They’re also useful when practicing or trying new things out, like generating spin or performing backhand serves.  

The traditional pickleball serve is still by far the most common serving style but this may well change in the future. Pickleball is constantly evolving! Once you know the new rules, be sure to use the serve as a WEAPON with an aggressive approach:

Standard Pickleball Serve Rules

The following are the six main rules that you need to understand in order to make a legal serve. 

  • The serving motion for pickleball must be upward This means the server’s arm must move in an upward arc when the ball is struck. No hitting from above, or from the side. 
  • The point where the paddle makes contact with the ball must be below your waistline, specifically below the level of your navel. The taller you are, the higher this limit will be. 
  • The head of the paddle must be below the highest part of your wrist at contact. In other words, the paddle must be below your hand rather than above it as you hit your serve.
  • Only one serve attempt is allowed. Unless you score a point, after your serve, it’s the next player’s turn. If you or your team score a point from your serve, you continue serving until your team messes up and you lose service.
  • Both feet must be behind the baseline when serving. This one is easy to forget in the heat of play. When serving, at least one of your feet must be touching the ground behind the baseline. Your feet must also be inside the imaginary extension of the sideline and centerline, i.e. behind your rectangle on the court.
  • A pickleball serve must land in the diagonally opposite service area. Pickleball serving rules state that the serve is always made diagonally across the court, like in tennis.

Pickleball Serve Rule Updates for 2023

We mentioned that pickleball is always evolving, and this year (2023) the sport is bringing in some long-awaited changes to the official rules. Here are the six changes in 2023 that will affect pickleball serves. 

  • Rule 4.A.5 - Spinning the Ball on a Serve is no Longer Allowed

Getting spin on a serve has been part of the game since it was invented, but recently some players have found a clever loophole. By placing the ball between the paddle and their hand as they drop the ball they can create a huge amount of spin. The technique is known as a chainsaw serve, and was pioneered by Zane Navratil and Morgan Evans.

The new rule change means that players can now only use one hand to drop the ball for a volley serve, and that hand has to be bare (no glove). No additional spin can be put on the ball when tossing the ball into the air prior to striking the ball with your paddle.

  • Rule 4.A.6.a - The Server Must Hit the Ball After it Bounces. 

This rule applies to drop serves. Simply put, the only change to this rule is to clarify that the ball can bounce as many times as the player likes, and that it can bounce anywhere on the playing surface. 

  • Rule 4.A.5 - The Release of the Ball Must be Visible to the Receiver and Referee. 

As part of the change which rules out the chainsaw serve, when a player performs a volley serve, the release of the ball must be visible to their opponent and the referee (if one is present). This is to make sure no secretive spin is placed on the ball using anything other than the player's hand. 

  • Rule 4.B.8 - Before the Serve Occurs, Any Player may Ask the Referee for the Score, Correct Server or Receiver, Correct Player Position, and may Challenge/Confirm the Called Score. 

Previously, if a player felt that the incorrect player was about to serve, he or she couldn’t challenge it. Now, this is allowed. 

  • Rule 4.K - Wrong Score Called 

If the server or referee calls the wrong score, once the serve is made, play shall continue to the end of the rally and the correction is made before the next serve. Therefore, now, if a player stops play after the serve has been taken because of an incorrect score call it is a fault.

  • Rule 7.J - After The Serve, A Ball Contacting Any Permanent Object Before Bouncing On The Court.

Once a score has been called the server has ten seconds to take their serve. If the server inadvertently drops the ball and it touches a wall or fence, for example, there is no fault and the server can continue to take his serve (within the ten seconds).

Knowing the Rules of Engagement

A good grasp of the rules of pickleball is essential to enjoying the game. Everyone on the court should have a clear understanding of the rules so as to avoid confusion and disappointment. 

Once everyone’s on the same page, it makes for a happy and fun-filled game, and that’s what pickleball is about!

Be sure to get out there and PRACTICE the serve to be ready for your next match:

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