What are pickleball’s service rules? It’s important to get into the sport knowing its rules and traditions and that starts with understanding the intricacies associated with serving in pickleball. Read on to get this exhaustive guide.
On the surface of it, pickleball is similar to tennis but when you scratch more than just the surface there are inherent differences between the two sports. The way players are allowed to serve is distinctly different in pickleball and it makes sense to get in-depth in trying to understand these serve rules before you start playing the sport.
After all you don’t want to be playing against fellow beginners but those who know these rules and etiquette, resulting in both, point-losses and a general sense of frustration for the others in action.
In the sections below, we have listed down all the major service rules associated with pickleball for easy perusal. If you are a beginner, you can also look at our overall pickleball rule book here, and our pickleball strategy guide for those just starting out on the sport just like you.
Pickleball Serve Rules
Below is the set of questions we will look to answer when it comes to the rule-book and etiquette associated with pickleball.
- Where to Stand and Serve?
- How to Serve?
- Calling Out the Score Before Serving
- Where Should the Serve land?
- What is a Let Serve? Examples and Rules Surrounding it
- Difference Between a Legal and an Illegal Serve
- Foot Faults
- The Best Pickleball Paddles for Beginners (and the Factors to Consider)
- 80+ Pickleball Phrases Which Will Make You Sound Like a Pro!
Where to Stand and Serve?
The first rule with regards to serving in pickleball is where the player should stand. The player who is serving should always stand in the box that is formed after the baseline and between the centreline and the sideline.
You are not allowed to touch either of the centreline or the sideline and make sure that you are always withing the box at all the time until the serve has left the racket.
In pickleball, there is no set number of times a player can serve. The server can continue serving until they lose the point. The serve starts on the right side of the server’s score is even and from the left-hand side of the score is odd.
How to Serve?
In Pickleball serving overhead like in tennis is not allowed. The serve must be done underhand, the motion of serving is close to how the ball is released in bowling. We shall cover the exact motion of serving and what makes a serve legal and illegal in a later section.
But the most important thing is to remember that the serve must not be overhead or even a sideway serve where the arm comes around from the side before serving.
There are very strict rules with regards to serving in pickleball where the motion, impact and angle matters a lot. But luckily, despite its specific nature, with practice these serves can become muscle memory and are easy to repeat over and over again.
An important thing to remember is that in pickleball, service is not used as an offensive option to gain an advantage in the point but to just start the play.
Calling Out Score Before Serving
The score should be called out before each point. There is a very specific format in which the score needs to be called and it changes with the singles match and a doubles match. In a singles match, the score will follow a two number format where the call out would follow a “Server’s core – Receiver’s Score” call out format.
On the other hand, calling out the score follows a more complex method in the doubles game. It follows a three number system to scoring. The first number to call will be the serving team’s points, the second will be of the receiving team’s points and the third will be either a “one” or a “two” which will indicate whether it is the first or the second chance of the player to serve.
So when the game starts, the score to be called out would be “0-0-Start” and then the player serving first will only have one chance to serve. From the first turnover of the serve onwards, each player will get two chances to serve.
So if the first player wins the point, the call out before the second point would be 1-0-Start but if the second player wins the point and serves the call out would be 0-1-1. If the second player wins another point, the next call out would be 0-2-2 but if the player A wins the serve back, the call out would be 1-1-1.
Where Should the Serve Land?
Coming to the second rule which is where should a serve land in order for it to be legal. So just like tennis, a pickleball serve is always served the cross court and can not be served straight. The opponent side of the court can be roughly divided into three categories, kitchen, crosscourt half and straight court half.
A kitchen is the seven feet area on each side of the court from side to side which is basically a non-volley zone and that area along with the straight side of where the player is serving can not be served into. If the serve lands on the line which acts as a border between the kitchen and the remaining half, the serve stands illegal.
But if the serve ends up landing on the other three borders of the cross-court half, ie cross-court halves border with straight court half, baseline and sideline, then the serve is deemed as legal. If the serve hits the net, the serve does not count unless it qualifies as a “let” which we shall look into in the next section.
What is a Let serve? Examples and Rules Surrounding it
Unlike Tennis, Pickleball does not allow a fault and double fault system while serving. The serve should land on the cross-court half only to be deemed legal.
The only way that the player serving gets a second chance is if the ball hits the net and lands in the opponent’s serve court. In that instance, the serve is called a “let” which means the rules let the serve to be taken again.
There is no limit to the number of times a let serve allows the server to take another serve. As long as the ball lands in the service court after hitting the net and has not touched the kitchen area or the kitchen line, the serve qualifies as a net and can be retaken.
Difference Between a Legal and an Illegal Serve
There are three primary rules with regards to serving in the pickleball that determines whether a serve is legal or illegal. Not all three rules have to be broken in order for a serve to be legal, if the server is in the breach of any of the three rules, the serve shall be deemed as illegal. Do keep in mind that there are other rules like foot fault, which we shall cover later that can also deem a serve to be not valid.
If a serve is to be deemed legal, it should meet the three criteria as follows. One, the serve should be made with an underhanded motion, which means that the motion of serving should come from low to high. Second, paddle face should be below the serving wrist at the point of contact.
Third, the impact of the racket with the ball must be done below the player’s waist. If any of these rules are not met with, the serve is deemed as illegal.
For example, if the motion of the serve is sideways rather then underhanded or if the wrist is below the face of the paddle upon contact or the contact with the ball is made above the waist, the serve shall be deemed as illegal.
Both feet must be behind the baseline before and during the serve. The server is only allowed to enter the court area until after the ball has been struck. If any of the foot touches the baseline court area or enters the court before the serve has been made, that shall result in a foot fault and the serve being turned over to the opponent if it is a singles match.
If it’s a doubles match, what happens with the turnover serve depends on who was serving in the first place. If the first player was serving and committed a foot fault, the serve would revert to the other partner.
But if the service fault was committed by the second server, a side-out will be called and the serve shall be turned over to the opposing team.
There you have it. Everything you wanted to know about pickleball service, its rules and traditions. You can also find our best tips associated with serving in pickleball here.