Illegal Pickleball Serves - it can be a fine line to call

Illegal Pickleball Serves are technically illegal (funny that) but there can sometimes be a very fine line between what is legal and an illegal serve and in the end does it really matter.

First up let’s be reminded what a legal serve is as defined by the OFFICIAL TOURNAMENT RULEBOOK Last Revised: June 15, 2016

Illegal Pickleball Serves

“QUOTE - Section 4 – Service Rules

4.A. Serve Motion: The serve must be made with an underhand stroke so that contact with the ball is made below waist level (waist is defined as the navel level)

4.A.1. Underhand Defined. The arm must be moving in an upward arc and the paddle head shall be below the wrist when it strikes the ball (paddle head is that part of the paddle excluding handle. The highest point of the paddle head cannot be above any part of line formed where the wrist joint bends)


Now standard play shows that most people comply with these pretty basic and simple serving rules. Aside a good deep serve, a servers approach is to get the ball in and let the game be played because that is where the game is predominately won; in play not on serve.

A good serve by most players would have them serve a deep, soft looping serve to the receiver which keeps them as long as possible or behind the base line which means the return shot takes more time to come back, the shot options and their degree of difficulty for effective placement is increased and this gives the serving side the best possible advantage in its return because it gives the serving side maximum potential in subsequent shot placement and effectiveness and time to get to the kitchen line. This as we know, is or at least should be everybody’s goal as that is where most points are statistically won from.

Now some would say that your beautiful soft looping deep serve should have a bit of difficulty added to it in the form of a bit of top spin applied so as to force the receiving player to step back even further to hit the ball back. 

And here in lies a bit of a conundrum because there are players who are simply happy to get the serve in and then play the percentages and there are those that believe the ‘normal’ serve is a wasted resource. I for one being an ex-tennis player belong in that wasted resource camp and want to be able to make the most of my serving opportunity.

It means those who want to gain as much advantage as they can from a serve by doing more with the ball, be it to apply spin, to add pace, to get it to swerve or kick, that things can get more exacting and undefined in the process of pushing the serve action to extract more of the opportunity which in turn can make it very difficult to call an illegal pickleball serve.

For a right hander to really crack on some top-right spin for example, you really do need to swipe the paddle across the back of the ball in such a way that it does indeed move in an upward arc to get it spinning forward but to also flick your paddle outside to inside to have it spin off of the vertical. At the point that it does that it borders the fine line of having the highest point of the paddle head above the line where the wrist joint bends.

And it all happens so fast, unless you have slow motion video of it, it makes for one very difficult call if deemed to be an illegal serve.

And the same could be said for other serves that have some applied heat to them in some way shape or form. Calling illegal Pickleball Serves on the criteria given is such a hard call and it might be prudent to allow any method of getting a serve to the other end? 

However, for the moment at least, illegal pickleball serves are defined in simple terms and we all know how to serve a legal serve. It only becomes complicated when we try to maximize our serving opportunity which may need a rule change to accommodate if more ex-tennis players like myself start to play the game. Personally I think that is inevitable.

A part of the game that should be clarified is that when and who should call a ball in or out of play. Pickleball Line Counts can be a contentious part of play in any game and pickleball is no exception. Here are the rules to line calls and the ethics of making a ball in or ball out decision. Learn more here: Pickleball Line Counts Are not Confusing - Just Hard to Pick

Other people who have read this page go onto read...

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