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Pickleball101 Illegal vs Legal Serves - Thepickleball lover

Pickleball101 Illegal vs Legal Serves

Are you looking to up your pickleball game? Then you’ve come to the right place!

The rules of Pickleball are designed to keep the game fair and fun for everyone. One of the most important aspects of Pickleball play is the serve. Knowing what type of serves are illegal and legal Serves will help ensure that you stay within the confines of the game.

In this article, we will discuss what constitutes an illegal vs a legal serve in Pickleball, so that you know exactly what is expected of you when you’re playing on court. We will also cover some tips on how to serve in a way that maximizes your chances of winning points.

With this comprehensive guide, you’ll be able to improve your Pickleball game in no time – so let’s get started!

What Are the Rules Regarding the Serve?

When it comes to serving in pickleball, the rules are fairly simple. Each time a player serves, they must hit the ball from behind the baseline and onto the other side of the court. The ball can be served in either an underhand or overhead motion, but must always be hit from below the waist on an underhand serve.

It is illegal for a player to:

  • Serve the ball before it has bounced once on their side of the court.
  • Strike to serve before their opponents have had a chance to get ready.
  • Serve diagonally across any portion of the non-volley zone (NVZ) if they are standing inside that NVZ while serving.
  • Allow their racquet to hit any part of the net or frame while hitting the ball in an underhand serve.

Serving correctly is crucial because if a player commits an illegal serve, it is considered a fault and requires them to re-serve until they do so correctly. This rule applies for both singles and doubles games. Learning these basics about serving can help you avoid having your non-volley zone violation or double bounce mistakes called against you!


A legal pickleball serve has several criteria. Let’s take a look at what they are:

  1. The ball must be served by the server from behind the baseline, without stepping onto the court.
  2. The serve must come over the net without touching it and must land within the proper area on the opposite side.
  3. The ball served cannot be touching anything else on its way over the net, other than a hand or racket of the server, prior to landing in bounds for a legal serve.
  4. A maximum of one fault can be made before putting the ball into play; if two faults are made, it is considered an illegal serve and then play stops until another serving attempt is made.
  5. A legal serve can take one bounce on each side of the net (a “let”) as long as it meets all other criteria mentioned above before bouncing back over to the receivers’ side of the court.
  6. If a legal serve takes two bounces on one side of the court or fails to reach or leaves its appropriate serving area, it’s considered an illegal serve, thus requiring another drive from behind the baseline by either player until a legal serve is made.

The Five Key Elements That Make Up a Legal Serve

There are five key elements that make up a legal serve in pickleball, that must be adhered to in order to remain within the rules of the game.

Aim and Direction

The ball must be served so that it travels diagonally and lands within the designated court of the opponent. This can be done with an underarm or overarm technique.

Height and Speed

The ball should be served with a rising arc over the net, no lower than 6” from the surface of the court, and no higher than 10’ from the surface. The speed should be fast enough for your opponent to return it to you, but slow enough for them to have a fair chance at doing so.

Contact With Paddle and Ball

The ball must come into contact with your paddle for at least two consecutive bounces before contacting your opponent’s court – otherwise known as ‘dribbling’. You cannot allow more than five consecutive bounces on your side either.

Contacting Surface

When serving, you must keep both feet behind the baseline until after you have contacted the ball – otherwise known as a ‘foot fault’. Foot faults can also occur if one foot passes outside of either sideline before contact is made with the ball.

Successful Return of Serve

Finally, if your opponent successfully returns your serve, then it has been deemed legal by default – regardless of whether all elements have been met or not.

How Is Fault Determined When Serving?

When serving in pickleball, you must ensure that you’re following the rules of the game and making sure your serve meets the requirements to be called a legal serve. There are a few criteria that a legal serve must meet in order to be called a fault and result in point loss for the offending player.

Height of Serve

The height of your serve must not exceed 6 feet, but it also cannot be lower than 4 feet high. If your serve exceeds either limit, it will be called out as a fault.

Location of Serve

Your serve should always land inside your opponent’s court that is diagonally opposite from where you are standing. You’ll want to make sure that both of your feet remain behind the baseline when serving so as not to exceed your court boundaries when serving.

Direction of Serve

You should always aim your serves toward the opposite court when playing pickleball – this means that you can’t hit the ball into the wall or floor first. It is illegal to do so, and it will result in a point for your opponent if called out as a fault.

Knowing how to properly execute a legal serve comes with practice and experience – but with these guidelines, you’ll know exactly how to identify an illegal vs legal serve in pickleball!

Common Mistakes When Serving

  • Serving is one of the more complicated aspects of pickleball and it can be difficult to get it right. While there are no specific rules that define how you need to serve, there are a few common mistakes that should be avoided, even if they aren’t always penalized:
  • Not releasing the ball before making contact – The ball should always be released before it is hit in order to stay within the rules. If you are found to be in violation of this rule, you may be fined or even disqualified from the game.
  • Making contact with the ball twice – You must only contact the ball once when serving and make sure to keep your non-racket hand out of the way. Make sure to practice your serve until you can hit it accurately with one motion.
  • Pushing or carrying the ball – The ball must bounce off the court surface during a legal serve, and cannot be rolled, pushed or carried across in any way.
  • Hitting through the back boundary line – The server must hit their serve from behind and within the back boundary line (also referred to as a ‘fault line’). If any part of your body crosses this line during a serve, you will lose points for that rally round.
  • Hitting below the waist – To ensure added safety for your opponent, all serves must go above waist-height when traveling across court and into their side of play. Hitting below this height will result in an illegal service call and could also result in disqualification if done intentionally or recklessly enough times throughout a game round.

Tips for a Better and More Legal Serve

When it comes to serving in pickleball, there are certain rules you must follow for a legal serve. Here are some tips to make sure your serves are up to par:

Swing Elbow Height

To make sure your service is legal, it’s important to keep your arm and elbow at shoulder height when delivering your serve. This will prevent the ball from going too high or low and help ensure it falls within legal limits.

Keep Your Arm Still

If you’re still developing your serves, it’s recommended that you keep your arm as still as possible when striking the ball. This will help you maintain a consistent delivery style and ensure the ball does not go over the net or land outside the court boundaries.

Follow-Through on the Serve

Following through with your serve can help increase power and accuracy. Make sure to follow through with the stroke after hitting the ball and keep your wrist firm – this will ensure that you hit the ball with power, yet also keep it inbounds.

Use Spin When Serving

Adding spin to your serve can add an extra layer of challenge for your opponents during rallies. To do this, make sure to brush up on different types of spin you can use and practice controlling it when delivering each serve. This will give you an edge in matches and make sure that each rally is engaging for both parties involved.


All in all, exercising caution when serving in pickleball is a must. Whether you are playing recreationally or in a tournament, being aware of illegal serves can save you from potential penalties. This can be done by simply following the rules for a legal serve, which is to stand at the back of the court, hold the paddle in an open, flat hand, make contact with the ball at the furthest reach of your arm, and have the ball bounce in the designated service area. That way, you can enjoy the game knowing that you are playing legally and fairly.

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