The serve in both tennis and pickleball is a vital and important part of the strategy of the game.
In the sport of tennis, being the server gives you the advantage of having first strike opportunity to take strategic control of the point. Because of the fact that you have two serves, you have the option of going for a big boomer on the first serve and if needed, kick the second serve in and get the point underway.
The strategic use of the serve in pickleball is a bit different because you are only allowed one serve and you can only score points while you are serving. Due to these two facts, you are not necessarily going for a shot that will dominate your opponent with your first strike of the ball.
While the serve motions in tennis and pickleball are completely opposite of one another, there are similarities in the requirements of execution of the stroke for both sports. These similarities are that the ball must be struck out of hand, in the air, and must be hit to the designated service box.
So with all of those facts out on the table, let’s review the three basic rules of a legal serve in pickleball, which are:
(1) The serve must be executed in an underhand motion; (2) Contact with the ball must be made below the waist, and (3) The level of the paddle must be below the wrist when it contacts the ball.
I will attempt in, layman’s terms, to explain each of these individually.
Underhand motion: Simple enough to understand and comprehend, the motion must be of an underhand nature, like rolling a bowling ball.
Contact below the waist: This one can have somewhat of a grey area in its actual perception of execution. One of the best descriptions I have heard, is the contact of the paddle to the ball must be made below the belly button. We all know where that is located and it is located in the same spot on everyone!
Paddle below the wrist: Again, somewhat of a grey area in its actual perception of execution. Simply stated, the top (aka 12 o’clock) point of the paddle must be below the wrist at point of contact with the ball.
Adhering to these three restrictions can be somewhat of a challenge for beginners and I often see players who are new to the game serve with more of a forehand feed than an underhand motion. As an instructor, while I encourage these players to make an effort to learn a proper serve motion, I also tell them that it’s (temporarily) okay to continue to utilize whatever serve motion they need to use to get the ball in play.
With that said, old/bad habits are hard to break and while I don’t recommend players continue to utilize fundamentals which are incorrect and restrictive to the progression of their abilities, I feel it is important for beginners to actually be playing points and understanding strategies ASAP.
As I stated at the beginning of this column, the serve in tennis and pickleball is a vital and important part of the strategy of the game. In both sports, high percentages are the foundation of a winning strategy. The comprehension and understanding of properly executing sound fundamentals in the serve motion is a key factor in obtaining and sustaining high percentages.
So get out and play, have fun, and learn from the school of hard knocks (aka winning and losing). But don’t keep programing strokes which are fundamentally incorrect and possibly against the rules of the game. Seek out a qualified instructor and make sure your fundamentals are sound and your percentages are high.
Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. Contact Coach Wayne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.