In my last column titled “Old Dog New Tricks” I discussed major changes. The sport of pickleball has initiated new rules beginning in 2021. While many of the ruling changes are related to tournament play, one of the biggest changes that will affect daily social rotational play is the drop serve. The initial announcement regarding the basic definition of the drop serve is as follows:
A new provisional rule allows for a “drop serve.” The server has the option of dropping the ball and hitting it after the bounce. The ball can be dropped from any height but cannot be thrown, tossed, or otherwise released with any added force to bounce it.
So, what does this all mean to us as an average daily recreational player? First off, let’s review the rules as they relate to the traditional “out of hand” serve in pickleball.
The server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc when the ball is struck. Paddle contact with the ball must not be made above the waist level. The head of the paddle must not be above the highest part of the wrist at contact.
A ‘drop serve’ is also permitted in which case none of the elements above apply.
At the time the ball is struck, the server’s feet may not touch the court or be outside the imaginary extension of the sideline or centerline. At least one foot must be behind the baseline on the playing surface or the ground behind the baseline.
The serve is made diagonally crosscourt and must land within the confines of the opposite diagonal court.
Only one serve attempt is allowed per server.
Now let’s review the new rules regarding the drop serve.
Rule 9.B – DROP-BOUNCE SERVE (Provisional Drop Serve). The server must drop the ball from the hand or the paddle face, with no added force, and hit the ball after the ball bounces. There is no restriction on where the ball bounces. No service motion restrictions apply to a drop-bounce serve. The swing can be made with either a forehand or backhand motion.
Rule 9.B.1 Fault – Force added to Ball Release. A fault occurs when the server adds force to the ball to initiate a drop-bounce serve.
Rule 9.B.2. Replay – Ball Release Not Visible. A replay must be called before the return of serve if the release of the ball is not visible.
Notes: The server can switch back and forth between this serve and a traditional NO-BOUNCE serve as often as they wish during a game. This is a PROVISIONAL rule which will be in effect for one year, then re-evaluated. It could go away for 2022.
As an instructor, I was seeing that many new players were having issues with hitting the traditional no bounce, ball in the air out of their hand serve. Even before the drop serve rule was initiated, I would often (as a practice drill) encourage my students to practice using a drop serve in order to better coordinate contact with the ball.
The purpose and utilization of dropping the ball from different heights is to initiate a bounce that will put the ball at a desired height for contact with the paddle, kind of like teeing up a golf ball for your drive.
As a competitive player I see utilizing the drop serve more as a safety valve, much like using a higher percentage second serve in tennis to help assure that I don’t fault and lose my serve when I’m under pressure.
Will the drop serve remain to be a permanent change to the game? Only time will tell.
I personally hope that in recreational play, the drop serve remains as a permanent rule.
The simplicity of hitting the drop serve provides an opportunity for beginner level players to get more serves in, which translates to playing out more points, which helps to improve our strokes and our understanding of strategies, which translates into being more confident about our game. But most importantly, it just makes playing more fun!
So, no matter what level player you may be, give the drop serve a try and see how it might fit into your game.
Wayne Clark is a professional tennis instructor with over 25 years’ experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction and is on staff as an instructor with The Naples Pickleball Center and Training Academy at East Naples Community Park. Contact Coach Wayne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.