When pickleball was created by the State Representative Joel Pritchard in 1965, the future Lieutenant Governor of Washington could not have imagined the game would become so successful over five decades later. Legend has it, Pickleball was invented when the Pritchard family could not find the shuttlecock for a badminton game and the family fashioned a hybrid sport using wooden paddles, a plastic Wiffle ball, and a lowered badminton net. The hybrid nature of Pickleball means its rules, including the serve, are a combination of those used in tennis, badminton, and table tennis, with a few uniquely designed for the sport.
Firstly, Pickleball serves must be made using an underhand motion similar to that used when pitching during a softball game. The ball must be struck using an upward arc when the ball is below the navel, but before it hits the ground for the service to be classed as legal and not called as a fault. The idea behind Pickleball is to give players a better chance of engaging in rallies, which means the use of overhead serves on the shortened court of the sport would make returning a service almost impossible.
In the same way as most racquet sports, Pickleball serves are made diagonally to the opposite serving area, in this case, the 15 feet by 10 feet rectangle at each side of the court. Each service must reach the opposing player’s correct service area in order to be classed as legal and not called a fault. During each service, the server must remain on the correct side of the center line and not touch the baseline with their foot during a serve.
One way Pickleball courts differ from their neighbors in other racquet sports is through the use of a no-volley, or kitchen area. The no volley area extends seven feet from the net on either side of the court and must be cleared during a service for the point to continue. If the ball touches the kitchen line it is classed as a fault and the point cannot be won by the server.
There is a difference between a fault and a let in Pickleball similar to the difference in other racquet sports. A let is called in Pickleball when the ball strikes the net but still moves onto the opponent’s side and lands in the correct serving area; in contrast, a fault is called when a ball strikes the net and falls in the no-volley zone or the incorrect service area of the opponent.
Faults can be called for a variety of reasons, including the server striking a service when the ball is above their navel. A fault is also called if a server swings at the ball and misses it during their service action, but is not called if the player does not attempt to hit their service. Faults can also be called when the ball hits the server anywhere other than on their paddle when serving or when the ball lands outside the boundary of the court.
Once the basics of serving in Pickleball have been mastered players can begin to work on improving their skills by using the various service options open to them. The rules of Pickleball state a player on each side of the net must hit the ball after one bounce before a scoring volley can be played, which means driving an opponent as far back into the court as possible is preferred in the sport. As is all sports, playing on the weakness of an opponent is a good option for getting a positive result from your service.
The use of spin is difficult to master in Pickleball, but not impossible. The paddle cannot move to the left or right when serving but topspin can be added to the ball to make a return much more difficult for an opposing player. A second option to try and master is disguising a change in speed and power between serves to catch out an opponent through a change of pace during the service.