Best Pickleball Serve (7 Serves + 21 Tips to Serve Like A Pro)
After you’ve mastered the best pickleball serve – a basic serve that gets the ball over the net and in your opponent’s service court, it’s a good idea to add different types of serves to your pickleball tool kit. I’m covering 7 various types of serves and 21 quick tips that can help you serve like a pro.
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1. Power Serve
How to hit a power serve
Learning how to hit a power serve can be tricky but the key is to ensure you use a full swing that leverages your core while rotating your hips. The power doesn’t come from hitting the ball harder with your paddle, it transfers from your legs, core, and hips.
This is a good serve to learn.
When using a power serve, remember to follow through on your swing. Don’t stop your arm mid-way and flick the ball from your wrist or elbow. Use your legs and core while aiming low and the hit should be powerful and fast, landing near the baseline.
Flicking the ball won’t add any speed or power to your serve. In fact, the ball is more likely to die early and not make it to the back of the court.
The other key factor to remember is that although you need a good, solid grip on your paddle to prevent dropping it, you don’t want a really tight grip which might cause you to hit the ball out of bounds or lose control.
Holding your pickleball paddle too tight is also using your energy unnecessarily.
Pros & Cons of a Power Serve
One pro of the power serve is that the extra speed can make it difficult for beginner pickleball players to successfully hit. The power serve, especially if you haven’t been using it in your pickleball game, can also surprise the opposing team especially if you’ve been hitting a slower serve.
The main con of a power serve is that unless you’ve perfected it, you can easily hit the ball out of bounds.
The other con is that if your opponent is ready to return a power serve, they can hit a hard, fast ball because of the momentum they’ll pick up from your serve.
Skill level: 2
After mastering a basic deep serve, the power serve is a reasonably easy serve to learn.
2. Lob Serve
How to hit a lob serve
The lob serve is fairly easy to learn. It’s a serve that goes high and lands deep in your opponent’s service court. To successfully hit a lob serve, your paddle should connect more towards the underside of the ball and your follow-through is up toward the sky rather than forward.
A good lob serve, also known as a high soft serve, will have an upward arc that is aiming for the back 1/3 of the pickleball court, keeping your opponent deep in their court.
It will leave them with an awkward point of contact with the ball which means it’s more likely that your opponent will hit the ball short or too deep and out past the baseline.
It’s also a serve that can be easily served out of bounds. When lining up to hit your lob serve, aim 2-3 feet inside the baseline so you can hopefully avoid hitting an unforced error.
If you want to add a bit more complexity, put some spin on your lob serve which should give it more trajectory and a bit more bounce.
Pros & Cons of a Lob Serve
One pro of the lob serve is that it will keep your opponent deep and make it a bit trickier for them to hit a strong return of serve. There’s very little speed so the receiver has to create their own power and speed.
One con of the lob serve is that because you’re hitting the ball high, it’s more likely to be caught by the wind. When setting up your serve, remember to take wind conditions into consideration.
Skill level: 2
The lob serve is the easiest way to introduce a new serve into your serve line-up and a great option for new players. After learning how to hit a deep serve, practice adding height to your serve, making it harder for your opponent to hit the return of serve.
3. Centerline Serve
How to hit a centerline serve
Learning how to hit a centerline serve takes practice but the key is to stand behind the baseline of your service court by the centerline and serve as you typically would but aim the ball to land just inside the centerline of your opponent’s service court.
The centerline serve is a serve that can easily take your opponent off-guard.
In most situations, your opponent will anticipate some power and a deep serve but they won’t likely anticipate a serve that lands on or just inside the centerline
It’s not that difficult to learn but it’s a bit tricky for obvious reasons.
A couple of key rules to remember when using this serve are:
- The server’s feet can’t touch the imaginary extensions of the sideline or centerline (Rule 4.A.4.c.).
- The server must serve to their opponent’s service court, diagonally from the server’s service court (Rule 4.A.2).
- A serve must clear the non-volley zone and the non-volley zone lines (Rule 4.A.2)
Pros & Cons of a Centerline Serve
The main pro of the centerline serve is that your opponent won’t anticipate it. Another pro is that your opponent might think the ball is going outside their service court and won’t hit it. This is the same pro as hitting a ball down the centerline during a rally.
One con about the centerline serve is that in rec play you are relying on your opponent to call the ball in or out. This can be difficult for your opponent to call because their eyes may not be on the centerline.
What this means for you is that you might find the serve being incorrectly called out instead of in simply because the receiver is not focused on a ball landing on the centerline.
And their partner is likely standing at the non-volley zone line (kitchen line)and may not be watching where the ball lands.
Skill level: 2 – 3
The centerline serve isn’t too difficult to learn – just a lot of repetition to build muscle memory and accuracy. Given that you’re aiming to hit the ball down the centerline and confuse your opponents, it’s also easier for you to hit the ball into the wrong service court.
4. Kitchen-Corner Serve
How to hit a kitchen corner serve
Learning how to hit a kitchen corner serve is tricky but will surprise your opponent. Serve as you normally would but with less power. When serving the ball aim for it to land in your opponent’s service court just inside the sideline and just outside the non-volley zone line.
The kitchen-corner serve, also known as the soft angle serve, can easily surprise your opponent. It’s an uncommon serve, that’s for sure.
Typically, your opponent will stand at the back of their service court, well outside the baseline because they’re expecting you to hit a deep serve.
The kitchen-corner serve is not that difficult to learn but it’s a bit tricky to get the ball to land in bounds.
A couple of key rules to remember when using this serve are covered in Rule 4.A.2:
- A serve must clear the non-volley zone and the non-volley zone lines
- The serve may land on any other service court line
Pros & Cons of a Kitchen-Corner Serve
The main pro of the kitchen-corner serve is the surprise factor making it harder to return the ball. Another pro is that it will force your opponent to the corner of the non-volley zone and sideline, out of position for a third shot drop to the back of the court.
One con about the kitchen-corner serve is that placement of the ball is tricky to consistently achieve without regular practice. You’re trying to place the ball in a spot that could easily land the ball either on the non-volley zone line or in the non-volley zone. Or, outside the sideline.
Skill level: 3
I don’t find the kitchen corner serve difficult to learn, just tricky with a lot of room for an unforced error.
5. Top Spin Serve
How to hit a top spin serve
Learning how to hit a top spin serve is tricky. Hold your pickleball paddle so that it’s more perpendicular to the net, in a semi-closed position. Swing in a low to high motion up under the ball and finish with your paddle up towards your opposite shoulder.
Stand in a semi-open stance. Drop your paddle head below the contact point of the ball with a loose wrist. Accelerate your swing right through so your paddle finishes up by your opposite shoulder.
The updated 2022 rules from USA Pickleball Association state that only one hand can be used to spin the ball and the paddle can’t be used to help. This new rule has made the chainsaw serve an illegal serve.
Pros & Cons of a Top Spin Serve
The main pro of hitting a top spin serve is that it’s difficult for your opponent to predict where the ball will go. That means your opponent can line up to return the ball but it may not go where expected, making the top spin serve a very effective serve.
The biggest con of a top spin serve is perfecting it so that you don’t need to worry about hitting it into the net or the non-volley zone. It’s a difficult serve to learn and will take a lot of practice. Once you’ve perfected a top spin serve, you’ll win more games.
Skill level: 5
The top spin serve is one of the more difficult serves to learn and consistently hit.
6. Rip Serve
How to hit a rip serve
Learning how to hit a rip serve takes practice. The swing is similar to hitting a golf ball. Start from behind, let the paddle lag, and then at the last minute snap the paddle as you connect with the ball, resulting in a hard, fast serve with top spin.
7. Drop Serve
How to use the drop serve
The drop serve is when a pickleball player hits the serve off a bounce. Hitting the ball after a bounce can allow the server to add top spin or backspin on the pickleball, making it difficult for the opponent to return the ball.
21 Quick Tips to Serve Like A Pro
Tips to Serve Like a Pro – Beginner Skill Level
Here are 21 quick tips that will be helpful to keep in mind as you’re practicing your game and working on your serve. Remember, it’s not about the perfect serve – it’s about building consistent serve that has the ball landing in the proper service court.
1. Find a pre-serve routine and stick to it
It’s tricky for some players to find a pre-serve routine but this is a pickleball serving tip that is worth figuring out.
The right pre-serve routine can help you relax making it easier to focus on your next steps. It can also help you get into the proper position for serving and think through which serve you want to use – volley, drop, with spin, no spin, ball placement etc…
2. Say the score completely before serving the ball
Not only is this an official rule, but it’s very good advice, especially for a beginner.
And here’s why: it’s easier for most people to focus on one thing at a time – in this case, focus on saying the entire score and then switch to focusing on serving the ball.
The entire score includes the serving team points, your opponent’s points and your server position (1 or 2).
Example score: 3-1-1 – your team has 3 points, your opponents have 1 point and you are the first server in the rally.
As an FYI, the serving rule that pertains to saying the entire score before serving the ball is Rule 4.A.1.
The other important point to remember about saying the score is that once you’ve said the score, you only have 10 seconds to serve the ball. The rule is actually called the 10-second rule and its Rule 4.E. in the rulebook:
Once the score has been called, the server is allowed 10 seconds to serve the ball.
3. Stay loose and swing from your shoulder
When serving the ball, swing from your shoulder in a pendulum motion and swing right through the motion. Don’t swing from your elbow or flick your wrist. But most importantly, keep your arm loose, not stiff.
4. Finish your serve by swinging through
Once you’ve connected your paddle with the pickleball ball, keep your swing moving so you get a complete connection with the ball.
5. Avoid over-rotating on your backswing
Over-rotating your arm feet/knees or shoulders on the backswing can cause the ball to go in a direction that you hadn’t planned.
6. Stand in a semi-closed or partially closed stance
Position your feet in a semi-closed or partially closed stance – whatever is comfortable and whatever works best for you and puts you in a position to hit the pickleball with an underhand serve a ball that lands inside the service area.
7. Hit the pickleball close to your body and in front
I’ve seen many pickleball players serve a ball that doesn’t conform to this concept and it can work.
However, a beginner will succeed more by practicing and perfecting this serve strategy.
9. Pick a serve style, practice & perfect it
Decide which serve style will work best for you. Most beginner players start with the traditional volley (toss serve)
10. Keep your eye on the pickleball
This sounds obvious but I have been guilty of not keeping an eye on the ball. But this is such a critical habit for a successful serve.
11. Hit a deep serve
Hit a deep serve into your opponent’s court. It’s to your advantage to keep your opponent towards the baseline, rather than close to or at the non-volley zone.
Many players find the return of serve a bit more difficult when the ball lands at the baseline.
Not all players can anticipate how far behind they need to stand in order to be in a position to get a full swing once the ball does land.
It’s also difficult to know whether the ball will be in or out which means some players will hesitate and not return the serve thinking that it will be out of bounds.
12. Anticipate the wind when lining up your serve
The strength and direction of the wind can make all the difference in whether your serve lands where you intended it to land. If time permits, take a second or two for the wind to settle (which is tricky to do given you don’t have a lot of time to wait before serving) or anticipate where the ball will go with the wind and line your serve up.
13. Keep your eye on the ball
This tip seems obvious but surprisingly, it’s not uncommon for players to take their eye off the ball when serving. In fact, it’s easy to lose focus of the ball and look across the net when their eyes should have been following the ball from before the serve, contact and follow-through.
14. Give yourself room for error
15. Mix up your serves
Try different serves to keep your opponent guessing where you’ll be aiming the ball. It’s okay to repeat a serve if you want to practice it but at some point your opponent will have learned how to return it.
But, if you’re opponent consistently has difficulty returning one style of serve, then repeating the serve gives you a good opportunity to gain some quick points.
16. Pick the best pickleball paddles for you
There are a few factors to consider when choosing a pickleball paddle. It needs to be the right weight and easy for you to hold and swing. A heavier paddle might make it difficult for you to get a good swing and could cause tennis elbow. A mid-weight pickleball paddle is usually the best idea for most players.
17. Practice by doing pickleball drills
It’s great to play pickleball games but the best way for newer players to learn and get better is to do drills.
There are many different drills that you can practice on your own or with a partner.
Tips to Serve Like a Pro – Advanced Skill Level
18. Hit the pickleball to your opponent’s backhand
Most beginner pickleball players find it difficult to successfully hit a return of serve that has been aimed at their backhand so this is a perfect spot to target your serve.
If you master successfully hitting a serve to your opponent’s forehand – practice serving the ball deep into your opponent’s backhand. There’s a good chance that you’ll win that point either because your opponent can’t return the serve or because when they hit the ball, it will be a weak shot that may or may not make it over the net.
When serving the ball, aim deep into the court but not so deep that a bit of wind or miscalculation is sure to have your ball going outside the court – whether this is at the baseline, sideline, or the centerline.
Use a back-board at a local tennis court, or the wall in your garage. The repetition of purposefully practicing shots will pay off once you get on the court.
19. Aim close to the center line
As long as you hit the ball so it lands in the receiver court, it’s okay if it’s touching the center line.
Placing the ball this close to or on the center line makes it tricky for the receiver to know if it will land in or out. In some situations, they’ll not hit the serve of return and lose the point to the
20. Generate power – the power serve
Focus on this tip after perfecting and getting consistent with the serving tips for beginner players.
Use your legs and core to generate more power and strength in your serve. This skill takes time to learn and perfect but it’s worth it.
When using the drop serve, extend your arm above your head and slightly in front of your body on your paddle side. This position will give you the best opportunity for a good bounce and once the ball bounces, it should make it easier for you to connect with the ball because you’ve aligned yourself, the paddle and the pickleball
21. Put spin on your serve
Learning how to put a spin on your serve will make the return of serve more difficult. Intermediate and advanced players typically put a spin on the ball when serving and can make it difficult for the receiving team to successfully hit the return of serve
Pickleball Serving Rules
The USA Pickleball Association manages the rulebook for USAPA Sanctioned Tournaments but the rule book is the standard for non-sanctioned tournaments, recreational play and league play.
The pickleball serve rules are important to understand and the 2 serve related changes that were made in 2022 are:
Spin Serves (Rule 4.A.5): In summary, only one hand can be used to release the ball. No fancy 2-handed, fancy stuff allowed.
The Drop Shot (Rule 4.A.6): The drop serve is now official and the provisional status was removed.
The serve rules are very comprehensive and can be found in section 4 of the USAPA Rule Book. A few pickleball serve basics:
When serving in pickleball, the serve rules state the entire score must be called before the ball is served. The server must serve to the diagonal service court and the serve must clear the NVZ and the NVZ lines. The ball may land on any other service court line.
When serving in pickleball, the serve rules state that the server must use an underhand stroke in either a forehand or backhand motion that must not contact the ball above the waist. The highest point of the paddle head must not be above the highest part of the wrist.
FAQs – Best Pickleball Serve – 7 Serves [+ 21 Tips to Serve Like A Pro]
Is the chainsaw pickleball serve legal?
The chainsaw pickleball serve is not legal. The USAPA rule states: the server shall use only one hand to release the ball to perform the serve. If the ball is visibly spun by the server during the release, the part(s) of the hand contacting the ball must be bare.
Is a top spin serve legal in pickleball?
Yes, a top spin serve is legal in pickleball. The USAPA rule: the server shall use only one hand to release the ball to perform the serve. If the ball is visibly spun by the server during the release, the part(s) of the hand contacting the ball must be bare.
What’s an ace serve in pickleball?
An ace serve in pickleball is a serve that the receiving team can’t return. Sometimes the receiving side misses a basic serve but sometimes the server has added side spin (sometimes called a hook serve) or hit a top spin serve. Both these serves are hard to return.