You’ll find both of these serves are easy to learn. They are semi-legal in that the ball is hit below the wrist and below the waist. However, some may dispute whether the strokes are truly underhand. The reason these would not work in tournament play is that they’d be called distractions.
The first serve is normal in most ways, except the paddle is swung around in two big, slow circles before hitting the ball. Optionally, you can put a spin on the ball as I am doing in the video. A little practice, and you’ll probably master this serve.
The second serve is more difficult. First, learn to toss the paddle in the air and let it spin one revolution before catching it. Then learn to do it with two spins. To protect your paddle, practice this over something soft like a carpet or lawn.
Work on holding the paddle vertically so that it doesn’t wobble in the air. If it wobbles, it will catch air, and the position of the handle after the spinning will become unpredictable.
Once two spins are so easy you don’t have to look at the catch, learn to throw up the ball simultaneously with the paddle. The throw must be high enough to allow the two spins to be completed before you hit the ball.
There is a tendency to hit this second serve above your waist. The trick is to learn to wait until the ball falls further.
You’ll find this second serve difficult on windy days, since the slightest puff will move the paddle, and you may miss the handle when you try to grip it.
One of the courts I frequently play on is partially covered with shade trees. For many players, seeing the pickleballs in the mottled shade and sun is difficult. This affects some players more than others. Colorblindness may be the issue. It is surprisingly common. (Try the fun little colorblindness test and exercise, and find out whether you are colorblind.)
So, I brought some ‘optic pink’ pickleballs to the courts, and sure enough, some players were able to see them better. However, other players felt they could see the yellow balls we had been using better.
In any case, the pink balls are fun because they are so different.
After lots of hard play, none have cracked yet, a problem that used to frequently plague pickleballs until a few years ago. They do get scuffed. Man, do they get scuffed! As you can see in the picture above, one is brand new, the other has been used for less than ten games.
To my surprise, when you slice and otherwise try spin shots, it seems that the scuffed ones don’t perform any better than the brand new ones.
In all other ways than color, these are exactly like the regular Franklin outdoor pickleballs. They have the same weight, number and size of holes, bounciness, and so on.
The only source I have found for these pickleballs is Ebay .
When you are in a dink rally at the kitchen and the ball bounces high enough, you have an opportunity to use a forehand power shot with topspin.
The idea is that you sweep the paddle forward but also with an upward motion, while it is tilted forward. This scrubs against the ball and gives it topspin.
The topspin seems to lift the ball up over the net, and then it will drop quickly. Many top players expect this, and can return it handily, but with intermediate players, and in many cases even among top players, it will win the point. If sent long, as a passing shot, the top spin will keep it from passing the baseline. If sent to the players’ feet, it will drop so quickly that they can’t respond. It can even be used to hit an opposing player, although that’s certainly not a good tactic for sociable pickleball.
One of the nifty things about topspin is that if it hits the tape at the top of the net, it is more likely to roll over and fall into the opponent’s court than to bounce back to your side.
The one caveat when learning to use forehand topspin is that it is difficult to determine when a ball has bounced high enough. At first, you may have a lot of embarrassing blasts into the net.
In general, if the ball bounces higher than the top of the net, you can execute forehand topspin.
Note, the accompanying video was written before the new bounce-serve rule was created. That rule was provisional in 2021. In 2022 it became permanent.
Now, in addition to serving a ball dropped from your hand, you can bounce a ball, and then hit it as a serve. As it turns out, these techniques work just as well with bounce serves. In fact, the bounce serves eliminate the need for making sure that you serve with the paddle below your waist and below your wrist, so using the following techniques with bounce serves works out very nicely.
There are few serving techniques that are legal and yet yield useful results. Therefore, you might notice that the most advanced players seldom try to win a point on a serve. Instead, the advanced player will focus on putting the ball as close to the baseline as possible, even if it is a high, gentle serve. This prevents the advanced opponent from approaching the kitchen for a fast diagonal return.
But, there is at least two serves that can win points, sometimes even with advanced players.
One serving technique that I’ve been playing with is a rather drastic spin. When enough spin and speed is applied, many players have trouble returning this serve well. The beginners can’t return it at all. Most don’t even manage to contact the ball with their paddle. The advanced players can return it, but they may have moved so far out of position that you can reply with a solid diagonal ground stroke or a diagonal kitchen dink that they’ll then miss.
OK, so what I’m talking about is generally an underhand serve. As you know, unless you use a bounce serve, you have to contact the ball below your waist or belly button, and below your wrist. In order for a bounce serve to be legal, you can’t toss the ball up, or throw it down. It must be a drop, and therefore, the best way to hit it is with a mostly underhand stroke. Some people will hit it like a forehand with a stroke parallel to the ground, but that won’t help for these spin serves.
The first variation involves swinging the paddle rapidly from the middle of your body to the outside as you drop the ball to the paddle or as it bounces up from a serve. This should also be hit low, and with a lot of speed. At the end of the serve, your arm and paddle will probably be high over your head. That’s just fine, as long as you hit the ball after it has dropped to a point below your waist in the case of a non-bounce serve. This works best from the right-hand side of the court if you are a right-hander. The ideal serve will skid off the ground toward the outside front corner of the court, just behind the kitchen line. Even though you are serving to a right-hander 89% of the time, and that’s a shot to your recipient’s forehand, they generally don’t cover that part of the court well. Furthermore, the spin will cause the ball to bounce off the recipient’s paddle erratically.
Of course left-handers will have even more trouble with long serves to the right corner of the court.
This is not an easy serve to master, but well worth the effort. Once mastered, it can become a very fast and low serve, throwing even advanced opponents off balance at the beginning of the rally.
Slightly more difficult to master is the reverse spin serve, as shown in the second part of the video. This one breaks to the recipient’s left. The general idea is to scrub the paddle against the ball in an outside to inside motion as you hit it.
You might also experiment with high spin serves. You’d think they are easier to return, but go ahead and try some high spin serves and see what happens!
To execute a forehand topspin, scrub the paddle upward against the ball, while the face of the paddle is tilted slightly forward. In the video, the motion is exaggerated.
This is a maneuver that should executed when you feel you have a strong advantage in a kitchen rally. If you try this too soon, without enough advantage, it will most likely come back to you even faster, beyond a speed at which you can react.
You may have gently bounced the ball back and forth a number of times with your opponents. You patiently waited until they were out of position, or gave you the ball a little too high. That’s when you use your forehand topspin. One of the best places to put this is directly between the two opponents.
This has several advantages over a flat shot. First, it is fast, and goes low to the players’ feet. It will also clear the net when a flat shot won’t, because the ball is slightly lifted and spun as it is hit, giving it an arc over the net. Finally, if it hits the tape at the top of the net, it will have forward spin traction and is more likely to roll across to the opponents’ side, than to fall on your side. And, once it hits the tape, it will pop strangely, being nearly impossible to hit back with any accuracy.
Some of the techniques discussed on this website will carry you only so far. Spin serves, slices, hard passing shots, overhand smashes will bring you to perhaps 4.0 status, but if you try to use those very same techniques at higher levels of play, you’ll lose every game.
Why? Because many people go through this stage, and the advanced players have learned to respond to all your flamboyant moves.
If you watch a typical 5.0-level game, you’ll see that the players mostly use conventional moves. They serve deep, but not necessarily fast and low. They return deep, again, not necessarily fast or low.
They drop the third shot into the kitchen, and most often into the middle, not angled to one side. Then they have a soft rally until a genuine opportunity comes along. The intermediate pickleballer tends to end soft kitchen rallies too soon by taking a shot that might be a winner, instead of waiting for one that will be a winner. You’ll often see the best pickleball players wait out a kitchen rally for a very long time, until that decisive moment comes along. And, it might not even require an offensive move. Your opponent may make a mistake, hitting the ball into the net, or may try an offensive move, that you can easily slam back even harder.