Posted on 17 Comments

Legal Spin Serves

Legal Pickleball Spin Serves

Note, the accompanying video was created before the new bounce-serve rule was created. That rule was provisional in 2021. In 2022 it became permanent. I hope to have a new version adding variations of the drop serve soon.

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!

Also see Abusing Opponents with Spin Serves.

17 thoughts on “Legal Spin Serves

  1. Thanks, I’ve been told my reverse was illegal. Now I know it is a legal.

  2. Some these serves look illegal as the ball is being hit above the wrist. Why risk a serve like this, the chance of somebody arguing with you increases as does the chance you will miss your serve.

  3. Yes, they are borderline, at least the way I demonstrated them in the video. (I’ve refined the technique since the video was made.) I think a close examination would determine that they are on the legal side of the limit, but you’re right, that someone could argue the point. That’s the same as the idea that you should limit your sideline shots, because while they may land legally in bounds, people are likely to call the close ones ‘out’ and there’s nothing you can do about that.

    Taking this discussion one notch father, I have served this way many hundreds of times in front of a USAPA-certified referee trainer, and he while he has commented that my serves ‘can be crazy,’ he has not called any of them illegal.

    Thanks for your comment! – Jeff

    1. Jeff,

      I have worked a lot on the two serves you demonstrate. The reverse spin serve is easier for me as the normal spin serve causes risk pain. Regardless, they are great serves and make up for some of my other weaknesses.

      Today a player strongly argued that the reverse spin serve was illegal. I am sure that it is legal as I do it, which is very much in line with your demo. I am very careful to strike the ball with an upward motion (arc), way below the waist, and the paddle head is not remotely above my wrist. Any suggestions on how to respond to the unknowing expert.


      1. There are ‘experts’ in all fields. I’ve always felt the best way to deal with an expert who issues incorrect advise or ridiculous opinions is to thank him or her, move on, and watch with glee as someone takes the poor expert apart later on.

  4. How are they remotely illegal? Striking the ball below the waist and the paddle is below the wrist.

  5. Now that the definition of underhand states that the palm must be facing up or facing down upon contact with the ball, how does your first serve fit the definition? In SLO mo it appears that your palm is facing to the left at contact. No so on the reverse spin.

  6. I have been told by “someone who knows” that my toss is too high on my side spin serve. I contact the ball below my navel, with a side swiping low to high motion, despite my toss which only goes up 6 inches above my navel and then drops before I hit. He states that the ball must be dropped out of the hand at waist level and hit below that level, and that I am getting too much spin this way. Is my serve legal or not?

    1. That’s a new one on me, but it could be true. I haven’t studied the rules enough to know about whether the way the ball is tossed is regulated. Does anyone know and care to comment?


    That link takes me to some private investment strategy site.

    1. I’ll bet YouTube stuck an ad on the front of the video. That’s probably what you saw.

  8. The rules say nothing about how high the toss can be..only the point of contact (below the waistline) you can toss it 8 ft in the air if you like. You will be unpopular but it is not illegal. The rules also state that at point of contact no part of the racket blade can be above the wrist. So as long as you hit the ball with the racket head extended straight down, or, more or less so, it is legal. The issue that concerns me is whether it is legal to hit the ball upwards AND to the side at the same time…I use both a backhand and forehand spin serve..and people state that it is illegal but usually can’t justify their comment.

    1. Good point. That’s a lot like overrunning the net post in an Erne shot. No one seems to know whether it’s legal or not. In general, those who complain about it, don’t quite know what’s legal and what’s not:)

  9. I played with someone who has a very odd serve and was wondering if it’s legal. What he does is winds his arm around like he’s ready to “pitch” the ball like baseball then throws the ball up and makes contact and spi stone ball.. is this “wind up” legal?

    1. As I understand it, he can’t throw the ball up, and can’t impart spin, but otherwise he can wrap his arm any way he wants, as long as he either bounces the ball first, or makes sure to hit the ball below his wrist and below his waist.

  10. What constitutes an upward motion? I was working on a volley spin serve and received comments that it was not an upward motion. I’ve seen others do it and claim it’s legal. If I strike the ball with a motion parallel to the court it’s not upward. But what if I have a slight upward motion at the point of contact and still finish with the paddle above my waist?

    1. You are right on the button with your comment. If you watch some of the top players with their volley serves, their strokes are almost horizontal, with little upward motion. Are they all serving illegally?

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