Legal Pickleball Spin Serves
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!