“Still Crazy, After All These Years” – Paul Simon
The long discussion about what constitutes a legal pickleball serve has continued not because the subject has great intrinsic value (in our view it doesn’t) but because people want a stricter or looser interpretation of the USAPA rule, excerpted below.
4.A. Serve Motion: The serve must be made with an underhand stroke so that contact with the ball is made below waist level (waist is defined as the navel level)
4.A.1. Underhand Defined. The arm must be moving in an upward arc and the paddle head shall be below the wrist when it strikes the ball (paddle head is that part of the paddle excluding handle. The highest point of the paddle head cannot be above any part of line formed where the wrist joint bends)
Having played in too many tournaments and refereed hundreds of matches including at Nationals, Palm Creek, Huntsman and more, we have yet to see more than one or two serves of any type, “legal or illegal”, that created much of an advantage. And IOHO the very best players don’t waste any time trying to create much advantage with the serve outside of having outstanding placement skills which you can develop with any sort of serve. Prem Carnot teaches that the only serve worth having is a soft, deep, loopy serve with some natural topspin which forces the receiver to return the ball from deep behind the baseline (or short-hop it, which for anybody save a Mark Friedenberg is problematic to judge). Back not too long ago when Pat Kane was winning virtually every tournament he played in, his serve was videotaped many times because people thought it “might” be illegal – we think the result of those videotapes was that it wasn’t illegal, but nobody made any real point of it anyway as his serve was basically just into the middle of the court and anyone could return it. So our point – if the serve looks even marginally OK, with side, top, back or no spin, it’s fine to us. We can return any of them and so can everyone else. We’re glad the USAPA has a rule about serving as it keeps people from creating truly dominant serves (which we’re sure they could do if there was no rule) but largely all the serves we see as players and as referees are good to go.
And we don’t think our viewpoint is too far away from the USAPA’s viewpoint, as evidenced by Wayne Muggli’s USAPA.org video, here.
Lately, however, we have been thinking more and more about this. A.J. primarily serves with a backhand serve because he wants his serve to be without spin, soft and deep, and that’s his favorite method of getting it there. Irene uses primarily a bowling-style serve, stepping fluidly into the shot, and can loft it. But Prem Carnot’s philosophy above makes more and more sense. Have the serve high at the net and dropping, but with tons of top-spin, can create true advantage as the opponent is sometimes as much as two or three feet back from the baseline just trying to get into position to make a good return of serve. This is especially true of Prem’s OWN serve, which actually has more pace than he says is necessary, plus it hops up into your body if you are too close, and you have to let the return go up and then come down, where the spin drops off, before you can properly hit the ROS deep and soft. You are then so darn far back from the line that it’s almost impossible for anybody short of “the kids” to get to the line, even with a deep ROS, so then you are working your way up to the line instead of getting there in one fell swoop.
So…the next question is, how do we re-develop our serves so they can have the characteristics above? And is that worth working on, especially if, in the interim, placement is sacrificed? Plus any primary serve needs to be completely reliable as well, and neither of our serves are fool-proof even now, so it’s all worth thinking about and working on. We’ll put the whole thing on our ever-growing list of pickleball skill refinements we need.
Go Here for more about serve and return of serve in general, course outlines and the like.