Pickleball serving rules: Lines, official rules, and serving strategy

Pickleball serving rules: Lines, official rules, and serving strategy


By Jaclyn Brandt

On: 02/14/2024

Pickleball serving rules for beginner pickleball players.

Pickleball serving rules are some of the most important things you will learn when learning to play pickleball as a beginner. Your serve will set up the rally, determine your positioning, and affect your chances of winning (or losing) the point. Here are our top 5 pickleball rules on serving:

Basic serving rules

Pickleball serving rules are different than any other sport, due to the size of the court, weight of the ball, and correlation with other pickleball rules. There are some basic pickleball rules to learn before you learn how to use them:

  • Unlike tennis and other racket sports, there are no overhand serves in pickleball.

  • When your paddle contacts the ball, it may not be above your waist level.

  • Your arm must be moving in an “upward arc” when you hit the ball.

  • Your paddle head may also not be above the highest part of your wrist when it hits the ball.

  • You may “drop serve,” which is allowing the ball to bounce before your serve.

    • If you use the bounce serve, you must use gravity and are not allowed to push the ball down to get it to bounce harder.

  • When you hit the ball, your feet may not be touching the baseline or court in any way, and must be between the imaginary lines that would be the extension of the center line and sideline.

    • You must also have at least one foot behind the baseline on the ground or floor.

Where to serve

When it’s your turn to serve, you will serve cross-court from the side you are currently standing on. The ball must hit above the top of the kitchen line, below the top of the baseline, and within the outside edges of the sidelines.

How many serves does each server get?

Each server only gets one serve attempt per serve. However, if a point is scored, the server will continue serving until a point is lost.

Serving sequences

  • In doubles, both players on each team have an opportunity to serve.

    • Each team will earn a point for each won serve and rally.

    • Each player will continue to serve until they have lost a rally.

    • When a team commits a fault after the serve of player 1, player 2 will have the opportunity to serve.

  • During the first serve of a game, only one player on the first team will have an opportunity to serve, they are called Server 2. A fault will result in the serve being passed to the second team.

  • The first serve of each side-out is made from the right side (even) of the court.

  • If a point is scored, the same server continues to serve, but each time they win a point, they will switch sides (and back and forth after each won point).

  • The server will continue to serve until a fault is committed. The serve will then either go to the next player on their team (if they were Server 1) or to the other team (if they were Server 2).

  • In singles, the server will begin serving from the right side of the court when their score is even, and the left side of the court when their score is odd.

Serving and scoring

There are a few important things to know about pickleball scoring as it relates to serving. If you want to read more about the rules, you can find them here.

Pickleball scoring rules

  • Only the serving team can score points.

  • Most games are won by the team who reach 11 points first, as long as they win by 2.

  • Tournament games can go to 15 or 21 points, win by 2.

  • The first serve from each team will come from the right side of the court.

    • The server number (1 or 2) of a score applies to that service term only.

    • When a team has an even score (0, 2, 4, etc.) the player who first served first should be on the right side of the court, and on the left side of the court when the score is odd (1, 3, 5, etc.), whether or not they are serving.

    • When a team has an odd score (1, 3, 5, etc.) the player who first served second should be on the left side of the court, and on the right side of the court when the score is even (0, 2, 4, etc.), whether or not they are serving.

Two-bounce rule and serving

The two-bounce rule in pickleball is incredibly important to the serving rules. The rule requires two bounces in each rally. Here are more details about the two-bounce rule in pickleball:

  • Every time a ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce one time in their court before returning it.

  • After the ball is returned, the serving team must let it bounce one time in their court before returning.

  • After the the serve and return, both teams may either volley the ball (hit the ball before it bounces) or allow it to bounce one time.

  • There is never a time when a ball may bounce twice in the same side of the court without it being a fault, except in adaptive/wheelchair pickleball.

Line calls during the serve

One thing you will quickly learn about pickleball is, unless you are playing at a high level, most scoring and rule-keeping is done by the players — and this includes line calls. It is up to the receiving team to verify whether a ball is “in” or not. Here are the line rules during a serve in pickleball:

  • A ball may contact the sidelines or baseline during a serve and be considered “in,” unless it touches the sidelines within the non-volley zone.

  • A ball may not contact the non-volley (or “kitchen”) line during a serve. If it does, it’s considered a fault.

  • A serve return may land anywhere in the pickleball court.

The role of the non-volley zone (NVZ) during a serve

The non-volley zone, or “the kitchen,” is one of the most important rules to learn about in pickleball. If you do not yet know what the kitchen is, learn about it here.

  • The NVZ is the area that starts at the net, seven feet toward the baseline, and stretches from sideline to sideline.

    • The dimensions of the NVZ on each side of the net is 20 feet wide x 7 feet long. 

  • During a serve, the ball may not land in the kitchen or on the kitchen line. If it does, it’s considered a short serve, and therefore a fault.

  • The kitchen line and kitchen sidelines are considered a part of the kitchen.

Faults during pickleball serves

Concerning serving, there are a few rules about faults you need to know:

  • If Server 1 on a team is serving and their team commits a fault, there will be no point scored and the serve will go to Server 2.

  • If Server 2 on a team is serving and the team commits a fault, there will be no point scored and the serve is returned to the opposing team.

  • If the non-serving team commits a fault, the serving team is awarded a point.

Which team serves first

Like most things in pickleball, serving will be determined by the players. You can choose a few different options to choose who is going to serve first. Some facilities have a rule on which side serves first (which makes the decision easier for everyone), you can do a coin flip, or you can just discuss it and decide who will serve first.

There are no official rules for who serves first, so just use your judgment and discuss it with your fellow players.

Learning all the pickleball rules for serving

For it being one aspect of the game, there are quite a few rules when it comes to pickleball serving. But once you get out on the court, you will begin to learn how they all make sense and make pickleball the fun and complex game that it is.

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