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Can You Drop Serve in Pickleball? If So, How?

A woman about to serve in a mixed double pickleball match.

Anyone who plays badminton or tennis knows that tossing the ball or shuttlecock into the air so you can strike it on the way down is how to serve. There might be rules governing just how the ball or shuttlecock is tossed, dropped, or otherwise set up for a proper serve. Pickleball is a little different.

When my brother and I played badminton in the backyard, we tossed the shuttlecock up in the air and used a backhand to get it over the net. Since shuttlecocks don’t bounce, I must admit pickleball’s serving rules are a bit different.

I Understand You Can Drop the Ball and Hit It on the Bounce. What’s So Different About That?

A man with pickleball about to serve.

It’s difficult to keep your paddle neutral, so you don’t arc the ball into the air for a smashing return. You must keep the paddle at waist level to serve. The top of the paddle must not be over the wrist. You can drop the ball to serve and hit on the bounce, but only at waist level.

You cannot toss the ball into the air before the bounce or throw it in any way to get it to bounce. You are allowed to drop the ball from as high as your arm can reach, then hit the ball on the bounce. You are not allowed to put strength into the drop so as to force the ball into a more powerful bounce.

You can even drop the pickleball ball as many times as it takes to get the ball to bounce in such a way that you can serve the ball properly. Before January 25, 2021, when the drop serve rules were added, pickleball players could roll the ball off the paddle and hit it when it bounced. This is still allowed, although the drop serve has made players very happy.

Got It. What Else Can You Tell Me About the Drop Serve in Pickleball?

A senior player about to serve in a pickleball game.

Ready for some pro serving tips? Here you go:

• Your serve technique should be loose, moving from the shoulder, and follow through with the serve

• After contact with the ball, you no longer need to keep the paddle at waist-height

Stand in a semi-closed manner instead of rotating your body through the serve. This prevents the ball from going anywhere but cross-court

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• Use your legs and core muscles to generate power in your serve

• Use a consistent drop serve. Hold the ball high above your head, but tilt your arm just a bit toward your paddle side out in front of the body. Now drop the ball. It will bounce closer to the paddle side of the body and out in front.

• Aim your serve a foot or two in front of the opponent’s baseline. Hitting the ball deep forces the opponent to return the ball with a backhand that won’t have much power in it. Mix up your serves a little so the opponent can use his forehand to return. Otherwise, they’ll anticipate your moves and be prepared for them

• Practice having one consistent serve. Once you have this down pat, use different serves in between the consistent ones. The drop serve should be one of them, along with a drive, a lob, and a hook shot ( a spin on the ball hooks the shot to the right if you’re right-handed and to the left if you’re left-handed.)

Can You Drop Serve in Pickleball FAQs

Is the Drop Serve Legal?

Yes. It became a legal serve as of January 25, 2021. It became a permanent part of the game in 2022.

Is There an Advantage to Using the Drop Serve in Pickleball?

One of the main advantages of the drop serve is that the ball can bounce as many times as necessary before you get a good shot at it. If you don’t have a good shot at the bounce, you can simply pick the ball back up and try again. The serve also allows the server to maintain the correct line in hitting the ball (waist height) while still keeping the feet from causing a fault.

When Can I Use an Overhead Smash in Pickleball?

You can use an overhand on the return because serves are required to be underhand and at waist level. Overhead smashes are the most powerful shots in a pickleball game.