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Is It Better To Serve First in Pickleball?

Adult woman playing pickleball indoors.

Pickleball is a great sport that is similar in style to tennis. This racket sport is fast-paced and can be played with a group of friends. Like tennis, pickleball requires thought and strategy, especially if you want to win.

Whenever I play pickleball, I’m constantly questioning if it is better to serve the ball first. It turns out that usually serving first in a game of pickleball is more advantageous. As part of the pickleball rules, you must be the team serving in order to score.

It follows that if you are serving and scoring, you’ll be able to take the lead quickly. Serving first also lets you better control the tempo and direction of play, giving you the upper hand.

What Benefits Are There to Serving First?

A ball is tossed during a pickleball serve.

One of the main rules in pickleball involves scoring. To score points, you must be on the serving team. Even if you are a good receiver, you must serve to score.

It follows that serving first will allow you to score first and get the early lead in the game. Serving first also allows you to begin the rally. You will be able to fully dictate the pace and direction of the ball, serving to your opponent’s weaknesses.

You’ll also be able to target specific areas, forcing your opponent to return the ball to your strength, which will help give you the early advantage. If you are a powerful server, you may be able to sneak the ball right past your opponent. An unreturned serve or a serve that is returned out of bounds is a great and easy way to rack up points in pickleball fast.

What Factors Could Influence Your Decision to Serve First?

Woman playing pickleball during day.

Deciding to serve first is a big decision to make. While scoring points with a powerful serve is easy, you should think about other factors too. If you are playing pickleball outside, think about the sun and wind conditions.

A windy day may make a powerful serve go out of bounds. Serving directly into the sun could result in a fault and loss of serve. You’ll also want to consider the side of the court you are on.

Depending on the day and location of the sun, your service side may be a disadvantage. Think about how the sun’s position will change as the match goes on. Having your opponent serve first, particularly from a difficult location on the court, could turn out to be an advantage for you.

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What Are the Pickleball Serving Rules?

Young man playing the game of pickleball.

Although pickleball is very similar to tennis, there are some differences between the two sports. Some of the most significant rule differences surround serving. In tennis, you can miss your first serve and still have the chance to serve again with a second serve.

In pickleball, you will lose your right to serve if you make an error on your first serve. Because you can only score points when you are serving, making an error could be costly. When serving, you must stand behind the baseline on the court.

You’ll want to stand to the side of the center line that corresponds with the current score. To begin a game, the server will always start on the right. You’ll stand on the right of the center line to serve if the score is even.

If the score is odd, you’ll stand to the left of the center service line to serve. You’ll want to serve the pickleball to the block in the court diagonally across from you. You can contact the ball with an underhand approach or a volley serve.

To hit a volley serve, you’ll need to hit the ball below the waist. The paddle must be held in an upward position, with the paddle’s face positioned below the wrist.

What Are Some Tips for a Solid Serve?

A player serves during a pickleball tournament match.

Having a strong serve in pickleball is a great way to earn some easy points and quickly jump out to a lead. Here are some great tips to have a solid serve in pickleball.

  • Try to identify your opponent’s weak side. You’ll want to aim for that side, forcing your opponent to hit an uncomfortable shot.
  • You’ll want to add as much power to your serve as possible. The faster the pickleball travels, the harder it is to return. Think about putting your body weight into the serve by including your hips and shoulders in the swing. Make sure your hips and shoulders work together with your wrist and elbow.
  • Don’t get too close to the net after you serve. Even with a good serve, there is a chance your opponent could hit a deep return. If you are too close to the net, reaching a deep ball won’t be easy.
  • Think about directing the ball at your opponent’s heel on their weaker side. Not only will they have to hit a difficult return shot, but they’ll have to move their feet to get out of the way quickly.

Remember that serving well takes plenty of time and practice. You won’t be a good server overnight, but with a little practice every day, you’ll see drastic improvements in your serve.

Are There Any Benefits to Receiving First in Pickleball?

A senior doubles team competes in a pickleball tournament.

While it may be true that you need to serve first to score points, it turns out there may be some benefit to receiving the ball first. In pickleball, the team that approaches the net first usually has the upper hand in rallies. Because the side that is returning can take the ball early, they may be able to approach the net more quickly.

The team that reaches the net first wins the rally 60-70% of the time. When playing doubles, the team that serves first may be at a big disadvantage. The team that serves first in doubles to start the game will lose their serve if they make one service error.

In return, the opponents will get to serve until both players make an error, giving them more opportunity to rack up points before losing their serve.