CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

The Best Serve In Pickleball

What do you think is the most popular pickleball subject on YouTube?No, not the third shot drop. Negative, not the lob. Nope, not even the reset shot.

 

Would it surprise to learn that the most popular pickleball videos on YouTube are about serves? Yes, you read that right, the pickleball serves! It seems like all of us want to hit our serve faster, harder, or more accurately.

What’s your best pickleball serve? Do you hit the serve hard and deep? Perhaps you use backhand serve? Maybe you create a wicked spin?

While all those serves have a purpose, it doesn’t matter what type of serve you hit if you use the same one every time; eventually, your opponents will adjust to it.

The most important question is, do you have more than one pickleball serve?

I heard Steve Dawson say he never hits the same serve to a player two times in a row. I remember thinking, “keeping track of that might be hard.” LOL!  In reality, it’s a great philosophy. If your opponent doesn’t know what’s coming, you’ll increase your chances of creating a weak return, making the third shot easier for your team.

Here are five different pickleball serves and when and how to use them.

The Power Serve

Without a doubt, the most common service question I get is on power serving. Players always want to learn to hit it hard. Truthfully, it’s good to have in your bag of tricks. A powerful serve can force a weak return. Conversely, if you are playing against a hard hitter, they’ll use the power from the serve to generate more power on their return. Since this is a typical shot and often the only serve players have, you’ll likely find your opponents have developed effective returns.

Lob Serve

A lob serve has the trajectory of an upside-down U. Ideally, it’s hit high, soft, and lands in the back 1/3 of the court. The high bounce after it lands makes it challenging for some players to return.

This high, soft serve is useful against power players because it requires them to generate their own power. This can also be very effective if there is something behind the court like a fence or a tennis net. The downside is if you hit this serve short or if the player can spin the ball, it makes your third shot more difficult.

Topspin Serve

Players create topspin when the paddle moves up the back of the ball. Picture the ball rotating end over end toward the returner. When the ball bounces, the spin makes it hop toward the player. If they don’t see the spin, they’ll likely set up too close to the ball and hit a weak return.

Soft Short Serve

This shot is useful if the player isn’t very mobile, is standing deep or slightly out of position behind the baseline. Since it’s short, the player will have to hit the return on the run. If you can angle the shot to the sideline, you may pull the returner off the court and out of position for the next shot. The downside is because they’re running forward they’ll get to the non-volley zone faster.

Backhand Serve

The natural motion of a backhand serve creates a side spin not commonly seen on a serve. Unfortunately, the backhand is often a player’s weakest shot, and it may difficult to execute a legal serve consistently.

Conclusion

Your only chance to score is when your team is serving, and you only get one serve. Meaning, the most critical part of the serve is GET IT IN.

Your next objective is to force a weak return making the third shot easier for your team. By developing a variety of serves, your opponents will have a more difficult time getting accustomed to your serve and will be left guessing what’s coming next.

20 Comments

  1. Joyce on November 16, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks for this great insight. I am a beginner but am well versed in other raquet sports. When I ask these types of questions of the teacher that I currently have, he tries to oversimplify and say none of these serves are necessary. It makes total sense to have a toolkit of serves to keep your opponent guessing. I might be a beginner but my mind understands the importance of these types of strategies in matchplay. I am really enjoying your coaching style. So happy to have found you.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 17, 2019 at 8:52 pm

      Hi Joyce, you and your coach are both right. These serves aren’t necessary at first but as you get better they become needed tools. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Georgianna Vaughn on November 16, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    I liked the description of serve and results one might expect.

  3. James R Crane on November 16, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    My best serve is the one they are not expecting

  4. Linda Scott on November 17, 2019 at 4:29 am

    I love the idea of mixing up the serve to try to cause trouble for the receiver and to help you have an easier 3rd shot but only after one has a good BREAD AND BUTTER serve that is consistent. Thanks for another great video CJ. We sure do appreciate all you have to teach us.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 17, 2019 at 8:50 pm

      Linda, you are correct, only after you have your bread and butter serve.

  5. Joe steinberg on November 17, 2019 at 4:51 am

    Really good video. Concise and to the point

  6. Graham Hall on November 17, 2019 at 5:41 am

    CJ
    Very great article re the serve. I am a Level II CPTP Teaching Pro and have been instructing for the last 2 years. I have tried to coach students at the intermediate level to have 3 or 4 different serves. This article hits the reasons why very clearly and I will refer students to your website. Good job.
    Graham Hall Muskoka Ontario Canada

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 17, 2019 at 8:49 pm

      Graham thanks for all of your efforts in promoting the sport!

  7. Dennis Gordon on November 17, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    Hi CJ ,
    very good advice, like the tip about varying each serve keep them guessing!

    cheers
    Dennis

  8. Ralph E Parker on November 18, 2019 at 11:58 am

    Priorities on Serve: 1: 100% in, 2: Keeps the receiver back at the base line (except the intentional short and on the boundary shot, but still has to be in 100% of time, if less than 80% of time, don’t do it) , 3: Causes a little distress to the receiver. 4: variation if you can keep it in. Personally, I like the high, deep serve. were we play the lights can be harsh and help more than fancy serves.

  9. Rick on November 18, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Tip of paddle on the short serve appears above the wrist–illegal.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 18, 2019 at 8:00 pm

      Hi Rick, Thanks for your observation. I can see how it looks that way from the angle and it’s close but it’s still below the wrist.

  10. Harry A Mitchell on November 21, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    I believe your backhand serve and your angled serves are illegal. In both cases the corner of your racquet is equal or above your wrist which is illegal. The corner of the racquet must be below the wrist when the ball is struck. Otherwise a good video.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 22, 2019 at 8:23 am

      Hi Harry, Thanks for watching so closely!
      This is a great time to clarify this rule.
      Here’s the rule you’re referring to:
      4.A.6 The paddle head must be below the server’s
      wrist when it strikes the ball. The highest point of
      the paddle head cannot be above the highest part of the wrist (where the wrist joint bends). (see Figures 4-1 and 4-2).
      I created the post below from a still photo from the video and the picture in the rule book. As you can see it fits the definition above.
      https://www.cjjohnsonglobal.com/legal-pickleball-serves-photos/
      I wanted to get back to you quickly since your such a loyal community member but my intention is to do this will all of the serves in the video. If you were thinking this, so were other folks. Thanks for the post and video idea! Pickle on! CJ

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