What is Let Serve Rule in Pickleball and Why Was It Removed?

Est. Reading: 4 minutes

If you've been in the pickleball game since before 2021, you might remember the let serve rule. However, we know that pickleball rules continuously change to improve the sport.

So, whether you are a beginner or an advanced player, you should know the latest rules. In this post, you’ll learn everything about ‘let’ in pickleball and why it was removed.

What is a 'Let' in Pickleball?

Like in other paddle sports, a 'let' in pickleball is if the served ball hits the net and lands on the correct service court of the opposing team, the server will serve again. If the ball lands on the server's court, the server commits a fault. As you can imagine, a "let" is an accidental or unintentional shot, whether from a serve or a return. 

In short, a server could serve more than once, provided that the server followed all the Pickleball Serve Rules. It includes stepping behind the baseline, serving the ball diagonally, and that the ball must clear the kitchen and kitchen line. However, the continuous serving rule due to 'let' was removed in January 2021.

Why is it Called a 'Let' Serve?

No official documents explain where the term "let" came from, but several theories exist. Probably the most popular theory is that "let" was borrowed from the same term used in tennis, which indicates that the served ball hits the net and "lets" the server serve again. This occurrence happens once the ball lands on the opponent's service court.

With that, some thought the term 'let' comes from the phrase "let it play." It means that the play can continue once the ball hits the net. On the other hand, "let" is said to be a shorter version of "filet," a French word for "net." Lastly, some believe that "let" came from "lettian," an Old Saxon word for the term "to hinder."

What Does the New Rule Says About 'Let'?

According to Section 4.A.3 of the 2024 USA Pickleball Rulebook, "If the serve clears the net or contacts the net in crossing and then touches the receiver or the receiver's partner, it is a point for the serving team.

The term "let" was not mentioned, but it's clear that the new let serve rule was removed. Interestingly, this rule also applies to volleyball. However, it was changed to the same pickleball rule back in 2001.

The USA Pickleball removed the let serve rule in January 2021, and a 'let' is now considered a legal serve. The served ball is still in play if it touches the net and lands on the opponent's service court. Therefore, the server will no longer have to repeat the serve. 

Why was the Let Serve Rule Removed?

You might now ask, "Why did USA Pickleball remove the let serve rule?" Well, a concerned player suggested it in 2020, and many fellow players supported it. But anyway, here are the reasons for the removal of the let serve rule: 

  • To speed up the game. Since a player who does a let serve can make unlimited service attempts, it interrupts the game. Consequently, the play's momentum is lost, and the pace gets slower. Now that the let-serve rule has been removed, the game has become faster and more exciting to watch.
  • To avoid conflicts. When the let serve rule existed, people needed clarification on whether a particular net serve was legal. The debate sometimes results in conflicts, and some players who did the net serve were accused of cheating. Allegedly, these players did it on purpose so they can serve again.
  • To protect the sport's integrity. In any sport, no innocent player wants to be accused of cheating. However, it can happen to a pickleball server who serves a ball that accidentally hits the net. But since a let serve is quickly decided, the public is assured the players are legally serving the ball.

Will the Let Serve Rule be Back Again?

It's hard to tell now since the existing rule is relatively new. As you know, USA Pickleball updates its rules yearly and sometimes twice a year, depending on the gravity of the requests from the players. But based on the above reasons, the benefits of removing the let serve rule are pretty obvious. Unless they become disadvantages, we can expect it to be back again.

Final Thoughts

The decision to ditch the let serve rule in pickleball has stirred up some debates, with folks drawing comparisons to tennis and ping pong. A ‘let’ gets a replay in both sports, and there's no cap on attempts. But remember, the balls and nets they use differ from those in pickleball.

So, before you leave, take a moment to witness the legendary Serena Williams acing four consecutive let serves in the video snippet below. Do you think it’s OK if a pickleball player does the same? Drop your thoughts in the comments – I'm all ears!

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