What is a Spin Serve in Pickleball and Is It Really Banned?

Est. Reading: 5 minutes

Pickleball players used to have different styles in serving to take advantage of their position as servers. But as the sport became more popular, some players mastered the art of spinning the ball during a serve. Starting in 2023, USA Pickleball decided to ban the spin serve, and not everyone was happy about it. Some players even got confused.

Now, here's the million-dollar question. Is spin serve really not allowed in pickleball anymore? Is there a legal way to spin the ball during serving? In this article, you will learn the truth as we clear some misconceptions about spinning the ball in pickleball.

What is Spin Serve and How Do You Do It?

Spin serve is a serving strategy where the server intentionally lets the ball spin before hitting it with the paddle. In doing so, the flight direction will be unpredictable, and it will be difficult to return. This spin serve technique can be done in two different ways - by using your paddle or by using your finger. But how exactly is it being done?

It started with the controversial chainsaw serve, which pro pickleball player Morgan Evans invented. Here, the server lets the ball roll against the paddle, causing it to spin fast as it crosses the court. Although the chainsaw serve is a competitive advantage for the server, the USA Pickleball banned it in 2022. 

To give you an idea, here's Morgan Evans doing the chainsaw serve.

Despite the chainsaw serve ban, the one-handed spin serve was still allowed. Also called finger-spin serve or pre-spun serve, this serving style is actually an improved version of the chainsaw serve. Popularized by pro player Zane Navratil, this technique involves using the fingers to spin the ball before releasing it. This is what the USA Pickleball decided to ban in 2023.

If you don't know how it works, Here's Zane in his spin serve tutorial video.

Without a doubt, both the chainsaw serve and the pre-spun serve are very powerful. You can also hardly notice the difference between them unless you closely examine them. You'll have difficulty learning these two serving techniques even if you're an intermediate player. More so, you have very little chance of making a successful return. In fact, many pro players cannot do them perfectly all the time.

What the USA Pickleball Official Rules Say About Spin Serve

Here's what Section 4.A.5 of the 2024 USA Pickleball Official Rulebook says:

The serve shall be made with only one hand releasing the ball. While some natural rotation of the ball is expected during any release from the hand, the server shall not impart manipulation or spin on the ball with any part of the body immediately before the serve. Exceptions: Players may use their paddle to perform the drop serve (see Rule 4.A.8.a). A player with only one hand may also use their paddle to release the ball to perform the volley serve.

First, the official rule emphasized the one-hand rule. This means that the server should use one hand to hold the paddle and the other hand to release the ball.

Second, it mentions that "the server shall not impart manipulation…..prior to the serve." Therefore, this new rule only bans any ball from spinning before serving. It follows that spin serve is not entirely prohibited.

Third, this part of the official rules includes an exemption wherein players can use their paddle to do the drop serve.

Why was the Pre-Spun Serve Banned in 2023?

The USA Pickleball stated several reasons they finally decided to ban pre-spun serve in 2023. Here they are:

Low Adoption Rates

Finger-spin serve is not easy to master and requires special skills. This is why only a few pro players know to do it with less effort. Therefore, continuously allowing it will only benefit a few and can disadvantage amateur players..Very true!

Disadvantage for Female Players

Due to its low adoption rates, pre-spun serve is also a great disadvantage for many players. This includes female players who play mixed doubles against male players who can do this kind of serve.

Safety Concerns

A single tennis court can be converted into four pickleball courts. However, not all converted tennis courts have fences or smaller spaces. Since finger spin is challenging to return, some players may accidentally be hit by the incoming spinning ball.

Not Serving the Server's Purpose

Pickleball was created to be fun for everyone, regardless of age, gender, and athletic skills. This is why the main purpose of a pickleball serve is to start a game. On the other hand, the goal of players doing the pre-spun serve is to score a point.

Is Spin Serve Still Allowed in 2023?

Section 4.A.8.a of the 2023 USA Pickleball Official Rulebook states that "the server must release the ball from one hand only or drop it off the paddle face from any natural (un-aided) height." This rule is part of the Drop Serve rule, where players can let the ball bounce before hitting it with their paddle.

Again, players cannot use the non-paddle hand to spin the ball. But still, any player can spin serve as long as it's done naturally. On the other hand, one-handed players can drop the ball to the paddle face or the ground without extra force or spinning the ball. 

So yes, the spin serve is still allowed in 2023 unless there will be another change in the serving rules in the future. Despite the contradiction of some players, USA Pickleball considers the ban fair and found no solid evidence that it will make the sport less exciting.

How to do a Legal Spin Serve in Pickleball

Now that you know that allowing the ball to spin during a serve is still permitted, the next question is, "How can I do a legal spin serve? The short answer is to spin the ball using your paddle. In doing so, the ball will spin once it touches the paddle, not before. But can a player do it without violating any rule? Here's how:

Do the Topspin Serve

In pickleball, a topspin serve is done by swinging your paddle in an upward motion until it touches the back of the ball. In doing so, the friction created by the contact will cause the ball to rotate forward, thus the topspin effect. To generate more power that can result in better spinning, position your legs a bit lower and hit the ball as fast as possible.

Do the Sidespin Serve

A sidespin serve causes the pickleball ball to curve as it flies through the air. Here, it would be best if you hit the side of the ball at a certain angle. Pacing is very important in this kind of serve. Reducing your pace leads to a lower trajectory, and the ball may not cross the net. Being a right-hand player also means the ball will spin from left to right and vice versa.

Do the Underspin Serve

Also called the backspin serve, the underspin serve requires you to hit the ball near its bottom. Hence, it's more applicable to the drop serve than to the volley serve. Unlike the sidespin serve, the ball's trajectory is higher as it crosses the net. But like any other legal spin serve, your paddle's speed and angle are the most important factors.

Final Thoughts

But while spin serve is legal in pickleball, it doesn't necessarily mean you should already celebrate. This technique is not easy and requires a lot of practice. Any wrong move can lead to a fault, especially when doing the volley serve. Sometimes, you might be on the edge of doing an illegal serve. 

So, if you're unsure what you're doing, just give a good serve and enjoy the game. After all, there are other playing strategies to win a rally. 

How about you? Do you agree with the pre-spun serve ban? Do you spin serve? Hope you can share your pickleball experience with us.

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Ken sorgi
Ken sorgi
4 months ago

I spin the ball but it is hard to do with a upward motion and be legall but if I drop it I can spin it much easier and be legal. I see a side arm serve being used and that seems to be illegal am I right or wrong. How high can I toss the ball ?

2 months ago

It should be!!!

Dorthy hit me in the face with a spinner and I am now partially blind.


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