SECTION 4 – THE SERVE, SERVICE SEQUENCE, AND SCORING RULES

4.A.   The Serve.

4.A.1.   New 2021 The entire score must be called before the ball is served.

Reason: To remove the ambiguity between service motions and practice swings. This is part of the global goal to move all timing fault issues to a consistent point-in-time, the Serve of the ball. A player may move their serving arm in any manner as long as they don’t Serve the ball until the score has been completely called. Once the referee starts to call the score but before the score calling has ended, if a player serves the ball, a fault should be called per Rule 4.M.11.

Scenario A: the referee starts to call the score and the server serves the ball before the referee has finished calling the score. the referee should immediately call a fault per rule 4.M.11.

Scenario B: After a rally has ended, but before the referee starts to call the score, the server serves the ball. the referee should not call a fault since the ball is “dead”. the referee should remind the server to wait until the entire score has been called before serving the ball. This scenario is in accordance with new rule 8.E. which details that when we are in a dead ball situation, faults cannot be committed specifically because we are in a dead ball state of play.

4.A.2.   New 2021 The moment the ball is served:

4.A.2.a.  At least one foot must be on the playing surface behind the baseline.

4.A.2.b.  Neither of the server’s feet may touch the court on or inside the baseline.

4.A.2.c.   Neither of the server’s feet may touch outside the imaginary extensions of the sideline or centerline.

4.A.2.d.  (Wheelchair) Both rear wheels must be on the playing surface behind the baseline and may not touch the court on or inside the baseline or outside the imaginary extensions of the sideline or centerline.

Reason: This change removes the confusion about where a server’s feet must be at the start of the service motion as compared to the actual Serve. This rule simplifies the feet restrictions to the actual Serve of the ball. There is no longer a restriction on the server’s feet location when they start their service motion. The feet guidelines apply only to the moment the ball is served.

4.A.3.   The server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc at the time the ball is struck and may be made with either a forehand or backhand motion. (See Figure 4-3.)

4.A.4.    The highest point of the paddle head must not be above the highest part of the wrist (where the wrist joint bends) when it strikes the ball. (See Fig 4-1 & 4-2)

Figure 4-1

4.A.5.  New 2021 Contact with the ball must not be made above the waist. (See Figures 4-1 and 4-3 above)

Contact with the ball must not be made above the waist level (Waist is defined as the navel level). (See Figures 4-1 and 4-3 above)

Reason: Better clarity for referees on how to determine the applicable fault. It removes the ambiguity over waist vs navel.

4.A.6.  New 2021 Placement. The server must Serve to the correct service court (the court diagonally opposite the server). The Serve may clear or touch the net and must clear the NVZ and the NVZ lines. The Serve may land on any other service court line.

Placement. The server must Serve to the correct service court (the court diagonally opposite the server). The Serve may clear or touch the net and must clear the NVZ and the NVZ lines. The Serve may land on any other service court line.

Reason: The reason for this change is two-fold. First, it affirms that “let” Serve replays are no longer valid. Now, even if the Serve touches the net, as long as the Serve lands in the appropriate receiving court, the ball is live and no replay shall be called. This change is also part of the goal to reduce player and referee conflicts involved when a player calls a let and the referee does not agree. It also prevents receivers from calling phantom lets on ‘ace’ serves. In addition, it provides better clarity that the Serve must clear the NVZ lines as well as the area of the NVZ. Note: The NVZ is defined in the definition section, but several players have written to the USA Pickleball asking for better clarity of this rule.

4.A.7.  Contact with the ball must not be made above the waist level (waist is defined as the navel level) (see Figure 4-1).

4.A.8.  New 2021 ***Provisional Rule*** Drop Serve. In addition to the standard Serve sequence described in Rules 4.A.1 to 4.A.7, players may opt to use an alternate “drop Serve” method.

Reasons:

      1. Provides a better Serve method for the physically impaired, such as the use of only one arm.
      2. Easier to enforce by players and referees. Referees only need to verify the ball is dropped correctly.
      3. Easier Serve to teach beginners.
      4. Provides an alternate Serve method for those who develop ‘server’s block’, otherwise known as the “yips.”
      5. Servers may use the normal Serve or provisional drop Serve at any time during the match. no notification is needed.

Note: Provisional means we will evaluate the rule for unintended or unexpected outcomes over the next year.

4.A.8.a. New 2021 Servers must release the ball from one of the server’s hands or dropped off the server’s paddle face from any natural (un- aided) height and hit the ball after the ball bounces on the playing surface. The server’s release of the ball must be visible to the referee and the receiver. In matches without a referee, the server’s release of the ball must be visible to the receiver. A replay shall be called before the return of Serve if the release of the ball is not visible. The rules for feet placement (4.A.2 and 4.L) still apply.

Reason: Same as 4.A.8. Note: The only downward acceleration imparted on the ball is that from gravity.

Scenario A: In a match with a referee, the server turns their back slightly before
performing a “drop Serve”. the referee sees the server release the ball, but the receiver cannot see the release. The server serves, but before the return of Serve, the receiver claims they could not see the release of the ball. the referee calls for a replay and informs the server that they need to make the release of the ball visible to both the referee and receiver.

Scenario B: A server has been using the drop Serve since the start of the game. the referee calls the score and the player drops the ball to perform a drop Serve. After the ball bounces, the server grabs the ball and then serves the ball in the “normal” fashion and does so within the 10-second count. After the rally has ended, the receiver claims that the server committed a fault by “switching serving styles” after the score had been called. the referee explains that there is no rule restricting the server from “switching serving styles” after the score has been called. the referee explains that as long as the ball is served within the 10-second count, either style, including attempting both styles, is allowed.

Scenario C: The server releases the ball and the ball bounces twice on the ground and then the server serves. Since there is no written fault for letting the ball bounce twice (or more) before serving, the referee should NOT call a fault.

4.A.8.b. New 2021 Before bouncing on the ground, the ball shall not be propelled (thrown) downward or tossed or hit upward with the paddle. Failure to drop the ball properly will result in a fault. There is no restriction on where the ball can land on the playing surface after it is dropped (providing 4.A.2 is satisfied) nor how many times within the 10 seconds after the score is called the server may drop the ball.

Scenario: The server (illegally) propels the ball downward. The server realizes what he did would result in a fault when he serves. After the bounce, the server grabs the ball, raises it in the air, and then releases the ball legally. After the bounce the server now serves the ball. the referee does NOT call a fault. Note: It is not a fault for simply propelling the ball downward if there is no Serve. The fault is applied if the illegal downward propelling of the ball results in a Serve occurring.

4.A.8.c.  New 2021 If the drop Serve is used, the ball may be struck with either a forehand or backhand motion without any other restriction; i.e., the location restrictions of the ball and paddle in Rules 4.A.3, 4.A.4 and 4.A.5 do not apply.

4.B. Player Positions.

4.B.1. server and receiver. The correct server and receiver and their positions are determined
by the score and the players’ starting positions in the game.

4.B.2. At the start of each game, the starting server begins the Serve from the side of the
court dictated by the score.

4.B.3. Each player will Serve until a rally is lost or a fault is declared against the player or
team.

4.B.4. As long as the server holds Serve, after each point the server will alternate serving
from the right/even
and left/odd sides of the court.

4.B.5. Singles.

4.B.5.a. If the player’s score is even (0, 2, 4 …), the Serve must be made from the right/even
serving area and be received in the right/even service court by the opponent.

4.B.5.b. If the player’s score is odd (1, 3, 5 …), the Serve must be made from the left/odd serving area and be received in the left/odd service court by the opponent.

4.B.5.c. After the server loses the rally or faults, a side out will occur and service is awarded
to the opponent.

4.B.6.     Doubles. Both players on a team will Serve before a side out is declared, except at the start of each game, when only the starting server will Serve. The starting server of each game is therefore designated as “server 2” for scoring purposes, since a side out will occur once a rally is lost or a fault is committed by the serving team and service is awarded to the opposing team.

4.B.6.a.  At the start of each side out, service begins in the right/even serving area.

4.B.6.b. When the team’s score is even (0, 2, 4 …), the team’s starting server’s correct position is at the right/even serving area. When the team’s score is odd (1, 3, 5…), the starting server’s correct position is at the left/odd court.

4.B.6.c.  After each side out, service begins with the player correctly positioned on the right/even side of the court according to the team’s score. This player is referred to as “server 1” and the partner is “server 2.”

4.B.6.d. server 1 will Serve, alternating service sides after each point is won, until a rally is lost or the server’s team commits a fault.

4.B.6.e.  After server 1’s team loses a rally or faults, server 2 will Serve from the correct position and will alternate serving positions as long as the serving team continues to win points.

4.B.6.f.  The receiving team does not alternate positions when a point is scored by the serving team. The receiving team may switch positions after the return of Serve, but after the rally is over, the receiving team must return back to their correct positions, which correspond to the team’s score and the players’ starting positions.

4.B.7.    Partner Positions. In doubles, there is no restriction on the position of the partners of the correct server and receiver as long as they are on their respective team’s side of the net. They can be positioned on or off the court.

4.B.8.     Before the Serve occurs, the serving team may ask the referee for the score, correct server, correct position, and may challenge/confirm the called score. Any player on the serving team may ask any one or more of these questions.

4.B.9.    New 2021 Before the Serve occurs, the receiving team may ask the referee for the score, correct receiver, correct position, and may challenge/confirm the called score. Any player on the receiving team may ask any one or more of these questions.

Prior to the start of the service motion, to determine the correct server and correct service court, the serving team may ask the referee for the score and correct server.

Reason: This change is part of multiple rule changes moving all timing issues to a consistent point-in-time; before the next Serve occurs. It also reinstates the allowance for players to ask for their correct position and/or challenge/confirm the called score. This change works in conjunction with the server who changes courts and the possible conflicts that arise. The goal is to reduce player and referee conflicts that occur before the ball is served. An additional intent for the change is to prevent the serving team from “quick serving” the receiving team when the serving team asks any of the allowed questions. See below Scenario B. This change is consistent with the guideline that anytime any player asks a score, correct player, or correct position question, the referee will pause play, (i.e., call “Time”, raise their hand/step into the court thereby creating a dead ball) answer the player(s) question(s) and then recall the score (no 15-second notification is necessary). Per Rule 8.E, no faults can be committed during this dead ball time.

Scenario A: the referee calls the correct score. The server asks if she is the correct server (or score, or correct position). the referee stops play (i.e., calls “Time” or steps in and raises hand), confirms that she is the correct server and states that he will recall the score. Before the referee starts to recall the score, the server serves the ball. the referee has the ball returned to the server. The opponents claim that the server committed a fault by serving before the entire score had been called. the referee reminded everyone that the ball was dead when he stopped play and that he had not started to call the score (creating a live ball). Since the ball was dead, the server did NOT commit a fault by serving.

Scenario B: the referee calls the correct score. As the server is starting their service routine, the server’s partner asks the referee to confirm their score. the referee calls, “Time”, confirms that the serving team’s score and then states that he will recall the score. Before the Serve, anytime a players asks a score/position/player question, the referee will stop play, answer the question(s) and recall the score.

Note: If, after the referee recalls the score, the serving team then changes service courts, rule 4.E.2. procedures will apply.

4.B.10. New 2021: Before the Serve occurs, the receiving team may ask the referee for the score,
correct receiver, correct position, and may challenge/confirm the called score. Any player on the
receiving team may ask any one or more of these questions.

Reason: This change is part of the multiple rule changes moving all timing issues to a consistent point in time; before the next Serve occurs. It also reinstates the allowance for players to ask for their correct position and/or challenge/confirm the called score. While it would be rare for a receiver to ask if they are in the correct position, the goal was to allow any player to be able to ask any question of the referee including any questions about the called score. This change is consistent with the guideline that anytime any player asks a score, correct player, or correct position question, the referee will pause play, (i.e., call “Tim e ”, raise their hand/step into the court thereby creating a dead ball) answer the player(s) question(s) and then recall the score (no 15-second notification is necessary). Per Rule 8.E, no faults can be committed during this dead ball time. An additional intent for the change is to prevent the serving team from “quick serving” the receiving team when the receiving team asks any of the allowed questions. See below:

Scenario: the referee calls the correct score. Before the Serve occurs, the receiver’s partner starts to ask if the receiver is the correct receiver. During the time when the receiver’s partner is asking the question, the Serve occurs. Since the referee’s attention is on the server, the referee immediately calls, “Time” in order to properly answer the receiver’s partner’s question. the referee confirms that the receiver is correct and states that they will recall the score. The serving team claims that the receiver’s partner committed a fault by asking a question when the Serve occurred. the referee states that the start of the question being asked occurred BEFORE the Serve occurred, which is allowed by rule. (This is the same as a time-out being called before the Serve occurs) The same as the serving team, the receiving team is allowed to ask any of the permitted questions; and they are allowed to have those questions answered without incurring a risk of being quick served. If the receiving team repeatedly asks similar questions of the referee, and the referee determines that the receiving team is trying to delay the game, or interrupt the momentum of the serving team, the referee may call a technical warning for delay of game on the receiving team. In summary, the receiving team is protected from being quick served, but not allowed to control the pace and flow of the match.

 

4.B.11.  New 2021 When an incorrect player serves or receives, or a player serves from an incorrect position, the referee will immediately stop play and identify the fault(s).

Reason: To reinforce that the possibility of more than one fault may be called on a player or team. This change also reflects the removal of questions a referee cannot answer. Since the changes to 4.B.9 and 4.B.10 allow for a player to ask any or all questions to the referee, the restriction on what the referee is allowed to answer has been removed.

Scenario A: The incorrect server is serving from the incorrect position. the referee calls the score and the server serves. the referee calls “fault” and explains BOTH faults that occurred (wrong server and wrong position) since both faults were committed at the same time.

Scenario B: The incorrect server is setup to Serve to the incorrect receiver. the referee calls the score and the incorrect server serves. the referee immediately calls “server fault, wrong server.” the referee does NOT mention that the incorrect receiver was setup to receive Serve as this would be coaching the receiving team. Since the incorrect receiver NEVER returned the Serve, no fault was committed by the receiving team.

Scenario C: The incorrect server is serving to the incorrect receiver with a score of 4-4-2. the referee does not “notice” that both server and receiver are incorrect. the referee calls the score; the incorrect server serves; the incorrect receiver returns the Serve. Then, the server’s partner catches the ball and tells the referee that the receiver was incorrect. After examination, the referee then realizes that both the server and receiver were incorrect. the referee admits his mistake and calls a fault on the incorrect server only! If the referee had done his job, he would have called the incorrect server fault the moment it occurred and the ball would be dead immediately and no other faults can be committed after the ball is dead (NVZ exception noted). (Commentary: You are the referee. Should you call a fault on both teams? If so, would you call “side-out” on the serving team, , , and then call a fault on the receiving team and award a point to the serving team, , , , , to whom you had just called for a side-out? (no) Also, if you call a fault on the incorrect server, and then call a fault on the incorrect receiver, should you not also call a fault on the server’s partner for stopping a live ball? (no) When we “rewind the tape”, in reality the ball would/should have been dead the instant after the incorrect server served the ball. A referee mistake should not open a pandora’s box of multiple faults being improperly assessed.)

4.B.12 New 2021: Incorrect Player or Position.  When an incorrect server or player position is discovered after a rally, game, or match has ended, the offending team can be faulted until the next Serve occurs or prior to the scoresheet being returned to the tournament operation’s desk. A point scored during the rally will not count. Any previous points scored by the incorrect server or with players in the incorrect positions will stand. After a match is completed, an incorrect player or position error may not be corrected after the scoresheet has been returned to tournament operations personnel.

Reason: This change is part of the goal to move all timing faults (start of score call, end of score call, start of service motion, Serve of ball, etc) to a consistent point-in-time, the Serve of the ball. It also provides clarity that after a game or match has completed, the error may be corrected before the scoresheet has been returned to tournament operations personnel. It further states that that an incorrect player/position error can be corrected after a rally; after a game; or after a match.

Scenario A: An incorrect server serves at 10-9-1 and wins the point and the first game with a score of 11-9. After the 2-minute break, the referee calls “Game 2, time-in, 0-0-2”. Before the Serve occurs, the receiver calls “time-out” and it is brought to the referee’s attention that there was an incorrect server fault that had occurred in game 1. the referee realizes their mistake and applies the incorrect server fault to game one, because the error was discovered before the next Serve of game 2 had occurred. the referee resets back to game one, removes the last point scored and calls a fault on the incorrect server. The team now serves at 10-9-2 to continue game 1.

Scenario B: In game 3, Team A serves with an incorrect server at 10-5-1 and wins the game. After the match is completed, the referee is walking back to the operations desk to return the scoresheet. A losing team player tells the referee they think an incorrect server served the ball on the last, winning point of game three. the referee agrees that he made a mistake. Since the scoresheet had not been returned to tournament operations personnel, the referee corrects his mistake and calls for all players to return to the court. After all players return, the referee informs everyone of his mistake and resets back to game 3, removes the last point scored and calls a fault on the incorrect server and states that Team A will be serving at 10-5-2.

When an incorrect server or player position is discovered after a rally, the offending team can be faulted until the next Serve occurs. A point scored during the rally will not count. Any previous points scored by the incorrect server or with players in the incorrect positions will stand.

4.C.        Readiness. Any player may indicate “not ready” prior to the start of the score being called.

4.C.1.     One of the following signals must be used to indicate “not ready”: 1) raising the paddle above the head, 2) raising the non-paddle hand above the head, 3) completely turning their back to the net.

4.C.2.     After the start of the score being called, “not ready” signals will be ignored, unless there is a hinder. A player or team out of position is not considered a hinder.

4.D.        Calling the Score. The score shall be called after the server and receiver are (or should be) in position and all players are (or should be) ready to play.

4.D.1.   If it appears the server or receiver is delaying the game, the referee will call the score to start the 10- Second Rule.

4.D.2.  New 2021 In non-officiated play, the server normally calls the score, but the server’s partner may call the score if the server is unable to call the score. The person calling the score shall not change during the game.+

Reason: The change allows for those rare circumstances where the server is unable to
call the score. The server and server’s partner should not alternate who calls the score for convenience sake or in an attempt to confuse the opponents. For that reason, once the serving team alters the normal convention of the actual server calling the score, it should remain in place until the end of the game.

Scenario: In a non-officiated match, the server’s partner has been calling the score for the entire game. After an opponent’s time-out, play resumes and the server inadvertently calls the score and serves. The receiving team reminds the serving team that the server’s partner had been calling the score and needs to remain as the score calling player. They replay the rally with no fault applied. The intent: This rule allows for a server who is having difficulty calling the score to give that responsibility to their partner. The partner needs to call the score for the entire game. If out of habit the server accidentally calls the score, no penalty will be assessed. The rally shall be replayed with the server’s partner calling the score.

4.E.         The 10-Second Rule. Once the score has been called, the server is allowed 10 seconds to Serve the ball.

4.E.1.      If the server exceeds 10 seconds to Serve, a fault will be declared.

4.E.2.   New 2021  After the score has been called, if the serving team changes serving courts, the referee shall call “Time”, allow all players to reposition, and then recall the score to re-start the 10-second count. In a non- officiated match, the server will allow for the same repositioning and will recall the score to re-start the 10 second count.

Reason: This change is part of the goal to reduce player and referee conflicts that
happen before the ball is served. It removes the confusion and debate that was caused concerning the receiving team needing time to reposition verses the serving team running out of the 10-second count because they could not decipher their correct service court. It also works in conjunction with players being allowed to ask score, correct player and position questions and thereby reducing the frequency that the serving court changes will occur. The instruction for the referee to call “Time” was added to ensure that if by chance the server does happen to Serve the ball, no fault will be applied because the ball was immediately dead when the referee called “Time” and is not live/in-play again until the restart of the score call. (Rule 8.E)

Scenario: The server is positioned in the incorrect service court and the receiving team is aligned accordingly. the referee calls the score and starts the 10-second count. The server starts the service motion and then stops and asks if she is in the correct position. the referee should call “Time” and reply that she is NOT in the correct position. The server switches service courts. the referee instructs that he will allow time for the receiving team to reposition and then recall the score. The serving team quickly repositions. While the receiving team is getting into the proper position, the server serves the ball to the receiving team’s side. (Note. This is not an actual Serve. A Serve can only happen when the ball is live.) the referee instructs the receiving team to return the ball and reminds the server that he (the referee) will recall the score to restart the rally. no fault was committed in this entire scenario. The server did not run out of the 10-seconds because play was halted when the correct position question was asked (causing the referee to call “time”). The server also did not commit a fault by hitting/serving the ball before the referee had recalled the score: When the referee called “Time”, the ball was dead and per Rule 8.E. no faults (except NVZ violations) can be committed during a dead ball.

After the score has been called, if the serving team changes serving courts, causing the receiving team to be incorrectly positioned, the referee shall allow the receiver time to reposition and the score shall be re-called to restart the 10-second count. In a non-officiated match, the server will allow for the same repositioning.

 

4.F.         Scoring. A singles player or doubles team scores points only when serving. Points may also be scored when technical fouls are called against the opposing side.

4.G.        Points. A point is scored by serving the ball and winning the rally.

4 H.        Winning the Game. The first side scoring the winning point wins.

4.I.          Calling the Score in Singles Matches. The proper sequence for calling the score is server score then receiver score as two numbers. (e.g., “one – zero.”)

4.J.         Calling the Score in Doubles Matches. The score is called as three numbers in doubles matches. The proper sequence for calling the score is: serving team’s score – receiving team’s score – the server number (one or two), (e.g., “zero – one – one”). To start each game, the score will be called as “zero – zero – two.”

4.K.       New 2021 Wrong Score Called. If the server or referee calls the wrong score, any player may stop play before the “third shot” occurs to ask for a correction.

Reason: This rule expands the window of time that players are allowed to challenge a possible incorrectly called score and extends it to the “third shot” point-in-time. Since the server is allowed to start their service motion during the calling of the score and potentially Serve the ball the “split second” after the score has been called, this gives all players an extended amount of time to process and decide if they want to challenge the called score. Note that this rule change specifically does not follow the goal of moving all timing or appeal issues to the Serve of the ball. The reason is that if a referee calls an incorrect score and then a 50-dink rally ensues, the option to have a replay and have a player “play the wrong score called card” to ensure a replay, should not be an option. This is why the window of time to challenge an incorrectly called score ends when the third shot occurs.

Scenario: the referee calls an incorrect score. The server serves and the receiver returns the ball into the net. The receiver then claims that the referee called the wrong score. the referee agrees that he did call the incorrect score and calls for a replay due to referee error. Even though the receiver returned the ball into the net, the claim of an incorrect score call did happen before the third shot had occurred. Even though in this scenario the third shot never occurred, there is the possibility that the incorrect score call impacted the receiver’s concentration to return the ball.

Wrong Score Called. If the server or referee calls the wrong score, any player may stop play before the return of Serve to ask for a correction.

4.K.1.     If the score called was incorrect, the player or referee will recall the correct score and the ball will be re-served with no penalty.

4.K.2.   New 2021  After the Serve has occurred , a player who stops play and challenges the called score when there is no error will have committed a fault

Reason: This change aligns with the global goal of moving all timing rules to the  moment of Serve contact. Since players are permitted to ask/challenge/confirm any score related concerns before the Serve occurs, once the Serve occurs, any player that stops play to challenge the called score will have committed a fault, providing the score had been called correctly. *Scenario B below illustrates how a referee should avoid the “pitfall” of getting into a conversation with a player after the Serve has occurred.

Scenario A: the referee calls the score “10-8-1” and the server serves the ball. The receiver
returns the ball and then yells, “Wait, wait, wait!” thereby stopping play. The receiver claims
that the referee had called the wrong score. the referee agrees that he called the wrong score and says “Referee error” and states he will recall the score.

Scenario B: the referee calls the score, “5-5-2” and the server serves the ball. As the ball is
crossing the net headed towards the receiver, the receiver’s partner looks at the referee (standing close by) and asks, “We have 6 don’t we?” the referee ignores the question and the receiver returns the ball and the rally ensues. Note: Once the ball has been served, to avoid the potential that the referee will interject themselves and stop play unnecessarily, the referee is not compelled to answer question(s) by a player. the referee effectively “ignoring” questions asked by any player will result in one of two results: 1) The rally will continue as normal, 2) The player(s) will escalate their concerns and eventually stop play (catching the ball, raising a hand halting play, etc). After the Serve, once a player(s) has stopped play and challenges the called score, either the referee has made an error in the score call and a replay will be called, or, if the referee has called the correct score, the player(s) who stopped play will have committed a fault. This guideline removes the potential for “player and referee discussions” that could arise after the ball has been served.

After the score has been called, a player who stops play to challenge the score when there is no error will have committed a fault.

4.K.3.   New 2021  A player who stops play after the “third shot” occurs will have committed a fault and shall lose the rally.

Reason: This change reflects the expansion of the window of time allowed for any player to challenge the called score. After the third shot has occurred, any player that stops play will be faulted.

Scenario A: After a third shot has occurred, the receiver stops play and says that the referee had called the wrong score. the referee confirms that he had called the wrong score, but that the challenge happened after the third shot had occurred. the referee calls a fault on the receiver per 4.K.3.

Scenario B: The starting server is serving from the right-hand court with a score of 6-4-2. the referee calls an incorrect score of “7-4-2”. The (correct) server serves; the receiver returns; and the server hits the “third shot”. Then the receiver’s partner stops play and claims that the referee had missed an incorrect server due to the called score of 7-4-2. After examination, the referee confirms that she had indeed called the wrong score, but the server was, in actuality, the correct server. She explains that the only error that had been committed was by herself (the referee) when she had called the incorrect score. Since the receiver’s partner stopped play after the third shot had occurred, this is a fault per rule 4.K.3. (Note: Although some might consider helpful to remind the receiving team to always “finish the rally” and then correct any wrong score called or incorrect server/position errors, this would be considered coaching and is not encouraged.)

A player who stops play after the return of Serve will have committed a fault and shall lose the rally.

4.L.         Service Foot Faults. During the Serve, when the ball is struck, the server’s feet shall:

4.L.1.     Not touch the area outside the imaginary extension of the sideline.

4.L.2.     Not touch the area on the wrong side of the imaginary extension of the centerline.

4.L.3.     Not touch the court, including the baseline.

4.M.     Service Faults. During the service, it is a fault against the server resulting in loss of Serve if:

4.M.1. The server serves from the incorrect serving area.

4.M.2. In doubles, the incorrect player serves the ball.

4.M.3. New 2021 The served ball touches any permanent object before it hits the ground.

Reason: The exceptions listed (net, receiver, receiver’s partner) are not permanent objects and should not have been listed in the rule.

The served ball touches any permanent object other than the net, the receiver, or the receiver’s partner before it hits the ground.

4.M.4. The served ball touches the server or their partner, or anything the server or their partner is wearing or holding.

4.M.5. New 2021 The served ball lands in the non-volley zone which includes the NVZ lines.

Reason: This addition helps clarify that the NVZ lines are part of the actual NVZ without having to look up the definition of NVZ.

The served ball lands in the non-volley zone.

4.M.6.  The served ball lands outside the service court.

4.M.7.  The served ball hits the net and lands inside the non-volley zone.

4.M.8.  The served ball hits the net and lands outside the service court.

4.M.9.     The server uses an illegal Serve (Rules 4.A.3, 4.A.4, 4.A.5) when not performing the Provisional Drop Serve. (Rule 4.A.8)

4.M.10. New 2021 The server or their partner calls a time-out after the Serve has occurred.

Reason: This change is part of the goal to move all timing faults to a consistent point-in-time which is the Serve of the ball.

The server or their partner calls a time-out after the score has been called and the server has started the service motion.

4.M.11. New 2021 A fault occurs when the server hits the ball to make the Serve while the score is being called.

Reason: This new rule complements and assigns a fault penalty if rule 4.A.1 has been violated (serving before the entire score is called) The rule has a definite start point and end point on when a fault can be called for serving too early. After a rally has ended, the ball is dead until the score starts to be called. Per rule 8.E, when the ball is dead, no faults can be called; therefore, if a server serves before the start of the score call, there is no penalty.

Scenario A: the referee starts to call the score and the server serves the ball before the referee has finished calling the score. the referee should immediately call a fault.

Scenario B: After a rally has ended, but before the referee starts to call the score, the server serves the ball. the referee should not call a fault since the ball is “dead”. the referee should remind the server to wait until the entire score has been called before serving the ball. This scenario is in accordance with new rule 8.E. which details that when we are in a dead ball situation, faults cannot be committed specifically because we are in a dead ball state of play.

4.N.     receiver Faults. It is a fault against the receiving team resulting in a point for the server if:

4.N.1.    The incorrect player returns the Serve.

4.N.2.    The receiver or the receiver’s partner is touched by or interferes with the flight of the ball before it bounces.

4.N.3. New 2021 The receiver or their partner calls a time-out after the Serve has occurred.

Reason: This change is part of the goal to move all timing faults to a consistent point-in-time which is the Serve of the ball.

The receiver or the receiver’s partner calls a time-out after the score has been called and the server has started the service motion.

4.O.     Service Lets. There is no limit to the number of lets a server may Serve. The Serve is a let and will be replayed if:

4.O.1.    The Serve touches the net, strap, or band and is otherwise good and lands in the service court.

4.O.2.    the referee calls a service let.

4.O.3.    Any player may call a service let. If the referee determines that a let called by a player did not occur, a fault will be declared against the offending player. 2021 RULE CHANGE

Removed: The definition (3.A.18) and section 4 (Service Lets) have been removed. Starting in 2021, there will be no rule(s) governing service lets. Service Lets have been removed. It is noted that out of habit, both referees and players may sometimes habitually call a service let. If any player stops play because of a service let being called, that player/team will have committed a fault per rule 7.I.

Reasons: Each year there is probably one rule change that is more controversial than the others. This year, we expect the change to the ‘let’ Serve rule to fall in that category.

Many have questioned, “Why?” It’s a normal and expected question that deserves an answer. The reason behind this change was only considered after careful thought. It was not a capricious or arbitrary decision. What follows is an attempt to provide an explanation.

Those opposed to the change may not have their opinion changed, but at least one will know what was behind the decision.

The Rules Committee Considerations

The Rules Committee is committed to the following priorities when they approve rules:

  1. The first priority is preserving the integrity of the game. Nothing is more important to the committee than that.
  2. Second priority is what is best for the players; are there rule changes the committee can make to improve their experience, make it easier for players to learn, to play, etc.
  3. Third priority is what’s best for officiating; what can the committee do in rules space to make it less likely that players will argue with or get into conflicts with referees.

Those are the priorities applied to rule making – in that exact order. Now, let’s examine this rule change under the microscope of those three priorities.

First Priority? Preserve the integrity of the game.

If there is a rule in the game that can invite active or passive cheating at worst or prevent inaccurate calls at best, shouldn’t every player expect the Rules Committee to address it – for the good of the game? Can you think of anything that would damage the integrity of the game more than active or passive cheating? The Rules Committee cannot and will not let the game everyone enjoys be damaged by even a very small number of players who might usurp a rule to their advantage now or in the future. The future is, admittedly, more important in this change than the present case. That is perhaps why many may have a hard time initially understanding why this change has been enacted. The ‘let’ Serve rule opens up a loophole for inaccurate, (intentional or otherwise) calls. The Rules Committee is closing it.

Consider this scenario: You are in the winner’s bracket, three wins away from the MXD gold medal match where a Golden Ticket to Nationals awaits the winning team. This match does not yet qualify for a referee. This is an MMP National Qualifier event at the 3.5 level. You are serving for match point, up 10-9 in game three. You Serve wide and catch the receiver leaning the wrong way. He hits his return of your Serve wide and erroneously and immediately yells, “Let!”. You know there was no ‘let’ Serve but there’s nothing you can do about it. In the 2020 Rulebook, you MUST play a replay. It does no good to appeal to the Head Referee or Tournament Director because it’s a judgment call. You have just lost your match-point Serve to someone who has made a horrible call and you know it. Is there any doubt where your mind will be at that instant and how long it will take you to reset after that obvious, blatant call? As the stakes get higher and higher for pros and amateur players who play in qualifying tournaments, whether for money or Golden Tickets, this loophole is a potential threat to the game. Pickleball Hall of Fame member Steve Paranto perhaps said it best, “This type of call on ‘let’ serves has already happened. This rule change eliminates any chance of inaccurate calls entirely.” The Rules committee is getting out in front of this potential before it becomes a bigger issue. Money in the pro and senior pro level and higher stakes for amateur players will change our game in ways most haven’t even thought about. But, the Rules Committee has. One can argue the extent to which this exists in our sport today, but no one can deny that money and high stakes can change player behavior, intentionally or not. That is a key point in this discussion; how behavior can change when the stakes of a game increase. So, we can argue whether this is an overreaction for what exists now, but that’s not the full picture. The higher the stakes, the more inaccurate are player judgment calls. It’s an aspect of human behavior that is difficult to refute.

Note: for those who think the bigger threat here are line calls, the Rules Committee also made a subtle and small, but important, wording change in the line call rules as well, for much the same reason.

Second Priority? What is best for the players

If there is a rule that can eliminate conflict between or among players in a match, shouldn’t the Rules Committee consider it? Conflict on the court does NOT enhance the player experience. This rule completely eliminates player conflict over whether or not a served ball hits the net. Completely. no more arguments, no more conflict. In recreational play, this rarely results in conflict because most just accept the replay. Not an issue. But in tournament play? Yes, it has caused conflict because one team calls a ‘let’ the other team doesn’t agree with. A lot? no, but as said above, this change is to get out in front of a stronger potential in the future. Next up? Referees.

Third Priority? What’s best for officiating.

If there is a rule that will eliminate conflicts between players and referees, shouldn’t the Rules Committee consider it? Service ‘lets’ have caused several player and referee conflicts. In matches with a referee, players have called service ‘lets’ that have not been confirmed by the referee. By rule, those are faults on the player for calling a ‘let’ that the referee did not also detect. Furthermore, many referees had adopted a practice of touching the net during the Serve to ‘detect’ service ‘lets’ and then moving back into their normal position. Because not all referees use it, that practice introduced an undesired inconsistency among referees. Additionally, some players complained because the movement of the referee back into position, however slight, can be distracting, which is itself another potential source of referee/player conflict. Players have written complaints to USA Pickleball asking that the practice be stopped. This rule change completely eliminates that type of conflict as well. A final note about the referee aspect of this. Notice where it falls on the priority list. Last. Just where it belongs. So, it would be incorrect to place more importance on this reason for the change than it deserves.

Scenario A: the referee calls the correct score and the server serves. The served ball hits the net and lands in the proper receiving court. the referee immediately yells “Let”. the referee after realizing her mistake, says “Referee error” and calls for a replay. She then reminds everyone that “service lets” do not exist.

Scenario B: the referee calls the correct score and the server serves. The served ball hits the net and lands in the proper receiving court. The receiver yells “Let” and catches the ball. the referee shall call a fault on the receiver per rule 7.I. (stopping a live ball before it becomes dead) and remind all players that “service lets” do not exist.

Scenario C: the referee calls the correct score and the server serves. The served ball hits the net and lands in the proper receiving court. The receiver yells “Let” but also happens to return the ball to the serving team. A serving team player catches the ball because they heard the word “let” and thought a replay would occur. the referee shall call a fault on the serving team per rule 7.I. (stopping a live ball before it becomes dead) and remind all players that “service lets” do not exist. This is NOT a case for a distraction fault on the receiving team because the receiving team yelled “let” well before the ball had crossed back to the serving team’s side, and, well before the serving team was about to play the ball.

Scenario D: the referee calls the correct score and the server serves. The served ball hits the net and lands in the proper receiving court. The receiver returns the ball. After the ball has crossed back to the serving team’s court and just as the server is about to make a play on the ball, the receiver’s partner loudly yells “Let” just as the original server was about to hit the ball. Upon hearing the opponent yell “Let”, the referee calls a distraction fault because the receiver’s partner committed a distraction fault as the server was about to play the ball.

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