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

4.A.   The Serve.

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

4.A.2.  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

4.A.3.  If the serve clears the net or hits the net and then touches the receiver or the receiver’s partner, it is a point for the serving team.

4.A.4.    The moment the ball is served: (See Fig 4-1 & 4-2)

Figure 4-1

4.A.4.a. At least one foot must be on the playing surface behind the baseline.
4.A.4.b. Neither of the server’s feet may touch the court on or inside the baseline.
4.A.4.c. Neither of the server’s feet may touch outside the imaginary extensions of the sideline or centerline.
4.A.4.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.

4.A.5. The Volley Serve. The server shall use only one hand to release the ball to perform the serve. If the ball is visibly spun by the server during the release, the part(s) of the hand contacting the ball must be bare. 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 or if the referee (or receiver in non-officiated matches) cannot discern whether an item on the hand contacted a visibly spun ball. Exception: A player who has the use of only one hand may use their hand or paddle to release the ball to perform the serve.

4.A.5.a. 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.5.b. 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)

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

4.A.5.d. The serve must be made without bouncing the ball off the court and hitting it.

4.A.6. The Drop Serve.

4.A.6.a. 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. There is no restriction how many times the ball can bounce nor where the ball can bounce 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.4) still apply.

4.A.6.b. The ball shall not be propelled (thrown) downward or tossed or hit upward with the paddle.

4.A.6.c. 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.5.a, 4.A.5.b and 4.A.5.c 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.7.  Partner Positions. In doubles, with the exception of the server (see 4.A.4) there is no restriction on the position of any player, as long as all players are on their respective team’s side of the net. They can be positioned on or off the court. The correct server must serve from the correct service court, and the correct receiver must receive the serve.

4.B.8.    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.

4.B.9. 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).

4.B.10. 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 by the offending team
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.

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. 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 unless there is a voice impairment.

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.      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.

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 and their score is 0.

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.      Wrong Score Called.   If the server or referee calls the wrong score, once the serve is made, play shall continue to the end of the rally and the correction made before the next serve. After the serve is made, a player who stops play based solely on an incorrect score call, 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. The served ball touches any permanent object 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. The served ball lands in the non-volley zone which includes the NVZ lines.

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.5.a, 4.A.5.b, 4.A.5.c) when performing the Volley Serve. (Rules 4.A – 4.A.5.d)

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

4.M.11.  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. 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 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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