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As promised in my last blog post, I’m going to focus on pickleball serves again. Don’t worry; this will be my last article on serves for a while. I’m going to write more about different kinds of shots – the dink, lob, volley, smash, etc. – as well as about pickleball equipment (primarily the paddle) and books and videos about pickleball. So now lets take an in depth look at two of the best pickleball serves:

  1. pickleball spin serve
  2. pickleball backhand serve

Neither one of these serves is easy to master so we will look at a handful of pickleball serve videos to help us visualize and learn how to execute them. No way this is going to be easy so prepare yourself for hours of practice before taking these serves onto the court in competition. By the way, in later blog posts we’ll talk about other important serves, namely, the soft lob, the angled serve, and the hard flat serve

Force your Opponent to Twist and Shout with the Pickleball Spin Serve

The spin serve is so difficult because it requires both control and finesse. We’re going to limit our discussion to two types of spin serves – topspin and backspin, although there are variations such as the sidespin, which can be very effective but even harder to hit than the other two.

Top players are increasingly using the topspin serve. In this video Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports breaks down the serve into its key elements. He describes this pickleball serve technique as brushing up the back of the ball with your paddle, forcing the ball to spin away from your opponent. After the ball bounces it jumps a bit more towards your opponent putting him or her on the defensive.

Mark Renneson from Third Shot Sports explains the topspin serve and demonstrates how to hit it.

In the next video Jeff Napier from Pickleball 5000 discusses two legal pickleball spin serves: the forehand topspin serve and the forehand reverse spin serve. Napier asserts that these serves are completely legal and “will often ace beginners, but even experienced players will be put off balance at the beginning of a rally with this kind of serving.” Both serves are hit underhanded, as this is the only way a serve can be legal.

Here Jeff Napier demonstrates the forehand topspin serve and the forehand reverse spin serve.

Apply Topspin or Backspin for Best Results

To apply topspin means that you’re hitting the ball so that it rotates forward while in the air, spinning forward, so that it doesn’t bounce as high as a flat serve when it reaches your opponent. You can vary the topspin (similar to hitting a cue ball in pool) by applying topspin left or topspin right. Not easy shots to perfect. But the end result can be very difficult shots for your opponent to return.

To apply backspin means that you’re hitting the ball so that it rotates backwards while in the air, spinning in reverse (same pool analogy but the opposite – a shot known as the draw). This shot will bounce higher than if you apply no spin, and you can apply right or left “English,” (so to speak); that is, slice it right or left so it bounces with backspin to the right or left.

I have used both types of spin serves – topspin and backspin (or slice) – in my game, and I can tell you they are just as effective as the lob or the hard, flat serve. As I stated in the previous blog post, mixing up your serves is the best pickleball serve strategy. But without these two serves you don’t have anything to mix. These serves take a lot of practice to master, as I’ve said, but the time spent will be well worth it.

Before leaving our discussion on the topspin serve let’s take a look at hitting the topspin with power. This is an excellent strategy as long as your serve meets legal standards: contact below belly button, contact made in an upward motion, and head of paddle below wrist.

Here Richard Fitch demonstrates the topspin serve with power in slow motion.

What Makes the Backhand Serve in Pickleball so Effective?

I love using the backhand serve on occasion. Yes, on occasion, not all the time. As part of the “mix it up” serve strategy it’s a great way to throw your opponent off guard. I see it all the time. It’s your turn to serve and all of a sudden you move into position to serve backhanded, and you see your opponent fidget a bit not knowing what to expect. From the backhand position you can deliver many of the same type serves as you do with the forehand except for the hard flat serve or the lob – these would be most difficult. But surely you can use topspin or slice as well as sharp angle serves.

In the next video Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports demonstrates the technique for the backhand serve and explains in detail how to hit it consistently and effectively:

  1. Set-up sideways and allow body rotation.
  2. Use continental grip (similar to holding a hammer or shaking hands).
  3. Make sure the impact point is thigh high and in front (between body and net). This allows for strength and stability.
  4. Keep paddle face stable. This allows for better control of direction and makes hitting the middle of the paddle easier.

Be sure to have a relaxed follow-through.

Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports demonstrates the backhand pickleball serve.

Renneson explains that you might use the backhand serve for two reasons: (1) your forehand serve is not very good or (2) when you hit a backhand serve there’s always some sidespin, which helps the ball go off the court away from your opponent. This is why I like the backhand spin, the fact that it naturally produces this “skipping away” affect and can move away from your opponent. Although Renneson doesn’t discuss it, there is also the added benefit that you can use topspin or backspin to further enhance the serve’s effectiveness.

As an aside, at the end of the video Renneson states the he doesn’t recommend using the backhand serve and that he doesn’t use it himself. My take, though, is that the backhand serve is extremely effective against beginners and moderately experienced players, but that he might be right that it has less of an impact when playing against professionals or super advanced players.

Here is a very good video entitled The Backhand Serve with Slow Motion by Byron Freso presented by Pickleball Channel. You can see how much Freso is able to curve the ball with his backhand serve.

backhand serve a

Here you can see how a right-hand server assumes a side-facing position with the right side toward the net. The right foot points to a spot between the net and the left sideline.

Although I don’t generally believe you can learn how to play sports by reading a book, I do like Pickleball Fundamentals by the USA Pickleball Association with Mary Littlewood because the book is filled with useful photographs and explanations of various shots including the backhand pickleball serve. Following are three photographs taken from the book that highlight the three key positions of the backhand serve.

backhand serve b

The server holds the ball in the left hand, and he crosses his arms in front of his body. The server then drops the ball in line with the intended target and swings his arm holding the paddle forward and hits the ball as the ball travels downward.

backhand serve c

The server finishes the serve with a smooth, easy follow-through.This serve is easy to execute because only the upper body of the server moves. It is also deceiving to the receiver and difficult to return because of a natural sidespin on the ball.

The Backhand Pickleball Serve – An Important Tool in Your Arsenal

The backhand pickleball serve, as I’ve mentioned several times, is not easy to learn. But if you practice it and get used to the motion and coming across from the opposite side of your body it really is not that difficult because only the upper body moves with very little hand motion. It is a very effective serve because it easily deceives the receiver and is difficult to return due to the natural sidespin you can put on the ball. Practice it, and then try it in a game. Let me know how it works for you.