Pickleball Serve Hits Receiver’s Partner in Air Before Bouncing — Fault? Point?

This post has been updated in 2024 according to the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook (2024).

Here’s the Scenario. You Make the Call.

You serve the ball and the served ball hits the receiver’s partner. Fault? Replay? What’s the call? This scenario is affectionately (or not so affectionately) referred to as a “Nasty Nelson.”

Don’t Interfere with the Flight of the Ball When Returning Serve — Neither Intentionally Nor Unintentionally!

You tend to see this occur from time-to-time on the pickleball courts, particularly in rec play. And, unfortunately, most of the time — without proper knowledge of the appropriate pickleball rules — a fault is incorrectly called.

The scenario is this: The ball is served — and hits (or is sometimes caught by) the receiver or partner of the receiver. They may have been inadvertently hit — or they may have consciously caught the served ball because it was “clearly going to land outside of the service box.”

As the following excerpt from the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook clearly states, however, interfering with the flight of the ball on the serve results in a point for the serving team.

What if the Receiver or Receiver’s Partner was Standing Out-of-Bounds?

As a follow-up, I’m often asked, “what if the receiver — or receiver’s partner — was standing out-of-bounds when they were hit?” Plain-and-simple, it doesn’t matter where the receiver — or receiver’s partner — was standing. They could have been standing 10 feet out-of-bounds when they were hit. They could have been standing on another court when they were hit. 🙂 It is still a point for the serving team.

USA Pickleball Official Rulebook (2024)

Rule #4.N:

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

Rule #4.N.1: The receiver or their partner is touched by or interferes with the flight of the ball before it bounces.

Rule #7.I:

[A Fault will be declared for the following]… A ball in play that is stopped by a player before it becomes dead (e.g., catching or stopping a ball in flight before it makes contact with the playing surface). The fault is on the player who stopped the ball.

Would Love to Hear your Story!

I would love to hear your story. Please comment below if this scenario has ever happened to you. Did you replay the point because you weren’t sure what to do? Did you call a fault on the serve? Or did you correctly award the point to the serving team?

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Coach Todd
About Todd

Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.

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40 Comments

  1. Scenario: Server serves ball to receiver of serve, receiver of serve returns ball but hits the top of foot of the receiver who is behind the baseline. Partner calls the ball out immediately. The ball did not bounce in the court. Where was the fault?

    1. Hi Maria, Where the receiver was positioned does not matter. If it hits the receiver without it bouncing first, it is a point for the serving team. Hope this helps.

  2. I’m a terrible server so this happens to me a lot. Most people fuss when I attempt to take the point. Usually they point out how bad my serve was. I’m already self conscious about my serve. Twice I’ve feel humiliated and give up the point after attempting to take it, then I skip open play for a few days because I’m so nerotic about my serve.

    I think it’s poor sportsmanship on their part. If they are not aware of the rule, I explain it, and I tell them the rule and it’s the same in most sports, definitely tennis. They are a poor sport to fuss about the point and often follow up with a comment on how bad my serve is, which is just more poor sportsmanship.

  3. If I hit a ball and it strikes my opponent, then My momentum carries me into the kitchen, what is the ruling?

    1. If the ball that you hit didn’t bounce (it was a volley) then it would be a fault on you. There is no time-limit to the momentum rule. Keep in mind, however, that the momentum rule only applies to the act of volleying the ball. Hope that helps.

  4. Hi, I’m 2 days new to pickleball and am enjoying it. I’m glad you have this Q&A cuz I can’t seem to find the answer to this specific question. During play, if the ball is going out of bounds and I try to hit it and miss, is that a fault on my side because I tried to play? Or is it a fault on the opposing side because it went out of bound.

  5. Rally going on. Player lobs ball and it is definitely going out on the receivers side of the net. The ball is so high that it hits a tree branch and lands IN. The returning team didn’t hit it because they say it was going out. What’s the call?

    1. Hi Sandy, Good question. In this instance it would be a fault on the team that lobbed the ball that subsequently struck a tree branch. Rule #7.J. defines one of the faults as:

      7.J. A ball in play contacting any permanent object before bouncing on the court.

  6. Todd…not a question pertaining to being hit but this isn’t covered anywhere else that I could find

    I’m server 1, serving from the extreme right corner of the even court.

    The receiver’s partner is standing at the kitchen-line as close to the center-line as possible but not in the service court.

    Problem is…I want to serve to the extreme center-line/base-line corner of the service court but I can’t see that part of the service court because the receiver’s partner is obstructing my view of that part of the court.

    I know I can try a Nasty Nelson and teach them a lesson (plus score a point)…however, is that my only option or is it against the rules for the receiver’s partner to obstruct the server’s view of the server’s service court?

    1. The receiver’s partner can stand anywhere they want on the court. When this happens to me, I like to serve right at them so that if it doesn’t hit them (and it rarely does), it still lands in the correct service box — and as a bonus, the receiver’s view will be obstructed by his/her own partner!!! Great strategy.

  7. So during a rally if the ball is clearly going out of bounds but hits the opposing player before it hits the ground or the opposing players catches the ball assuming it is out anyway, the team that hit the ball gets the point correct? Or does this only apply on a serve? Thanks Great stuff here by the way. My wife and I are new to the game but quickly growing to love it.

    1. Hi Annivar, You are absolutely correct. Section 7 of the rulebook refers to fault rules. Specifically, a fault will be declared for the following…

      7. I. A live ball that is stopped by a player before it becomes dead. Example: catching or stopping a ball in flight before it makes contact with the court.

      Hope that helps!

  8. I am the receiving opponent, as I’m hitting the ball back to the serving player my partner shouts “out”, which it was. At that point I stopped playing. Serving team said it’s their point because I hit the ball back to them. I say no, because my partner shouted “out” immediately. I could not stop my momentum from returning returning ball.
    what is the rule

    1. Hi Mak, The rally is won by you. As long as your partner called it immediately, it doesn’t matter if you hit the ball or not. It’s out. The ball is dead at that point. Hope that helps.

  9. When I was serving to an opponent, the opponent’s partner stepped over and returned the serve even though the ball hit in the correct area. I didn’t think that was allowed and thought it should have been my team’s point. The opponent who hit the ball insisted that either player could return the serve. What is the correct ruling for this situation?

    1. Hi Sandra, You are correct. There are indeed “correct” servers and returners. That “correct” returner must return the ball.

      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.

  10. A served ball in the wrong court that hits a partner is a point for the serving team? It was clearly hit to the wrong court but player was unable to get out of way because they were up at the kitchen line. Seems it should be a double fault or reserve?

    1. Hi Sandra, You are correct. A served ball that hits a partner in the air is a point for the serving team — regardless of where the partner is standing. I think it was written this way because without this rule, who is to say the ball was “clearly” hit to the wrong court? I have seen the partner of the receiver position themselves right next to the middle line and when I serve from the far corner the ball literally travels over them when I serve it to the middle. In any event, it is, indeed, a rule. Hope this helps.

  11. A returned ball is hit long but hits the receiver’s foot which was about 12” beyond the baseline. Was told the ball was still in play and point went to the returner. Is this the correct ruling?

    1. Hi Nancy, Yes, that is officially the correct ruling. If the ball hits you in the air — regardless of your position in the court — it’s a fault on the person who was hit. Hope that helps.

  12. Server serves the ball and the receiver hits the ball back to the serving team. However, the returner shouts “out,” after the contact of ball. So question is, point for serving team? Point for the receiving team?

    1. Hi Angel, This would be a point (well, not really a point because you can’t win points unless you’re serving) for the receiving team, because it sounds like the served ball was called, “out.” It doesn’t matter if it was called out after the receiver made contact with the ball — as long as it was made “instantly” according to the definition below. The following rule (6.D.8.) should help clarify:

      6.D.8. All “let” or “out” calls must be made “instantly”; otherwise, the ball is presumed good and still in play. “Instantly” is defined as calling “let” or “out” prior to the ball being hit by the opponent or before a dead ball is declared.

    1. Hi Lorri, Intentional or unintentional — still a point for the serving team. As the return-of-server’s partner, you don’t want to be asleep at the switch or this could happen to you… It’s also called a “Nasty Nelson” when the server does this on purpose!!!

      1. A Nasty Nelson? I am so glad to learn that term. My goal in pickleball is to get good enough to pull off a Nasty Nelson. (just kidding, kind of).

        In open play, I mentioned to my partner that I have never succeeded in getting my serve in when the receiver’s partner stands on the kitchen T. A few games later when she was my opponent she started standing on the T. I totally want to Nasty Nelson her #$!.

        1. I just read my own comment. I had only been playing 6 weeks when I wrote that and I was mad at the woman who targeted my admitted weakness. How naive!
          Of the 8 women who started at the same time as me, that woman moved to a better court the soonest. She quickly learned to target her opponents weaknesses. Those of us who think we are there to be each others’ cheerleaders are still stuck on the beginner court. Not a game for snowflakes!

  13. Hi Todd,

    Appreciate your responses.
    I have a question.
    Player 1 serves the ball and hits the receiver’s partner but the referee calls a foot fault. What is the result?

    1. Good question, Merle… It would be called a “Let” and you would replay the point:

      4.F. Service Lets. The serve is a let and will be replayed if:
      4.F.3. The served ball hits the net and strikes the receiver or the receiver’s partner.

      Hope that helps!

      1. New rule 2018: (4.A.9) Served ball clearing net or hitting net cord and then striking receiver’s partner (or receiver) is a point for serving team.

  14. Hi Todd, I always wondered when the ball is being returned to you and it is rolling on top of the net can you go into the kitchen if you are fast enough to return it or do you have to wait until it bounces. I would think you would have to wait until it bounces.

    1. Hi Jon, You are correct. As the serving team you have to let the ball bounce first before hitting that 3rd shot. Similarly, you can never hit the ball out of the air after it hits the top of the net while in the kitchen. Doing so would be a kitchen violation and would result in a fault.

    1. Hi Thomas, My guess is you’re asking why the service returner’s partner would stand at the NVZ line when the serve is hit and risk getting hit by the serve and awarding a point to the serving team. The service returner’s partner wants to be at the NVZ line simply because the NVZ line is where 80%+ of points will be won in a pickleball rally. It’s easier to start the point there than to have to come up to the NVZ line with your partner after every return of serve. You might as well start where you ultimately want to be positioned. Hope that makes sense.

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