This post has been updated in 2024 according to the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook (2024).
Some view it as hilarious, brilliant and all in good fun. Others consider it barbaric, nonsensical and a tactic that has no place in the game of pickleball. Players have no shortage of opinions when it comes to one of pickleball’s most divisive shots – executing the Nasty Nelson to an unsuspecting target.
What is the Nasty Nelson?
The Nasty Nelson is a shot in which the server attempts to intentionally hit the return-of-server’s partner – who is likely positioned at or near their own non-volley line – with the served ball.
If the server does, indeed, hit the return-of-server’s partner (or the return-of-server, for that matter) in the air before the ball bounces, it is a fault on the receiving team and results in a point for the serving team.
Is the Nasty Nelson Legal?
USA Pickleball Official Rulebook (2024)
Here are the applicable rules according to the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook:
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.
[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.
Does it Matter Where the Return-of-Server’s Partner is Positioned When Getting Hit by a Nasty Nelson?
If the return-of-server’s partner gets hit by the ball before it bounces it does not matter where they were standing. They could be standing at the non-volley line, at the baseline or completely off the court. It’s a point for the serving team regardless of where they were standing.
How did Nasty Nelson Get its Name?
The Nasty Nelson is named after one of pickleball’s most “colorful characters,” Timothy (the Puppet Master) Nelson. Nelson has a history of incorporating this tactic into his game.
How to Avoid Getting Hit with the Nasty Nelson
To avoid the “humiliation” of being on the receiving end of a Nasty Nelson (and to avoid losing a point), it is critical to always pay attention and stay alert as the serve is being hit. Those that are the recipients are typically the ones that get caught “woolgathering.”
It’s also important that, as the partner to the return-of-server, you don’t position yourself too close to the centerline as the serve is being hit.
Positioning yourself too close to the centerline will give the server the ability to serve normally (and at you in an attempt at a Nasty Nelson) and still land the ball into the correct service box. Even if you avoid getting hit by the ball, you will still obstruct the view for your partner as they attempt to return the serve.
Have you ever been on the giving or receiving end of a Nasty Nelson? If so, how did all the players on the court react? We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on one of pickleball’s most divisive tactics/shots.
See you on the courts.
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.