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Ball Bounces Off Paddle and Onto Playing Surface During Pre-Serve Routine. Serve & Fault?

Many of us have pre-serve routines. We may bounce the ball three times, for example, prior to serving. Perhaps we tap the ball against our paddle four times and then serve. Maybe we merely take a deep breath and let it fly.

But what happens if we tap the ball against our paddle during this pre-serve routine and we lose control of the ball and, as a result, the ball lands on the playing surface? Would this be considered a serve — and, therefore, a fault?

USA Pickleball Official Rulebook (2024)

Shown below is the applicable section in the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook that defines the term, “serve.”

Rule #3.A.37.

Serve – The initial strike of the ball with the paddle to start the rally.


Based on this definition of “serve,” it should be evident to any reasonable player, that bouncing the ball against the paddle in a pre-serve routine does not constitute “the initial strike of the ball with the paddle to begin the rally.” Therefore, it is not considered a serve — and, consequently, not a fault.

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To begin a rally, there must be [reasonable] intent to strike the ball and hit it over the net and into the appropriate service box. A pre-serve routine is just that — something you do before the serve — with no intention of putting the ball in play to begin a rally.

What Happens Next?

In rec play, simply retrieve the ball, recall the score and serve. In a refereed match the referee will allow the server ten seconds after the score has been called to retrieve the ball and serve. The referee does have discretion, however, to step in, raise his/her hand and announce, “I will recall the score” and allow the player to begin again.

Need More Pickleball Rules Clarifications & Interpretations?

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See you on the courts.

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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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