Is there a better way to learn how to serve than by watching the pros play? We don't think so. We challenge you to watch a pro play, paying special attention to how they serve - you'll notice consistent form, speed adjustments, and how they stay unpredictable. That said, you might wonder, what is the best serve in pickleball that model yours after?
No specific serve in pickleball is the best, since each optimal serve is contextual, however, accuracy is a key ingredient for any serve at the professional level. For instance, kitchen corner serves are great for opponents hugging center, and centerline serves work best when they're in the corners.
Or sending a deep serve with power behind it is a great way to cinch the game. So the best serve is largely dependent on where your opponent is standing and how precisely you can place your serve. In other words, it's a combination of skill and knowing when and where to serve.
What’s the Best Serve in Pickleball? Your Best Options by Scenario
This guide is the result of studying how professional pickleball players serve. It's built from patterns in many players' approaches; certain techniques that appear again and again when it comes to serving the ball.
With that in mind, let's explore your top serving options, including how to do them and in which scenarios they'll work hardest for you. We’ll also have some handy serving tips, so make sure you keep reading!
1. Lob Serve
You’ll hear pickleball players call the lob serve the moon ball, the sky serve, or even the high, soft serve. Just like you would throughout a rally, lobbing as a serving technique includes hitting the ball high. When executed correctly, your lob will generate an arch that makes your opponent have to move to return the serve.
As both an offensive and defensive maneuver, lobs are easy enough to learn and can be picked up and played in many pickleball scenarios.
A well-placed lob serve is particularly effective if your opponent has something of an eagle eye - AKA, they haven't slipped up once on the serve return throughout a game. That's your cue to try a lob. It could be enough to catch them off guard and instill some doubt into their minds about their ability to return the ball.
Lobs have the power to move your opponent from their baseline and be an answer to an overly fast, aggressive style. The keyword being aggressive - you know the type, they like to constantly attack and move closer and closer to the kitchen line.
This serve technique is more than just mind games though. If you watch the pros serve, a big component of serving well is directing their opponent's movement, and hopefully tripping them up.
How Do You Lob Serve in Pickleball?
When standing at the baseline, do a backswing keeping your paddle face open. Then hit the ball up into the air and send it high across the court – ideally, aim for your opponent’s non-dominant hand.
Left shoulder for right-handed players and right shoulder for left-handed players, while keeping your paddle at head height as you follow through.
On the bounce, the ball will sail over your opponent’s head, even if their paddle is outstretched, and hit their baseline while not leaving bounds. A common error when lobbing is hitting it too low. Go as high as you possibly can because if you don't get it high enough, you've just set your opponent up for an easy putaway.
2. Kitchen Corner Serve
Pro pickleball players will pull the kitchen corner serve out of their back pocket when it suits them. This is a much more difficult type of pickleball serve than a lob because of the necessary precision, but practice makes perfect, right? Either way, you should know how it works and when to use it.
When executing a kitchen corner serve, the ball should land right by the outside corner of the kitchen on your opponent’s side. Again, your goal here is to get your opponent moving, so they are more likely to be off balance and hit a poor return.
Done with true precision at the right speed, your opponent may miss the ball entirely, or they’ll return the ball (usually just barely), giving you a pop-up for an easy putaway.
How Do You Kitchen Corner Serve in Pickleball?
To do a kitchen corner serve, position yourself fairly close to the centerline. This will give you more angle which will make your opponent have to move more to return. Make contact with the ball softly so it moves just beyond the kitchen line on the other side of the court and forces your opponent to leave their starting position.
The key to kitchen corner serves isn’t about how much power you can put behind it, which is part of why they’re so difficult to successfully pull off. You need to keep your grip on the paddle firm and light. It's also helpful to introduce some slice to the ball to help it spin further from your opponent when it bounces.
(We know all about the new rule changes to the spin serve, but just keep this advice in your mind in case your rec play doesn't follow that).
So then, when's the best time for a kitchen corner serve? It comes in handy in all sorts of situations!
A kitchen corner serve can be a good go-to if you start to think your serves are getting repetitive and begin noticing your opponents are getting more aggressive with each serve you send their way. In short, a kitchen corner serve has a lot of merit for use when you're becoming predictable and need to shake things up.
You should also use this serve when your opponent is playing beyond the baseline or nearing the centerline. This is hands down the best time to incorporate it. And throughout a game, players will commonly start to sit more cushioned in a certain area - if you pick up on that, strike with a kitchen corner serve.
We’d also recommend a kitchen corner serve if you notice your opponent is a little slow and doesn’t react to long-reaching or fast shots that well. This will really test their energy and reaction time.
3. Centerline Serve
A slightly easier serve than the kitchen corner serves is the centerline serve, since there is more room for forgiveness. It's perhaps the sibling of the kitchen corner serve since your goal here is to hit the corner where the centerline meets your opponent's baseline within the service area.
It runs with the same goal in mind - catching your opponent off guard by forcing them to move with your serve. This pro-level serve can move a reluctant opponent from their corner and also get them moving when they’re near the baseline.
How Do You Centerline Serve in Pickleball?
Achieving a centerline serve is similar to the kitchen corner serve, but deeper and positioned on the other side of the court. You need to position yourself right at the court centerline but never step over (illegal serve.) Then swing using your regular technique, but aim the pickleball right down the centerline so it just barely bounces over the receiving player’s centerline.
Successful centerline serves takes plenty of practice. If you’re just not getting the technique down, try hitting the ball slightly higher than you do during a standard serve.
Placement is more important than power while you’re learning technique so feel free to swing a little slower too. Seriously though, the best pros will choose consistent serve placement with deep serves over power serves every time.
Once you hit your opponent with a centerline serve (not literally, of course, only figuratively), and especially if they’re more inexperienced, they’ll realize that you have more tricks up your sleeve than you might have initially let on.
This will keep your opponent guessing as they try to guess what you might do next. They also might begin playing in a more reactionary way than usual to accommodate for what they think is coming.
More experienced pickleball players can recognize a centerline serve long before you do it because you’ll be standing on the centerline before sending it their way. This gives them time to react and respond, shutting them down.
This is why it's important to practice hitting centerline serves from a few steps off the centerline that are just as effective, but harder to recognize. This will serve you extremely well regardless of your competitor's experience (pun intended).
4. Power Serve
We saved what’s probably the most iconic pickleball serve for last, and that’s the power serve. Pickleball players like to call it The Drive or The Rip just to make it sound that much more imposing, and hey, it works!
You might be thinking this serve seems a bit hypocritical since we've just vouched that power isn't as important as accuracy when it comes to serving. And we still stand by that. But there's a lot of value in using a power serve to reduce your predictability of serve.
Plus, power serves just feel good. Watching the ball fly and your opponent struggle to react in time is really satisfying. Dare we say, powerful feeling?
And compared to the other serves on our list here, the power serve is easier to pull off. If you're somewhat green to pickleball but looking to add a new serve, this would be the one to start with.
We should caution you though, just because a power serve is easier than the others doesn't mean it's an easy way to serve. A power serve still has nuances and requires precision. If you get too overzealous with a power serve, you've just hit the ball out of bounds with extra force.
So let's talk about how you can prevent that, and what the pros do to consistently create an accurate power serve.
How Do You Power Serve in Pickleball?
Stand behind the baseline and line up your feet with where you want your serve to land. You will use a more powerful swing than normal so remember to keep at least one foot on the ground. Bend your knees and strike the ball in a smooth motion as you straighten up to standing.
You may also find yourself stepping into the court on your follow-through, which is fine as long as it happens after you’ve hit the ball. You want to hit it low and powerfully so it passes a few inches over the top of the net and starts dropping into your opponent’s side of the court.
A power serve is not about swatting like you’re trying to kill a fly with a swatter. It’s also not about flicking your wrist. Try to hinge from the shoulder. Use your wrist less and your body more, and your power serves should begin coming together consistently. Oh, and stay loose too!
Beginners often get tense ahead of their swing when trying to do a power serve, perhaps in an attempt to transfer more power to the ball. This applies to gripping the paddle too firmly as well, no white knuckles!
When you do these things, all you do is create tension that maybe improves your depth but does nothing for your power. The correct paddle grip for a power serve is firm like you would hold a hammer - not like you're squeezing the life out of a hammer.
A big watch out is to exercise some degree of self-control. Not every serving scenario calls for that much power - do as the pros do in this regard and pick moments when it's best to deploy a power serve. No, not every serve is the moment for a power serve.
Ideally, you're going to hit the ball on what you know to be your opponent’s weakest side, such as their backhand, which will dramatically increase the effectiveness of your power serve. They're also really helpful when your opponent stays too far right or left, and even more powerful when you mix it up with a kitchen corner or a centerline serve.
Power serves are also great if you notice that your opponent always steps forward when you serve or they stand way too close to the baseline.
One pickleball serving strategy you'll see pros use is a progression technique where they might start the game with a slower, less aggressive serve and then gradually work their way up to a power serve. If you mimic this, at the very least, your opponent may return the ball weakly, giving you the chance to capitalize with a third shot drop. And if they can't answer your serve with a weak response, well congratulations on earning a point.
More Serving Tips from the Pros
Now that you’ve got some exceptional serves to practice the next time you play, we've got an additional pickleball serving tip queued up for you. In fact, here are three more take-home tips to help you serve like a pro!
Learn How to Increase Serving Power
Are your power serves a little weak? The strategy isn’t just to swing at the ball harder. By doing that you'll expend too much energy and have arm fatigue during a game, make your serves obvious to your opponent, or even increase your risk of injury.
Instead, activate your core and leg muscles by lowering your stance. Think of your body like a spring – loading up when you start lower and then popping up more as you serve. Use the full body instead of just your arm and you'll see true power without a downside.
Throughout this guide, we’ve recommended you play loose, but playing loose doesn’t mean leaving yourself open to vulnerabilities.
Your stance should be somewhat closed, meaning your legs are shoulder-distance apart, your feet are almost parallel to one another, and your head is up.
Once you get into that stance (and serve there throughout the game), you’ll notice that you’re not rotating your body more than necessary when making serves, plus you'll be activating just the right amount of power to get the job done correctly.
With serves that depend on how you move your body, such as a centerline serve, over-rotation could prevent you from accurately serving. A semi-closed stance is going to help this tremendously since it makes it easier to keep the paddle nearer to your body too, which boosts your accuracy.
Keep ’Em Guessing
If you watch a tournament game between singles or doubles pickleball players, you’ll notice they don’t overuse one pickleball serving technique. Instead, they’re mixing up what they do because that’s what makes them hard to read.
This is perhaps the 5th time we've mentioned the importance of mixing it up, so hopefully, the gravity of this one is sinking in. Learning each of the best pickleball serves we talked about today can make you just as tough to guess!
Playing Like the Pros Takes Time
The skill and finesse of professional pickleball players are inspiring. But don't be fooled into thinking that mastering any of the serves you've read about today, let alone one, is going to happen quickly or without dedication, practice, and skill.
Producing power serves, centerline serves, and other shots that the pros do so effortlessly requires a heavy dose of time and effort! With enough practice and discipline, you may just find yourself on the court playing with the best of them!