How to Master the Backhand Serve in Pickleball (Top 3 Tips)

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outline of pickleball player hitting a backhand serve

Not a whole lot of players seem to incorporate the backhand pickleball serve into their gameplay. It can be a tricky shot to execute, and most people are happy with what they can accomplish with a usually more dominant forehand serve.

But once you see a player who is truly proficient with their backhand serve, you’ll realize how advantageous it can be – especially in amateur gameplay. 

In this article, we will go through the basics of the backhand serve and discuss some of the situations in which they come in handy, so if you want to add the backhand serve to your pickleball arsenal, you’ve come to the right place!

Helpful Resource: 18 Essential Pickleball Tips For Beginners

Who Should Use a Backhand Serve?

Backhand serves are rarely seen at the professional level, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t ever be used! 

Serving backhand can be advantageous in certain situations and can add depth to your serving toolbox. It’s also just fun to learn and develop new shots and skills in the game of pickleball – so why not work on your backhand serves?

Some players are actually more comfortable with their backhand ability than they are with their forehands. Learning a good backhand serve can help them feel more confident on the court while they practice and grow comfortable with their dominant side shots.

For players who strategize more deeply and try to set up potential plays, a backhand serve can be particularly useful. For example, backhand serves are a great way to put a side spin on the ball and are often used to move the receiving player to the outside or off the court for their return – setting up a perfect third-shot drop opportunity!

Backhand Vs. Forehand Serve

The forehand serve is by far the most commonly used serve on the pickleball court. But why is it so widely preferred? Well, most players simply have more power and are more comfortable with their forehand side. 

But don’t be so fast to count out backhand serves altogether.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to serving in pickleball. One supposes that you should just loft the ball in to start the point; the other believes it should be used as an offensive weapon. Backhand serves can be relevant in both. 

Serving backhand can be an excellent, and maybe less predictable, form of attack on the pickleball court. In addition, players who struggle to control the direction and arc of the ball when hitting a forehand serve may find that a backhand is more consistent for them.

Backhand and forehand serves are executed quite differently. A backhand serve requires the server to rotate their body much more than during a traditional forehand serve, as the serve begins with the dominant arm across the player’s body. You can also use quite a bit more shoulder lift on backhand serves to lift the ball higher and get it deeper toward the baseline. 

Is a Backhand Serve a Legal Pickleball Serve?

According to USA Pickleball’s official tournament handbook, a pickleball serve can be made with a forehand or backhand motion.

However, backhand serves can prove to be more difficult to perform without faults.

Because of this, backhand servers need to be conscientious of a few important rules while they are hitting the ball.

USA Pickleball describes these rules as follows:

“A serve must be hit with an underhand stroke so that contact with the ball is made below the waist… The arm must be moving in an upward arc and the highest point of the paddle head shall be below the wrist when it strikes the ball.”

Illegal backhand serves are usually called for being struck too high above the waist or with an angled wrist so that the top of the paddle head is above the wrist. 

But as long as you’re striking the ball properly according to the rules of service, backhand serves are completely legal in the game of pickleball.

How to Hit a Backhand Serve (3 Tips)

Serving backhand is a great way to keep the ball closer to the sideline, just as a forehand serve can do from the other serving position. You can also make your serve even more difficult to return by adding some spin, which can make the ball ricochet unpredictably off the court when it bounces. 

No matter what style of backhand you’re aiming for, these three tips are sure to help you develop a consistent backhand serve!

Tip #1 – Strike it Like a Volley

Since the majority of pickleball players rarely use or practice the backhand serve, many find it to feel unnatural at first. 

The best tip to getting beyond this initial awkwardness is to think of it like a volley. The backhand volley is an essential piece in the tool kit of any pickleball player. Use the same rotational body movement as you would with a backhand volley shot – just use your shoulder abit more to increase the lift when desired. 

For a backhand volley serve, start with your body perpendicular to the baseline and rotate to open your chest to your target as you hit the ball. 

Remember to:

  1. Allow your arm to straighten out and use some wrist snap at the end
  2. Contact the ball in front of you
  3. Swing the paddle in an arc, down and back up through the ball

Tip #2 – The Volley Serve Toss

Tossing the ball for a backhand pickleball serve can be a bit tricky when you first try. The tossing arm can tend to get in the way, causing the motion to feel a bit awkward. 

There are two ways you can toss the ball for a backhand volley serve – either from under your paddle arm or from above. Either way, you’ll need to get your tossing arm out of the way quickly. 

To toss under your paddle arm: hold the ball around where the paddle should make contact, gently toss the ball up about six inches, and allow your toss hand to fall out of the way as you move through your swing. 

demonstrating form for hitting a backhand serve in pickleball

To toss over your paddle arm: hold the ball with your palm facing down slightly above where you plan to strike it. You can either drop the ball or toss it up in the air about two inches, then clear your toss arm as you rotate to hit the ball.

Tip #3 – Target the Sideline

One of the most effective in-game uses for the backhand serve is to get the ball to hit near the sideline and kick out away from the court. This will force the receiving player to move out of their ready position (and even maybe off the court entirely), giving you a big advantage on your next shot!

Since most players aren’t accustomed to receiving backhand serves, this can be a really great trick to pull out of your bag halfway through a close game and really keep your opponents on their toes!

Whether it’s a high-spin power shot or a deep lob, placing the ball right along the sideline should lead to the best results for your backhand serves in pickleball.

Conclusion 

Although the backhand might not become your go-to serve, it definitely has its uses and should be part of your pickleball repertoire. There’s a variety of different backhand serves you can work on and it can be a lot of fun testing out what method suits you best. Remember, it’s always good to add new skills and weapons to the arsenal you bring to the pickleball court! Happy serving!

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Alex started playing pickleball in May 2021 and like so many other players got hooked right away. An avid ping pong player in high school and college, he instantly took to pickleball because, in the words of comedian George Carlin, it's like "playing ping pong while standing on the table." Originally from New York City and based currently in Miami, FL, Alex often travels to different locations for months at a time with his wife who is a travel nurse, so he has become part of many pickleball communities in several states. He appreciates the social aspect of the game as much as the finer points of strategy and technique.

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