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Q&A – My Opponent Uses an Illegal Serve

Rules Refresh Mark Peifer 03-27-2024

By Mark Peifer, USA Pickleball Certified Referee; Past Chairman, USA Pickleball Rules Committee

QUESTION: We play pickleball at a local recreation center open play and have an individual whose volley serve violates the ‘upward motion’ as it is totally horizontal, it is above the waist and paddle head is above the wrist. He hits this with great velocity and is extremely tough for any 3.0 or less player to return. We have pointed this out to him numerous times and he attempts the correct serve for a little while, but returns to the illegal serve. Since it is non-officiated play, according to the rule book there is no recourse for the receiving team. Is this true? Short of refusing to play with this individual, is there any recourse?

ANSWER: Yes, it is true; you indeed have no recourse for faults by your opponent, including this one. The rule that governs this is 13.D.1.d; “For non-officiated matches, if a player believes an opponent has committed any type of fault other than a service or non-volley zone foot fault as noted in Section 7 – Fault Rules, they may mention the specific fault to the opponent(s) but they have no authority to enforce the fault. The final decision on fault resolution belongs to the player that allegedly committed the fault.”

Having said that, however, USA Pickleball has received countless videos over the years from players with examples of thought-to-be illegal serves that are, upon review, not illegal. That is also why the Rulebook has no stipulation for these cases; chaos would ensue as players start calling faults in retaliation for an opponent calling a serve illegal that really isn’t. All is not lost, however. There is a recourse that many players use in this case. But, one has to be certain a serve is illegal before implementing the following course of action, otherwise, just play on:

Once the serve is made, catch the ball and throw it back to the server, telling them why it was illegal. Yes, it’s a fault on you for stopping play, but the server has no more authority to enforce a fault on you for stopping play than you do for enforcing an illegal serve on them. Do that as many times as needed to ‘send the message’. In effect, you are stalemated – a situation not covered by the Rulebook. What now? The outcome, in this case, is found in the fourth bullet on page 1 of the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook, under the heading of The Players; “Players strive to cooperate when confronted with a situation not covered by the Rulebook. Possible outcomes can be a replay, allowing a rally to stand, or in extreme cases, asking for a referee to resolve a dispute.”

Because this is ‘open’ recreational play, the most likely outcome would be a replay. I recommend you have a copy of Rule 13.D.1.d and the aforementioned item on page one ready the next time you play against this player.

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