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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Rules Clarification - Service Position

If confusion is the first step to knowledge, I must be a genius...

One question that I have seen/heard several times is about the boundaries restricting from where the serve must be hit. In particular, the question of hitting the ball by reaching across the imaginary extended centerline is frequently asked.

A visual might help to explain. The following image shows a server in a typical position somewhere between the extended sideline and centerline with the paddle also within the same boundaries.

Now, let's move the server so that his feet are right on the extended centerline, as shown by the blue player below.

In the second image, the player's paddle will contact the ball in the extended area of the other service court. Is this a legal serve?

The only rules covering this situation is shown below.
4.B. Server Position. At the beginning of the serve, both feet must be behind the baseline. At the time the ball is struck, at least one foot must be on the playing surface or ground behind the baseline and the server's feet may not touch the playing surface in an area outside the confines of the serving area. The serving area is defined as the area behind the baseline and on or between the imaginary lines extended from the court centerline and each sideline. (revised April 1, 2011)
4.D. Service Foot Fault. During the serve, when the ball is struck, the server’s feet shall not:
     4.D.1. Touch the area outside the imaginary extension of the sideline. 
     4.D.2. Touch the area outside the imaginary extension of the centerline.
     4.D.3. Touch the court, including the baseline.
4.E. Service Faults. During the service, it is a fault if: 
     4.E.1. The server misses the ball when trying to hit it. If the ball lands on the ground without the server swinging at the ball, it is not a fault. 
     4.E.2. The served ball touches any permanent object before it hits the ground. (revised July 1, 2013) 
     4.E.3. The served ball touches the server or server’s partner, or anything the server or server’s partner is wearing or holding. 
     4.E.4. The served ball lands on the non-volley line. 
     4.E.5. The served ball hits the net and lands on the non-volley line or inside the non-volley zone. 
     4.E.6. The served ball lands outside the service court. 
     4.E.7. The served ball hits the net and lands outside the service court.
The rules about position and service foot faults make clear that only the position of the feet are relevant at the point of contact with the ball. The position of the paddle is not mentioned and the list of service faults does not include anything about the position of the paddle relative to court position. If it is not listed as a fault, then it is legal.

The final ruling on this question is that reaching the paddle beyond the extended boundaries for the feet is a legal serve.

As further explanation, some describe the boundaries defined by lines on the court as two-dimensional, i.e., they apply only to the court surface and do not extend into a third dimension above the court. This explanation is confirmed - generally - in the definition of the non-volley zone (highlights added).
3.O. Non-Volley Zone – The section of court adjacent to the net in which you cannot volley the ball. It includes all lines surrounding the zone. The NVZ is only two dimensional and does not rise above the court surface. (revised April 20, 2015)
This specific definition was made to clarify that players could reach across the nvz line to strike the ball. The same general application applies to the service.


  1. According to what I interpret from the rules above... When you serve the ball, you can step into the court as long as you have already hit the ball before one foot touches the court or back line???

    1. That is correct. One foot must have contact with the court outside the baseline and nothing can be in contact with the court inside or on the baseline at the instant the ball is struck. But contact within the baseline can occur immediately after the ball is struck. So, if your service motion included one foot over (in the air) the baseline and its momentum dropped it to the court after contact with the ball, it is a legal serve.

      There really isn't much advantage to be gained with such a motion, though, due to the 2-bounce rule. The server has to stay back anyhow to ensure he can hit the return after it bounces.

  2. True, but I had someone call a fault on my partner for this and I said it was a legal serve. We ended up letting them have the fault, but later I re-read the rules and this is still how I interpreted them.

    1. One thing I have learned is that many people don't know the rules. These same people often make calls with a certainty that defies challenge. I have learned to take a rulebook with me in my bag to point to the proper rule in those cases. It normally doesn't reach that level, especially in recreational play, though. But I do go over the rule with those players after the game so we have a common understanding going forward.

      Thanks for the comments.

  3. In the active play on pickkebsll is a player permitted to jump into the feet in contsct with ground? It was my understanding one had to maintain contact with court surface. Im most likely wrong but this came up today with a player who was sky diving shits like a basketball rim shot. Thanks

    1. There is no rule about maintaining contact with the court. I wish there were so it would equalize play for me - my ability to "sky" is about 1 inch off the court. Feel free to jump away. Just don't land in the non-volley zone!

  4. Can the server's partner's feet touch the back line while the serve is being performed?

    1. The server's partner can be anywhere on the court, although the 2 bounce rule makes some positions very risky. The only rules about positioning during the serve are restricted to the server.

  5. I take a few steps “run up” as I serve. Can I start outside the proper server area, assuming I’m in the correct position when I made contact?

    1. This is my question too.... please reply!

    2. The only position that matters is where you are at the point of contact.