Unwritten Rule: Don’t Quick Serve
By Mark Renneson
Setting the Scene
I once witnessed a men’s doubles match that nearly escalated out of control. It was a tight match and was well into the third game when something happened that led to allegations of cheating and the selective use of four-letter words.
Player 1 (we’ll call him Dave) was serving to Player 2 (we’ll call him Sanjay). The referee called the score 3-4-1 and immediately Dave served a low, fast forehand serve deep to the baseline. Sanjay mis-hit the ball and it landed about two feet wide of the left sideline. That’s when things heated up.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” shouted Sanjay.
“What did you say?” asked Dave, walking towards the net.
“You’ve been quick-serving us all match!” protested Sanjay.
“What are you talking about? He called the score” Dave gestured to the referee who by this point looked a little like an embarrassed parent who is witnessing their toddler prepare for a meltdown.
“It doesn’t matter. You can see we aren’t ready. You’re being a d-ck!”
The Written Rule
From the official pickleball rulebook, 4.A.1 states “The entire score must be called before the server begins his or her service motion.” This means that as soon as the referee calls the score, the server is free to start the point.
So, technically, Dave was in the clear. The score had been called and if the returners weren’t ready, Sanjay and his partner should take it up with the referee.
The Unwritten Rule
It’s not good form to serve to people who aren’t ready to receive it - even if the ref has called the score. Good etiquette dictates that that server takes a look at the receivers to make sure they are in position and prepared. If the referee has made an error by calling the score before the returner is set, the unspoken rule is that the serving team should not take advantage of the referee’s oversight.
While Dave was relying on the written rule to support his case, Sanjay was using the unspoken code of conduct to support his.