The Pickleball Chainsaw Serve: Is It a Game-Changer or a Controversial Move?


Over the past few years, the pickleball community has been abuzz with excitement and heated debates surrounding the chainsaw serve, popularized by the skilled player Zane Navratil.

This unique serve has sparked fierce discussions and even caught the attention of the rules committee at the USAPA. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of the chainsaw serve, explore the arguments for and against it, and ultimately address the question of whether it should be reintroduced as a legal serve.

What is the Chainsaw Serve?

The chainsaw serve is a formidable one-handed technique that has left its mark on pickleball courts. It involves adding a finger spin to the ball just before striking it off the paddle’s face. While the one-handed spin serve has been around for some time, the chainsaw serve stands out for its power and difficulty to return. It is known to be one of the deadliest serves ever witnessed in the world of pickleball.

Arguments for Banning the Chainsaw Serve

As with any controversial technique, there are valid arguments for banning the chainsaw serve. Let’s explore some of the concerns raised by those in favor of the ban:

  1. Difficulty of Return: Many players, including beginners, struggle to effectively return the chainsaw serve. This can create an imbalance in the game and discourage less experienced players from fully enjoying the sport.
  2. Limited Skill Set: The serve requires a specific skill set that not all players possess. Some argue that the spin should be imparted solely from the stroke of the paddle, rather than relying on additional hand manipulation.
  3. Deviation from Underhand Serving: The chainsaw serve deviates from the traditional underhand serve, which is a fundamental aspect of pickleball. Critics argue that it goes against the spirit of the game and its simplicity.
  4. Impact on Rallies: The serve’s power and potential for aces can disrupt the flow of rallies, detracting from the back-and-forth exchanges that make pickleball so exciting.

Arguments Against the Ban of the Chainsaw Serve

On the other side of the debate, there are players who argue against the ban of the chainsaw serve. Here are some of the points they raise:

  1. Competitive Nature: The essence of playing competitively is to strive for victory. Banning a serve that gives players an edge goes against the competitive spirit of the game.
  2. Rankings and Fair Play: The existence of rankings in pickleball is meant to ensure fair play and help players compete evenly. Limiting players based on specific rules can hinder their progress and growth within the sport.
  3. Diverse Definitions of Fun: Different players find enjoyment in different aspects of the game. While long rallies may be fun for some, others derive pleasure from winning and utilizing unique techniques like the chainsaw serve.
  4. Adapting and Learning: With a large and growing player base, pickleball offers opportunities for players to adapt and learn from various playing styles. If one struggles against a particular serve, they can choose to improve their skills or seek out opponents with different playing styles.
  5. Evolution of the Sport: The chainsaw serve represents a new skill that can be learned through practice. Banning it would set a precedent for potentially banning other innovative skills and techniques as the sport continues to evolve.

Zane Navratil’s Chainsaw Serve Statistics

To support the legality of the chainsaw serve, Zane Navratil compiled statistics highlighting its impact. Here are some notable findings:

  • Initially, Zane’s serve led to a significant increase in missed service returns (aces) during matches.
  • As more players became familiar with the serve, the percentage of missed returns gradually diminished.
  • While Zane’s serve gained notoriety, it was found that Morgan Evans’ spin serve was more effective.

Since March 2021 until the serve was banned, the statistics revealed:

  • 13% (1 in 8) of Zane’s serves were unreturnable.
  • 20% (1 in 5) of Morgan’s serves were unreturnable.

In summary, Zane expressed his thoughts on the chainsaw serve, stating, “Let the game grow. Pickleball is a forever evolving game. Innovations like the Erne are some of the most fun aspects of the game.”

Is the Chainsaw Serve Legal?

No, the chainsaw serve has been declared illegal in the pickleball rulebook by USA Pickleball as of 2023. Despite its popularity among certain players, others argued that it went against the spirit of the serve rules, interfered with amateur play, and necessitated new rules to outlaw the spin serve.

Final Thoughts

The pickleball serve, be it the overhead, dink, drive, lob, or the chainsaw serve, is an integral part of the game. When new players develop exceptional shots or techniques, it isimportant for the pickleball community to embrace and adapt to these innovations. Rather than banning the chainsaw serve, players should either strive to emulate it or learn to defend against it through practice and skill development. By allowing the game to evolve and encouraging creative play, the pickleball community can continue to grow and enjoy the sport to its fullest.

What do you think?

Written by Billy Pickles

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  1. My feeling with the Chainsaw serve and Morgan’s serve is that it is quite boring to watch on TV. I actually turned off the PPA where the Pros were using that kind of serve because there were so many aces and missed returns. It just wasn’t interesting to watch. Also, way back in the beginning of pickleball they limited the motion of the serve so as not to come over the top of the ball, which creates a difficult serve to return with a ton of spin. Why would they allow these new serves that create a difficult serve to return but not allow a server to come up over the top of the ball to create a difficult serve to return? I do agree that it will elevate the sport by allowing these new serves; however, it may not be in the best interests of growing Pickleball into a sport people will want to watch on tv and to help it get to becoming an Olympic sport.

  2. In my opinion, the strongest argument against the chainsaw serve is that it constitutes a "double hit". Your paddle hand, below the wrist, is considered part of the paddle for a swing. When you use the paddle hand to contact the ball to generate spin, that’s a hit. Then when you strike your serve, that’s a second hit that is not from a single motion. Seems illegal to me. So I think it should be illegal to use the paddle hand, or the paddle, to generate spin for a serve. Serve spin that is generated entirely by the tossing hand should be allowed.

  3. Its far less effective today because athletes caught up with how to read it. Anyone can. Also, Very few players have truly replicated it and do not care. Its not as if Zane is running away with medals in the last year either. People should strive to improve their skills, service and service returns are part of the game. Saying that, I think the pro divisions can allow for tougher play because they are all skilled enough to adapt.

  4. What’s commonly known as the "chainsaw serve" and the one that Zane demonstrates by using the paddle to spin the ball was was banned in January 22. As of 2022, players can still do the "Morgan Evans" serve, which is pre-spinning the ball with your fingers.

  5. The 2023 rule eliminated the spin serve altogether except for what comes of the face of the paddle. So, why is this article relevant now? Judging from the dates of the previous comments, this is last year’s news! I’m surprised the it was included in this email. Let’s move on.

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