In the pantheon of pickleball shots, few are considered more unpopular and unsportsmanlike than the Nasty Nelson.
Why? The answer is simple: the Nasty Nelson is an attempt to intentionally hit another player or their paddle with a serve, instantly winning a point.
This is and rightly should be considered a big no-no in pickleball.
However, due to the colorful personality of its originator and the many widely varying views on what constitutes a legitimate strategy, the Nasty Nelson can still be seen on many pickleball courts, even in rec play.
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What is a Nasty Nelson In Pickleball?
A Nasty Nelson is when a serving player deliberately attempts to hit the non-receiving player’s opponent on the serve.
If a serve hits either player before it bounces, the ball is dead and it is considered a fault by the player who was hit.
It is widely considered a capricious if not downright mean-spirited trick shot that garners a player neither respect nor a good reputation, particularly in rec play.
Is a Nasty Nelson Legal In Pickleball?
Let’s take a look at what the official rules of Pickleball have to say about the Nasty Nelson. There are two relevant parts:
Rule 4.N, part of the pickleball serving rules, states that “it is a fault against the receiving team resulting in a point for the server if…the receiver or their partner is touched by or interferes with the flight of the ball before it bounces (Rule 4.N.2).
Rule 7.I, which covers faults, states that a fault will be declared for “a live ball that is stopped by a player before it becomes dead (e.g., catching or stopping a ball in flight before it makes contact with the playing surface). The fault is on the player who stopped the ball.”
So if a pickleball comes into contact with an opposing player or their paddle before the ball bounces, the point or rally is awarded to the player or team who struck it.
Notice how the rules don’t say anything about intentionally targeting and hitting an opponent?
Exactly. The rules seem more concerned with the receiving player deliberately stopping or accidentally being hit by the pickleball but does not address a situation where the server is actually trying to hit the opposing player.
This is why the Nasty Nelson, while not looked upon favorably, is perfectly legal under the official rules of pickleball.
How did Nasty Nelson Get Its Name?
The Nasty Nelson gets its name from pro pickleballer Timothy Nelson, who was nicknamed “The Puppet Master.”
Tim Nelson peppers his games with this and other sneaky tactics to keep his opponents off guard, like purposely distracting them with profanity (which is now prohibited by the rules) and celebrating his points with mocking, puppet-like gestures.
Tim Nelson’s personality – arrogant, impish, and often patronizing to his opponents – certainly explains why pickleball pro Scott Lipitz named the move “Nasty Nelson.”
The first time it happened was accidental, but Nelson began using it intentionally and made the move famous. Although not widely popular, some players in the pickleball community still defend the shot as a legitimate tactic.
The general consensus in the pickleball community, however, is that the Nasty Nelson is a disrespectful and unsportsmanlike maneuver. So while it’s definitely something you want to be aware of it is not necessarily a good shot to try to add to your game.
Should I Use The Nasty Nelson?
Look, we get it. Pickleball is fun to play, and sometimes you want to try new things even if they seem a little goofy.
Opinions may vary, but common sense dictates that if you want to maintain a good reputation as someone who other player actually want to play with, you really should not pull out this move in a tournament setting or when playing with people you don’t know very well.
Now, if you are playing a nice, friendly game with some regular partners and opponents, it might be a different story.
When the mood is light, everyone is having fun, and all the players on the court know that no one else means them any harm then it can come off as a lighthearted prank and maybe prompt a reply of “Hey, no fair haha!” or perhaps a snarky roll of the eyes.
If the atmosphere and tone of the game is not just right, though, the Nasty Nelson can come off as distasteful and disrespectful to the opposing team and to the game in general.
How Can I Avoid Getting Hit By A Nasty Nelson?
As a pickleball player, the best way to avoid the indignity of being intentionally targeted by a Nasty Nelson is to stay alert and fully aware of what’s going on the game when your partner is receiving the serve.
Pay particular attention to the server’s body language and keep your eye on the ball as they begin their serving motion.
Also, it is easiest for the server to deliver a Nasty Nelson when the opposing player is near mid-court, so stay away from the centerline while your partner receives the serve.
If you play pickleball you already know that pickleball players use lots of different styles and tactics in their game, and unfortunately not all of them will seem fair or sportsmanlike.
The Nasty Nelson exploits a loophole in the rules, as there is no penalty for deliberately hitting an receiving team player.
While the move is recognized as legal, it is generally frowned upon by most pickleball players. So if you’re going to try it out make sure you do so under the right circumstances, namely in a lighthearted, friendly game.