Pickleball Singles Strategy

pickleball singles strategy

Pickleball Singles Strategy

Most players are familiar with playing pickleball with a partner but did you know that playing pickleball singles – without a partner can not only be a good challenge but can also help you improve some of your skills for playing doubles pickleball.

And although playing a pickleball singles game and a doubles game is similar, there are some key differences.

Pickleball Singles Rules

Pickleball singles rules are similar to playing doubles with the main difference being how the score is called:

  • When the score is called, only 2 numbers are announced. The server’s score first and then the opponent’s score (USA Pickleball Association Rule 4.I.). 
  • Each player serves once. When they lose a rally, the ball goes to the opponent.
  • In doubles, there’s a third number which is a 1 or a 2 depending on which player is serving, however, the 3rd number is not necessary for pickleball singles because there’s only 1 player on each team.

The purpose of this article is to help you understand key pickleball singles strategy and the differences between playing doubles vs singles.

Pickleball Tips and Strategies

One of the common themes about this list of tips is shot selection.

It’s about figuring out which type of shot to hit and when to hit it.

A good player knows that this is critical in pickleball doubles but it’s even more critical and trickier when playing pickleball singles.

  1. Hit a deep serve to push your opponent out past the baseline making it more difficult for them to hit the return of serve. This strategy is similar in pickleball doubles but for singles players, this is an even more critical strategy.
  2. Serve near the T, the middle line of the court where it meets the non-volley zone line, which gives you time to get into position and reduces the number of angles your opponent can hit on their return serve.
  3. Mix up placement on serves by hitting a deep return of serve, or a short serve that lands near the non-volley zone either by the center line or the sideline. I love serving deep corners whether it’s at the front of the court or the back of the court. And quite honestly, I think serving short is a great way to throw your opponent’s return shot off.
  4. Hit the return of serve deep to your opponent’s weaker side, making it difficult for your opponent to hit a third shot and give you time to get into position. 
  5. Hit to your opponent’s weak side. If you know you’re opponent has a weak backhand, leverage it.
  6. Look at your opponent’s momentum and hit the ball in the opposite direction to where their momentum is taking them. It’s important to make your opponent move to hit the ball.
  7. Track your shot on the pickleball court and track/follow your shot to reduce your opponent’s angles and make your way to the kitchen line. You can sometimes miss a passing shot but the majority of points are won at the kitchen line so it’s worth it to move up.
  8. Observe your opponent making mistakes and you’ll quickly see your opponent’s weaknesses. Force them to make a mistake while avoiding making mistakes yourself.
  9. After serving or hitting the return of serve, move to the middle of the court so you’re in a better position for the next shot.
  10. Mix up your strategies. Once you figure out your opponent’s weak spot, whether it’s returning a drop shot or hitting a backhand, hit to that spot often but then introduce different shots to ensure they keep moving.
    • If your opponent is accustomed to you hitting a deep shot, try hitting close to the non-volley line or the pickleball net.
    • This will catch them off guard and although it’s possible to get from the back of the court to the non-volley zone line quickly, it can be difficult for many players to return shots after already returning a shot from the back of the court or even from the back third of the court.
  11. Get really good at ball placement and put the ball where there’s open space and this usually means crosscourt shots. Players of all skill levels will need to be in good physical shape to make their way around the court.

Some of these tips are just as important in a doubles pickleball game as they are in a singles pickleball game.

But in singles, it’s just 1 pickleball player covering the entire court (unless you’re playing skinny singles) on one side of the net, which means shot selection and shot placement become even more important in pickleball singles.

Pickleball Singles Scoring

Scoring in pickleball singles is very similar to scoring in a pickleball doubles game except that when each player announces the score, they’re only announcing 2 numbers:

  • their own score, and
  • the opponent’s score.

There isn’t a 3rd number like there is in pickleball doubles because there’s no need to declare which team member is serving the ball.

In doubles, the server needs to say their score, their opponent’s score, and whether they’re server 1 or server 2.

Since there’s only one player on each side, the 3rd number isn’t required.

The server only scores points when serving and when their opponent misses the ball or commits a fault. (USA Pickleball Association Rule 4.F.).

Singles Pickleball Vs Doubles Pickleball

There are 3 important differences between pickleball singles strategies vs doubles pickleball.

Physical Fitness

When playing singles there are different strategies compared to playing doubles, as described above, but the level of physical fitness that’s required to play singles is also different than the level of fitness required for playing doubles.

In singles, you’re covering the whole court yourself, which means you need to have the stamina and cardiovascular endurance to move around your entire side of the court.

This is different than the physical fitness level you typically need when playing pickleball doubles.

In doubles, you’re usually covering half the court although you’ll see professional pickleball players who have such incredible skill and strategy, that they help each other out more strategically.

This means each player has a dominant / home side of the court but they know the game and each other so well that they truly do collaborate across their entire side of the court.

The same is true for a singles tennis player vs a doubles tennis player.

Singles Means More Offence vs Defense

In this video, Kyle Yates explains the offense vs defense strategy of playing singles vs doubles.

I’m not sure if everyone agrees with his thought process because I think you always want to be scoring points to avoid being put in a defensive position.

Singles Play Means Going Solo

No one else to bump into, miss queues and positioning, get tangled up with … in singles it’s all on you. This also means that you need to own the game and strategically place the ball so your opponent has less opportunity to have you chasing the ball around your side of the court.

Pickleball Singles Positioning

Pickleball singles positioning is the same as doubles pickleball.

The first serve will always start on the even/right-hand side of the pickleball court.

If the server wins the point, then the server will keep the serve and switch to serve on the other side of the pickleball court.

The server will always serve crosscourt, diagonally, and will keep the serve until the opponent wins the rally or the server commits a fault (USA Pickleball Rule 4B.5c.).

If the opponent wins the rally, then there will be a side out and the opponent will now serve.

Similar to doubles pickleball, player positioning is important on the serve and the return of serve.

The correct server must serve the pickleball from the correct side of the pickleball court, and the correct receiver must return the serve from the correct side of the pickleball court.

The correct side of the pickleball court is dictated by the score of the pickleball game:

  • If the server’s score is an even number, the server must serve from the right-hand side (also called the even side of the court) of the pickleball court and serve cross-court to the receiver’s right-hand side of the court. (USA Pickleball Association Rule 4.B.5.a.)
  • If the server’s score is an odd number, then the server must serve from the left-hand side (also called the odd side of the court) of the pickleball court and serve cross-court to the receiver’s left-hand side of the court. (USA Pickleball Association Rule 4.B5.b.)

Pickleball Singles Strategy Video

FAQs For Pickleball Singles Strategy

How big is a pickleball court for playing singles?

A court for playing pickleball singles is a rectangle measuring 20 feet (6.10 m) wide and 44 feet (13.41 m). This is the same size as a regular pickleball court for playing doubles.

How do you serve in pickleball singles?

The USAPA Rule Book serving rules are:

Rule 4.B.5  if the players score is even (zero, two, four….), the serve must be made from the right/even serving area and be received in the right/even service court by the opponent.

4.b.5.b  if the players score is odd (one three, five….), the serve must be made from the left/odd serving area and be received in the left/odd service court by the opponent.

4.b.5.c after the server loses the rally or faults, a side-out will occur, and service is awarded to the opponent.

What is the strategy for playing pickleball singles?

The strategy for playing pickleball singles is similar to that of playing doubles but with a couple of key differences.

When playing singles, you need to cover the entire court that’s on your side of the net. This means that you need to get into an offensive position that allows you to strategically return a shot.

This also means that you have a lot of territory to cover so you’ll need to think very strategically about where you stand, and what kind of shot you return. You don’t want to make it easy for your opponent to hit a shot back to you that

How Do You Play Pickleball Singles?

Pickleball singles is played by two opponents from opposite sides of the net.

Instead of having two players on each side/team, there is only one player on each side, hence the name singles pickleball.

Instead of having two players on each side/team, there is only one player on each side, hence the name singles pickleball.