Pickleball, one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, is traditionally played as doubles. However, singles pickleball is becoming increasingly popular as well. While singles and doubles pickleball share many of the same rules, there are some key differences that affect strategy and gameplay.
How Does Singles Pickleball Differ from Doubles?
The most noticeable difference when playing singles versus doubles pickleball is that in singles, there is no partner on your side of the court. This means all shots are up to you, and you alone are responsible for covering the entire court on your side. You cannot rely on a partner for support.
Because of this, singles pickleball gameplay tends to feature more of a back-and-forth, one-on-one style as compared to doubles. Singles also requires players to move around the court more given the need to cover more ground without a partner.
Serving, scoring, and other major rules remain mostly the same between the two formats. However, the tactics and approach to winning points and games does differ given the nature of having no partner in singles.
Below we will dive into the official rules for singles pickleball so you know how to play a match properly.
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Official Rules for Singles Pickleball
The official rulebook for pickleball governs both singles and doubles play. However, there are some specific rules that only apply to singles pickleball. Let’s review the major components of the rules:
- The dimensions of the court are the same for singles and doubles: 20×44 feet.
- The net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the center.
- The non-volley zone (aka “the kitchen”) spans the 7 feet on either side of the net.
Service Sequence & Rules
- Players serve diagonally and switch sides after every point.
- The first serve of each side-out is from the right side of the court.
- The server continues serving until they fault or the opponent wins the rally.
- The serve must be underhand and below the server’s waist.
- The serve must land within the diagonally opposite service court.
- In singles, the serve can land anywhere within the service court’s boundaries.
Service Foot Faults
- The server’s feet cannot touch the baseline or court lines prior to making contact with the ball.
- The server’s feet cannot touch outside the imaginary extension of the sideline or centerline.
Double Bounce Rule
- The ball must bounce once on each side before players can return it.
- After the ball bounces once on each side, either player can hit the ball before or after it bounces again.
- In singles, the double bounce rule is not in effect. Both players can hit the ball either on the fly or after it bounces.
- Volleys refer to hits made without letting the ball bounce.
- In singles pickleball, volleys are permitted from anywhere on the court.
- Players do not have to wait for the ball to bounce before returning it.
The Non-Volley Zone
- The non-volley zone (NVZ), or “kitchen,” spans the 7 feet on either side of the net.
- In doubles, volleys may only be made from outside the NVZ.
- However, in singles, volleys can be made from anywhere, including inside the NVZ.
- Unlike most racquet sports, in pickleball, players call lines on their own side of the court.
- If a ball lands on any part of a line, it is considered “in.”
- The player whose turn it is to hit the ball makes the call.
- Games are played to 11 points, win by 2.
- The server’s score is always called first when serving.
- Points can only be scored by the serving side.
- When serving from the right side, the server’s score is an even number.
- When serving from the left side, the server’s score is an odd number.
- Scores progress from 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, followed by 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11.
Faults result in a dead ball and loss of serve. They include:
- Hitting the serve out of bounds
- Failure to clear the non-volley zone before the ball bounces
- Hitting the ball into the net or under the net
- Foot faults on the serve
- Volleying the ball from inside the NVZ (doubles only)
Other Singles Pickleball Rules
Some other rules that come into play in singles pickleball:
- The receiver can stand wherever they want within the boundaries of the court.
- Switch sides after every odd-scored point.
- Take up to a 2-minute break between games.
- Continuously play out rallies – do not stop after scoring.
- Call “time” if you need to clear a ball from your side during a rally.
Strategies for Winning at Singles Pickleball
Because you are on your own in singles play, strategy differs from doubles. Here are some tips for success:
- Move quickly – you have more ground to cover without a partner. Be ready to sprint across the court.
- Master dinks & drops – these are essential shots for controlling the tempo. You want to move your opponent around and pull them out of position.
- Aim for corners – hit to the furthest point of the court to make your opponent run.
- Use spin – topspin and backspin add variation to make your shots less predictable.
- Finish points at the net – be aggressive and attack short balls by moving to the NVZ.
- Disguise shots – vary pace, height, and placement to keep your opponent guessing.
Singles Pickleball vs. Doubles: Key Rule & Gameplay Differences
To recap, here are some of the main differences in rules and strategies between singles and doubles pickleball:
- In singles, the serve can go anywhere within the service court. In doubles, it must land diagonally.
- The double bounce rule is in effect for doubles only. Singles can play off a single bounce.
- Volleys are permitted from anywhere in singles. In doubles, volleys must be outside the NVZ until the ball bounces.
- Line calls are made by the team whose turn it is to hit in doubles. In singles, the player hitting the ball makes the call.
- Singles features more back-and-forth rallies, while doubles involves more strategy around partner positioning.
- Movement and footwork are crucial in singles to cover more court space.
- It is easier to attack and finish points at the non-volley zone (kitchen) in singles.
- Drop shots, lobs, and placement shots take on greater importance in singles to move opponents.
- Angles, corner shots, spin, and shot disguise are more vital for success in singles pickleball.
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Singles Pickleball Strategy, Tips & Resources
Now that you understand the rules, let’s go over some key strategies, tips, and resources for excelling at singles pickleball.
Shot Selection & Placement
Shot selection and placement are paramount in singles play. With no partner to back you up, choosing your shots wisely is critical.
- Hit to the open court and move your opponent side to side.
- Cause trouble by mixing up pace – fast and slow shots in a rally.
- Disguise your shots when possible so they’re less predictable.
- Use spin to your advantage – topspin or backspin.
- When you have an opportunity, hit aggressive angle shots.
- Go for shots with a high margin for error to keep the ball in play.
Movement & Footwork
Speed and footwork are essential for covering more court space. Here are some recommendations:
- Maintain ready position centered on the baseline when waiting for a serve return.
- Use small, quick steps to efficiently move in all directions.
- Try not to cross your feet – turn your body side to side.
- Split step by hopping lightly on your toes when expecting a shot. This builds explosiveness.
- Practice grapevine and shuffle steps to hone lateral movement.
- Sprint for distant shots and recover quickly to center court position.
Use the Entire Court
In singles, the whole court is your domain. Take advantage of all the space by:
- Hitting crosscourt shots to make your opponent move laterally.
- When pulled wide, hit down-the-line shots to open up the court.
- Mixing up corner shots – alternating forehand and backhand corners.
- Moving forward to attack short balls then quickly recovering.
- Lobbing over your opponent when they charge the net.
Master the Non-Volley Zone
The non-volley zone (kitchen) takes on increased importance in singles play.
- Move forward to attack short balls and try to finish points at the net.
- Use the volley position to cut down angles and dominate the net.
- Be ready to counter-attack lobs by backing up quickly if drawn too far forward.
- Hit drop volleys and swinging volleys in the NVZ to end rallies.
The serve starts every point, so make the most of your service chances.
- Vary placement – switch up deep and short serves.
- Use spin – hit topspin or slice serves.
- Serve to your opponent’s weaker side.
- Consider body serves to jam your opponent.
- Maintain consistency first, then add power.
- Toss the ball consistently to the optimal strike point.
Singles Pickleball Resources
For those looking to improve their singles pickleball skills, here are some helpful resources:
- Books – Winning Pickleball by Dave Weinbach, The Art of Singles Pickleball by Jennifer Lucore
- Training Courses – PickleballSingles.com, Picklete University
- Video Lessons – Pickleball Journey YouTube channel
- Camps & Academies – Prime Time Pickleball, Pickleball Central
- Tournaments – Singles-focused events like the US Open and Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships
The strategies above, combined with practice and competitive experience, will help elevate your singles pickleball abilities. Keep these tips in mind during your next singles match!
Playing Singles Pickleball vs. Doubles
Many pickleball players gravitate towards doubles play. However, for an added challenge, singles can help improve your all-around game. What are the key differences between singles vs. doubles pickleball?
Greater Shot-Making Responsibility
In doubles, you can depend on your partner to cover shots you miss. Singles puts all the pressure on you. Your shot choices matter more in singles as you try to move opponents around the court. Place shots accurately and mix things up to gain an edge.
More Physical Demands
The increased running and larger court coverage required in singles makes it more physically demanding. You’ll get more of a workout in singles! Work on your movement and explosiveness to handle the longer points.
Less Margin for Error
With nobody watching your back, there is less room for error in singles pickleball. You have to be more consistent and cut down on unforced errors. Be smart with your risks and know when to play it safe.
Greater Variety of Shots
Having more court to work with means singles allows for a greater variety of shots – more angles, drop shots, lobs, etc. Work the entire court and be creative with your shot selection.
More Strategy & Problem Solving
With just you versus one opponent, singles involves more strategic point-by-point decision making. How can you exploit your opponent’s weaknesses? What shots can you use to open up the court? Singles will strengthen your pickleball IQ.
Closer Net Play
Attacking the net is more common in singles since you don’t have to poach on a partner’s space. Look for chances to apply pressure with swinging volleys, drop shots, and put-aways from the NVZ.
So while singles pickleball is played by the same rules, it presents a whole different set of challenges. Approach it with patience and use these tips to elevate your skills. The experience will make you a better all-around player.
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Common Singles Pickleball Formats
Like other racquet sports, there are a variety of singles pickleball formats you may encounter in tournaments and competition. Being familiar with each will help you strategize and perform your best.
The most straightforward format. Players compete in a single game up to 11 points, win by 2. The winner of the previous point serves first. This allows for fast-paced back-and-forth play.
Players compete in a series of games to 11 points, with the first to win two games declared the overall winner. If each player wins one game, a third game is played to determine the winner.
The match starts with a coin toss for serve and side selection. Players then compete in a series of eight games to 11 points, with no win-by-2 requirement. Most total points after the eight games wins the match.
Players compete for a set amount of time – usually 20 to 30 minutes. Most points at the end of the match time is the winner. Great for round-robin events and large tournaments.
If a player gets to 7 points before their opponent scores 2 points, they win the game by “skunking” them. A variation of this is winning at 5 points before the opponent scores.
To shorten long games, a “win-by” score can be implemented, like win by 3 or 5 points. This ends games sooner once one player builds a sizable lead.
The singles pickleball format can have a big impact on strategy, so know the rules before competing!
Tips for Transitioning to Competitive Singles Play
Making the leap to competitive singles pickleball events like sanctioned tournaments requires skill development. Here are some pointers to help make the transition smoother:
- Get tournament experience – Start by playing some local club singles tournaments to get a feel for the vibe and pressures before playing higher-stakes events.
- Work on conditioning – Success in singles requires extra fitness for all the running. Do agility drills and cardio conditioning tailored to pickleball’s stop-start movement.
- Practice alone – Hone shots like groundstrokes, volleys, overheads, and serves on your own without a partner. Groove your mechanics.
- Take lessons – Invest time and money into professional instruction to drill proper footwork, positioning, and strategy. Having an experienced set of eyes to analyze and provide feedback is invaluable.
- Analyze opponents – Study other singles players’ strengths, weaknesses, and patterns to get into their heads. Understanding how they construct points can help you counter-attack more effectively.
- Master shot variety – Work on placing shots, changing pace, spins, heights – anything to disrupt your opponent’s rhythm. The more things you can do with the ball, the better.
- Manage errors – Keep mistakes to a minimum. With no one to cover for you, unforced errors are magnified in singles play. Stay patient in rallies.
- Practice mental toughness – Singles is intensely psychological since everything relies on you. Develop routines to clear your mind between points and stay positive through adversity.
With dedicated training and match experience, making the jump to competitive singles pickleball can pay huge dividends in challenging and sharpening all aspects of your game.
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Common Faults to Avoid in Singles Pickleball
Making mistakes is inevitable in any sport – they’re part of the learning process. However, avoiding common faults in singles pickleball will help you play cleaner matches with fewer errors. Here are mistakes to watch out for:
In singles, moving effectively is paramount. Crossing feet or being flat-footed will hamper your mobility. Stay on your toes, keep feet shoulder-width apart, and use small adjustment steps to align your body smoothly for optimal hitting position.
Net Rushing Too Soon
While coming to net is encouraged in singles, the timing needs to be right so you don’t get passed. Only approach once you have drawn your opponent sufficiently out of position or successfully hit a weak return.
Easier said than done, but try not to Telegraph where you intend to hit the ball based on racquet preparation, body position, or eye contact. This allows your adversary to cheat and get a jump on your next shot.
Smashing at Everything
Overheads have their place for finishing points, but not on normal rallies. Temper them and use controlled shots instead to move opponents around – they have a higher margin for error.
Violating Service Rules
Foot faults, illegal paddle contact, missed service courts, and other service violations to avoid. These hand your opponent free points. Take time on your serve prep and deliver the ball cleanly.
While the occasional missed first serve is expected, avoid missing your second serve after a fault. This results in handing the opponent an easy point. If needed, go for a safer second serve to start the point.
Failure to Vary Shots
Don’t get stuck using the same shots repeatedly. Mix things up with pace changes, spins, placement, and positioning to keep opponents off balance. Doing the expected makes their job easier.
Poor Shot Selection
Choose smart shots – don’t go for low percentage options or into your opponent’s strength. Use the right shot for the situation to optimize your chances of winning the rally.
Play a strategic, smart singles match by being aware of these common pitfalls. Learn to avoid them through practice and experience.
Singles pickleball presents unique challenges beyond just having no partner. As the sole player on your side of the net, the onus falls completely on you to cover the court, construct points, and outmaneuver your adversary. An excellent all-around game becomes vital.
Mastering elements like shot variety, court